I made myself a reminder for when I freak out about my writing:
- YOU CONTROL THE WORLD.
- YOU ARE IN CHARGE OF THE CHARACTERS.
- YOU CAN DO WHATEVER YOU WANT.
- YOU NEED NO PERMISSION.
- I REPEAT:
- YOU NEED NO PERMISSION.
- YOU ARE CAPABLE.
- YOU ARE REALLY FUCKING INTELLIGENT.
- YOU ARE GOING TO FINISH THIS THING.
- YOU’VE COME THIS FAR.
- YOU GOT THIS, MAN.
- YOU GOT THIS.
For all the people who ask me for writing advice...
2 Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
3 Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
4 Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.
5 Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
6 Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
7 Laugh at your own jokes.
8 The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.
Describing Characters Through 'Showing'
Describing characters can be a little bit of a ‘telling’ minefield. While you are almost certainly going to end up with some ‘told’ description of a character, try to keep it to a minimum, ‘showing’ things about their appearance through action and dialogue instead.
Instead of ‘She was short’, use ‘She clambered onto the chair, her legs dangling several inches above the floor’
Instead of ‘He was tall’, use ‘He ducked under the doorway’
Instead of ‘He was a smoker’, use ‘He shook my hand, his yellowed fingers leaving the scent of cigarettes on mine’
Instead of ‘She had bad teeth’, use ‘She laughed, instinctively covering her open mouth with her hand’
So you see how a lot of information can be shown to your readers rather than simply told to them.
And remember that your readers have imaginations, imaginations that they enjoy using. Let them fill in the gaps - don’t give them a detailed head to toe description laying out mole and strand of hair.
Writing: Your Characters Must Earn (or Have Earned) Their Skills
- Magic (and other skills—especially physical skills) must be practiced. Yes, your wizard could be the “chosen one,” but remember that even Harry Potter had to practice his patronus charm. In The Matrix, Neo had to learn how to get used to working within the system.
- Knowledge must be studied: Your character probably wasn’t born with world knowledge floating around in her brain. She might have a high IQ, but she still needs to study. Hermione Granger read Hogwarts: A History well before she attended it. NOTE: This also applies to knowledge about science fiction technology.
- Wisdom often comes from making mistakes earlier in life: My dad will often say he learned most of his knowledge about woodworking from “the school of hard knocks.” He usually follows that with a story about how he screwed something up. Your skilled characters probably have a lot of stories. Wisdom can also come from watching others make mistakes and choosing not to go down the same path.
- Wisdom also comes from experience: A legendary general will have seen many ways to fight a war. He knows what works and what doesn’t based on what he has seen.
So, Neil Gaiman just kicked my ass.
As I was sitting last night, (procastinating, as usual) I noticed that Mr Gaiman was answering questions on Tumblr and decided to add one of my own just on the off chance that I might get a few words of wisdom from a favourite writer. I asked, and was answered:
I’m shockingly lazy and find it hard to get motivated to sit in front of that computer and write. Help me!
You being lazy and unmotivated and not writing allows another writer, who does sit down and write, to get published in your place. Magazines and publishers only have so many pages, so many annual publishing spots. You’re letting someone else who wants to do the work get published. Surely that’s a good thing…?
Ass. Kicked. Handed to me on a plate.
A few fellow Tumblr’s commented that it was a rather rude answer. I don’t think it was, he’s too good a writer for that. It did, what I assume he intended: It inspired me to get on with it.
I hope that it does the same for you.
Thank you Mr Gaiman, for kicking my ass.
“Writing requires discipline, but disciplined writers are not necessarily prolific. Most good work gets produced over time, sometimes many years, allowing the writer to grow with the material, to allow her world, her command over craft, and her psychological maturity to coalesce at just the right moment to produce something of value. This process often involves dreadful periods of not writing, or, worse, periods of writing very badly, embarrassingly badly. As time passes in a writing life, the writer learns not to fear these arid periods. The words come back eventually. That's the real discipline: to train the mind and heart into believing that words come back. ... Be willing to wait. In the meantime, write when you don't feel like it. If you can't write, read. ”—Monica Wood, The Pocket Muse (masculine pronouns changed to feminine)
Writing Tips 77: Naomi’s Advice for writing Abusive Relationships
I was asked to make a rebloggable version.
