What with one thing and another, it’s been a donkey’s age since I last did a writing advice round-up. I had a few morsels lying about in the old RSS reader, so I thought I’d take a moment to pitch them out.
Twenty mistakes to avoid
This is the first of two posts from E. E. Knight, a man who manages to educate and entertain at the same time. It’s a list of twenty fiction-writing blunders made by beginning (and not-so-beginning) writers. My personal favourite:
11 – So that’s why you wrote this: I’ve read stories where the most precise language and evocative imagery is saved for the all-important pudenda-shaving scene as the heroine gets ready to go to the library. I’m not knocking your kink, I’m just wondering why so much word-weight is put into a personal hygiene choice in a story about tracking down Shoggoths.
Showing not telling – avoiding infodump
Back-story is probably more essential in genre fiction than any other form … but that doesn’t make it any more palatable when served in huge expository lumps. So here’s a snippet of E. E. Knight’s comprehensively lengthy advice on sneaking the back-story under the radar:
You’re doing a disservice to your readers when you present them with the information they need to know to understand your world (or the backgrounds for your characters, or whatever) in a couple of ways when you do this, though. For one thing, it’s absolutely static and therefore boring. For another, the authorial hand is visible, cold on the reader’s throat like a doctor checking your glands.
Indeed. Concludes with plenty of examples, also. If you’re a beginning writer, and you’re not subscribed to his RSS feed, you’re missing out.
Another writer whose advice I increasingly find indispensable (and another one by whose actual fiction, to my shame, I’ve never read*) is Luc Reid. While not so much of a didactic piece as Knight’s material above, this post lays out a procedural framework for collaborating on short stories:
6. When we have a completed first draft, one of us does the first round of editing. If one person did more of the original writing, the other should be the one to do the first round of editing. During editing, we discuss any major changes before making them, but other than that we’re ruthless and edit the stories almost as though they were our own. We don’t hesitate to strike out a beautiful phrase or change a character or what have you even if the other person has done the original work. However, we do this using Word’s “track changes” feature, which is very easy to use, so that if something needs to be restored it can be.
Hmmm. I’m thinking you’ll have to be pretty good friends with anyone you do that sort of work with! Good food for thought, though.
Clomping foot redux
It’s a mark of his great talent (and the great esteem in which he is held) that M. John Harrison can set the genre blogosphere alight with a few short paragraphs about the sort of fantasy he is tired of seeing:
Go away & write me a fantasy like that. Wait twenty years before you start. Write it out of some emotion of yours you never understood, or some decision you made you’re not sure if you regret; but never once name that emotion or let me see the decision. I want what’s underneath. Make it short. Remember the world never had a plot, & that there’s no difference between a “myth” & commuting to work, they’re just two really excellent ways of narrating the life out of life.
Tear this one up, & start again with that very good sentence from p50, “I didn’t know what was happening.”
Much like the original “clomping foot” post, I think people will be talking about this one for some time to come.
In fact, it reminds me of some of the things the Mundanistas have been saying, though there are fundamental differences. But that’s a post for another day …
[*Actually, that’s not strictly true – I have read some of Luc Reid’s super-short pieces over at The Daily Cabal, which is kind of like Friday Flash Fiction every single day, and another fine addition to your web-based diet.]