Welcome to the page for collecting Steve’s Observations About Writing.
I got the idea from these tweets about Scott Lynch’s writing process. I thought that was a good idea. So these are mostly things I heard myself saying on Twitter, and thought might be useful for someone else. Feel free to ask for clarification in the comments.
Rule 1: As Zelazny said, the editor only thinks he’s buying a story; what he’s actually buying is how the story is told. So find a cool way to tell the story.
Rule 1: Quit trying to impress me with how clever you are with how you’re telling me the story, and just tell me the story.
When collaborating with a writer who is better than you, your job is to provide the next Springboard to Coolness, then sit back and watch.
Anything you ask the reader to work out for himself becomes important to the story, even if it isn’t.
Stories don’t get lost. If you think your story is lost, just get onto Need and follow it until you reach Can’t. Your story will be there.
Snide or sarcastic can be useful when it clarifies a point. When it only obscures the point, you just embarrass yourself.
TV Tropes is a really fun site, but not as useful for constructing plots as you might think. And when you discover a trope in your work, sometimes you avoid it, sometimes you twist it, sometimes you just run with it.
If your protagonists are so irritating that the reader is hoping the monsters kill them, you’ve probably done something wrong.
An aspiring writer who needs to be bitch-slapped is SO far ahead of an aspiring writer who isn’t worth bitch-slapping.
Why would I believe your faster-than-light-drive when you obviously don’t know how to handle a firearm?
When writing a female character, ask yourself this: If the character were male, would I do this backstory? If the answer is yes, you’re probably okay. If the answer is no, take a very close look at it.
Sentences can be strong, but there’s a limit to how much they can carry without back injuries. Sentences with back injuries are troublesome. A good sentence can almost always find a buddy who will help with a heavy load.
Some days, you just can’t figure out what happens next in the book no matter how much you stay in bed and cuddle.
“If you must write to a market, don’t write to a crap market that doesn’t exist.” — @jenphalian
There’s a fine line between competence porn and bullshit.
I NEVER forget the semicolons.
I have just decided that Corwin’s description of walking the Pattern in Nine Princes in Amber was author intrusive. What hit me was how you just have to keep making progress, however slow, until a breakthrough makes it easier. For a while.
I love it when I write a scene that elegantly comes down to a single question, and I have no idea what the answer is.
All writing problems can be solved by POV. First person solves all POV problems.
Only write dialect if your name is Mark Twain. Only write to the market if your name is John Scalzi. To do both, you need a very long name.
Do these people have any idea how hard it is to stab someone death? Seriously. If you don’t believe me, try it. I have a list of people to try it on.
Author’s desperation leads to coolness. Coolness leads to characters’ desperation.
I find standard manuscript format comforting and reassuring. Makes me feel safe.
I know writers like to go for different sorts of reactions. But, “Oh, c’mon, that’s just stupid,” is probably not what you want.
The advice I first heard from @coffeeem, “Burn Story,” applies within a story as well as between stories in a series. Yeah, the rest of you knew that already, didn’t you?
When someone you trust tells you to ax a character, listen.The solution might be MORE of that character, but listen.
It isn’t our job as writers to understand the inexplicable, only to explain it.
If you’re having trouble keeping track of all the details in your story, remember it’s even harder for the reader.
Never let an opportunity pass to get a free meal, re-sell a story, or use the serial comma. If I were a better writer, I’d have found a way to work the subjunctive into that.
Just realized that 99% of the time when I cringe reading something in my old stuff, the problem was simple laziness.
When I hit a wall in my writing, it seems I never break through it. First I push it, then I create a bulge in it, and I just keep doing that until I suddenly realize it’s behind me.
Memory is the bridge from point of view to narrative.
The art of writing reduces itself to the craft of manipulating correspondence. The craft of writing reduces itself to the art of finding the right word.
The story and how you tell the story inform each other whether you are aware of it or not. The awareness gives you more toys to play with.
Voice will get you through times of no plot better than plot will get you through times of no voice.
Copped from some acting advice Kirk Douglas gave: If you’re writing a strong character, find a moment of weakness; if you’re writing a weak character, find a moment of strength.
One of the most useful skills in writing is discovering a way to take that scene you’re dreading and make it fun to write.
Sometimes I deliberately throw up roadblocks in my work. That is, I find I have written a sentence I don’t know the way past, such as, “There was something on the floor that made me realize I’d been wrong about everything,” without having a clue what that thing is, or wrong in what way, or how to move forward from here. After some thought, I realized that I do this because my sense of how the story has to flow, of when and how the tension must be built or relaxed, of how I want the reader to be feeling, sometimes outpaces my thinking about what events will take place.
I have at least 20 tricks and techniques for getting unstuck, but sometimes there’s no way around it: you just have to stare at the page until you figure out what happens next.
The plot of a novel is like the crust of a pizza: if it’s bad, it’ll ruin the whole thing, but other than that it just exists to hold all the stuff we’re really after. Yeah, yeah, I know. Some people read for plot. But then, some people eat pizza for the crust.