1. Be bold, vicious and detailed.
There are different kinds of abuse and they are all damaging to a person. In our current social climate it seems to me that authors and readers have no idea what an abusive relationship is. Bella Swan and Edward Cullen are in an abusive relationship. Travis Maddox and Abby from Beautiful Disaster are in an abusive relationship. Braden and Joss from “On Dublin Street” are not quite there, but they are straddling the line. Christian Grey from “Fifty Shades of Grey” is probably the most terrifyingly controlling man in any book I have ever read and it has nothing to do with the fact that he is into the BDSM lifestyle.
If you are going to write an abusive relationship you have to be aware that abuse has been glamorized and glossed over. Extreme jealousy is now seen as romantic, because “he’s so afraid of losing me.” If a guy isn’t insanely passionate, breaking down doors and watching the heroine sleep then “he doesn’t care enough.” If the guy is trying to isolate the heroine, have control of the way she dresses or where she goes it’s because “he doesn’t want to share me.”
It is scary as hell out there and if you are going to write this kind of relationship you have to go for it 100%. You can not dilute or gloss over how horrible it is. You have to make it very clear that this is not romantic, it is not sweet, it is abusive and this kind of guy may love you forever, but he will probably also destroy you in the mean time
Everyone is different. Every relationship is different, which means that every abusive relationship is also different. Do research. When I was in film school I wrote a short film about a woman who runs from an abusive relationship. I did hours of research on the web. Do you know that survivors of domestic abuse run blogs and websites? These incredible women put all their emotions on the web in the hopes that women who are living through it will read it and be inspired to leave. It is amazing. These stories will break your heart, they will piss you off, frighten you and fill you with conviction. There were nights where I wanted to grab a baseball bat and just go after these husbands. The point is that I found two stories that touched me so deeply, I wrote for hours.
If you have never been in this kind of relationship you have NO IDEA what it’s like. You have no idea, so don’t for a second think that you can come up with these emotions from scratch. If you want to delve deep into the brain of the victim, of the person who sleeps beside their abuser every night, then you have to find their thoughts. You still wont really know what it’s like, but this will give you a better starting point then your preconceived notions of what it means to be abused.
“Some beginning writers weigh down their speech tags with adverbs that tell the reader what the character is feeling, although it is patently obvious from what she just said. Other writers have been taught that there should never be adverbs in speech tags at all, under any circumstances; that adverbs in speech tags are inherently wrong. We feel there is a middle course. It is only when adverbs get into the wrong hands that things get ugly. Adverbs don't kill dialogue; careless writers kill dialogue. Overuse at best is needless clutter; at worst, it creates the impression that the characters are overacting, emoting like silent film stars. Still, an adverb can be exactly what a sentence needs. They can add important intonation to dialogue, or subtly convey information. "I love you, all right?" he said jokingly is miles away from "I love you, all right?" he said coldly. But avoid at all costs "I love you, all right?" he said lovingly.”—How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them — A Misstep-By-Misstep Guide, Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman
Tips for Characterization
Characterization is one of the most important elements of fiction. While literary fiction requires a more complex treatment than does most genre fiction, all writers must people their works with interesting, believable characters.
1. Know your character’s past without explaining it to the reader. Since we are all driven by our personal histories, it makes sense that believable characterization would contain this component. However, the reader does not need to know everything you, the writer, does. Beginning writers often supply lengthy exposition and details that have no bearing on the scene. Reveal your character’s past on a “need to know” basis only.
2. Characterization should be a force behind the plot. Ask yourself: Why can’t this story happen without this character? How does this character add to the conflict? How would the story change with a different set of characters
3. The personality and peculiarities of your characters should emerge through their actions. The old “Show, don’t tell” advice is particularly useful here. Instead of explaining motive, emotions, and realizations, let the reader draw his conclusions based on behavior.
4. Don’t use characters as mouthpieces. A character should never exist solely to convey information.
5. Find the contradictions within a character. Maybe a detective who is precise with his investigations lives in chaos at home. Or a middle-aged woman listens to hip hop music. Don’t create contradictions for the sake of them, however; they need to reveal something deeper about the character that is relevant to your story.
6. Place your characters in situations that challenge their traits. For example, what happens to a borderline obsessive-compulsive person when he must forgo his rituals? What happens to a psychologist who must question her own sanity?