Monday, April 5, 2010
Best Writing Advice
I loved JKB's post on bad writing advice, because I've received plenty. Writing advice can be hard to give because usually the person giving the advice will tell about you the things that they do wrong, or the things that they have to pay strong attention to. (Like ending a sentence with a preposition)
When I first started writing, it was pretty horrible. An engineer by training, I hadn't paid much attention to my English classes in high school, or college, other than to learn the basic mechanics of putting words together so that I didn't sound stupid. I never had an issue with spelling, or vocabulary, but I think I owe most of that to my family genes. One of my uncles was the VP of Marketing for the Chicago Tribune, and another was the Dean of Journalism for Kent State.
So while I could put sentences together, they sounded like I was writing a technical paper. I could go into excruciating detail about exactly how something worked, why it would happen, and the expected end result. Unfortunately it wasn't the kind of writing that most fiction readers want when they are looking to be entertained.
There were a number of books that I read to help me improve. There are the standard ones, Stephen King's "On Writing", an interesting one called "Immediate Fiction" by Jerry Cleaver, and many others.
So what was the best advice that I gleaned out of these books?
First and foremost the use of active verbs. Most technical papers have a very passive voice, and frankly that's what makes them so boring. I go over my writing and analyze every verb to make sure there is something going on, right now.
Second, don't give all the details at once. Drop important details in small doses. This one hit me right where it hurts. My early writing had trainloads of details that came at you like a firehose. There was so much description of what was going on, that you forgot why it was happening.
Third, and this was given recently, there has to be tension in every line. I don't know if it is a symptom of the video game age, or the fact that people have so many distractions to keep them from reading, but if you don't grab the reader by the throat, and hold on tight, you're going to lose them. I've written about this before, and while every scene doesn't have to be a gun to your character's head, there needs to be conflict, there needs to be a reason for the scene to exist.
What about you? What writing books worked for you? What are your top three best tips?