Over the many years I have been writing, I have come across much advice on the web. Many of these I was sufficiently impressed by to dump them in a Word document for my later perusal. Well, the document got longer and longer, and so I decided that if it was going to do me any good, I needed to pick out ‘the good bits’. Now I hasten to add that these are entirely idiosyncratic, and not meant to be any judgment! But I thought I would put my collection ‘in the cloud’, where they would be accessible to others as well as me. Feel free to add any good bits of writing advice (with links!) that you’ve come across, in the comments.
Elmore Leonard gave some writing advice in an essay in the NY Times that’s quoted all over the place. Here are his basic ‘rules’ (I’ve grouped related items):
- Never open a book with weather; Avoid prologues.
- Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue; Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”
- Keep your exclamation points under control; Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
- Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
- Avoid detailed descriptions of characters; Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
- Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip; If it sounds like writing, rewrite it.
A.L. Kennedy talks inspiringly about writers and the piercing eye of the raptor:
“ Here is something so deeply and perfectly alive that it draws the eye, that it makes the observer happy – can you make your words do the same? Here is a gaze about life and death, an utterly fixed purpose – does your work have the same purpose, the same strength of knowing its aim completely and completely committing to it? Here is something shaped by its needs, made beautiful and simple by the necessities of its life – is your work so beautiful, so uncluttered, is it powered by the heart of your needs, the things it would be life for you to say and death to stifle ? Here is something that will meet your eye with a force you will always remember, that is made to reach its aim – can you meet your reader’s eye with the same power, will you always touch them? Here is an unshakeable focus, but around it there is only flexibility, fluidity, the ability to deal with the vast variable that is the sky – can you know the nature of your piece so well that you cannot lose it and yet adapt to its needs and your own? In what ways are you the bird? … Sometimes we are the falcon and sometimes we are the falconer. And sometimes we need beauty to feed us up and send us out into the world, to give us the strength to speak. And sometimes we can help others speak, too.”
Suggestions of passages from classic novel that illustrate some technical lessons (setting; dialogue; tone; pace; etc).
Livia Blackburne gives a nice example (if, like me, you’re a fan of the book Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman) of how to tie related scenes together with a common element.