Archives for posts with tag: writing tips

I’m at the proofreading stage of my new novella, and find bits of writing help echoing in my mind. Some I can actually put to use. It’s scattered all over the internet, but most is like the writing world is sewing empty hulls, instead of viable seeds. 

Here are 3 actually helpful tips.

1. One of the best ones I’ve come across is this: “That” is usually unnecessary. 

As I proofread, I’m struck by just how much I use it, without thinking. Removing it not only makes the piece read a little more smoothly, it also cuts the word count quite a bit. Especially in larger manuscripts. I’m becoming more aware of it, which may mean I’ll eventually be able to mentally cut it just before my fingers can get it typed. 

2. Tightening is always good, as long as you know when to stop. 

This one is always in the back of my mind, particularly when I’m writing a screenplay. There I can often do it mentally as I go, but that doesn’t mean the tightening is over when “Fade out” is typed. While good tight fiction is desirable, a tight script is essential in a squeeze-the-last-word-out-that-you-can kind of way. That last bit is the kind of thing that makes me stop and ponder the “that” situations above. I write largely by instinct. It’s often on the fly, with pauses to figure out if something is right or wrong, depending on how it sounds or more elusively feels. So, I dithered over the “that” I eventually committed to. But it’s getting easier to get rid of the ones that I don’t need. (Did you spot the unnecessary “that” there?)

3. “That” is far from the only often unnecessary word.

Or sentence

Or, heaven help me, paragraph right on into page. 

The actual tip is a succinct and painful “Kill your darlings.” 

This may be the most difficult piece of writing help to take not only to heart, but also to pen. Or delete key. This is the one I’ve found almost impossible to implement. It took a lot of experience to grow the wisdom needed to even begin to learn to ruthlessly slash and burn my way through a manuscript. It comes down to finding the honesty deep down beneath the euphoria born of writing a beautiful description. The crucial question to self is this: Will the story still stand without this part I love so much? If I delete it, will the story be less, in any way but word count? Often the answer is to hit the delete key. Sometimes, when I can’t quite let those darlings go, I start a file called (Story Title) Bits where I save the deleted parts, just in case I can convince myself I was wrong and justify putting something back in. I can’t actually recall a time when I put something back, except in my imagination. Do I take out everything that needs to be killed? Of course not! My writing tends toward literary, even when it’s genres where the style can be a bit startling. Deciding what should be eliminated can be a struggle, though as I write more and more I learn to use the brief amount of time that passes between formed thought and typed prose to decide before a problem spot has been actually written. It’s easier since I added /screenwriter to my self-description. It’s even fun sometimes, when I’m in just the right mood, to go all scorched earth on a   script that needs a page count pruning. 

These are the tips that help me most. If you have the patience to strain out all the nonsense that muddies the cyberwaters, there are more bits of useful information lurking. 

Oh. There’s one more tip right at the top of all things helpful. This one hovers above all others, is the most necessary, and means the most.

Believe in yourself. Always.

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A lot of writing advice I come across goes in one eye and back out the other. I’ve encountered so much contradiction that I eventually learned to cobble together bits of what works for me from all kinds of sources, including my own experience. Sometimes something comes along that’s so full of writery goodness that I either nod in agreement or learn something new.

Joss Whedon’s Top Ten Writing Tips makes me do both. Most every writer has a writing god, sometimes in multiples. Joss Whedon is one of mine. As other fans of his may have noticed in the paragraph above, I picked up bits of Buffy speak that I’ve never quite managed to put back down. Buffy was different. Buffy was cool in a way not exactly like anything else out there. Buffy’s always had imitators, but none that ever capture that exact Buffyness that makes Buffy the Vampire Slayer a series that left an indelible mark on the entertainment world.

I really love Angel too. The broody vampire cursed for the better, after being cursed for the worse. Not hard on the eyes either. Angel took a great ensemble into darkness and fear, with the perfect measure of lightness and humor. For me, the best thing about Angel is the 180 character changes. Doyle…good…scary…heroic martyr. Cordelia…vain, snobby cheerleader…rock solid, selfless (mostly) higher being. Wesley…stammering milquetoast…rebel outcast…romantic-fight-to-the-death hero. And the biggest one of all…Fred…a sweet girl with a huge brain…loyal big bad fighter…turns into Illyria…fallen god…powerful, arrogant…lethal…comrade in arms…friend. That kind of writing carries a lesson in each episode. Angel is like a master class in character growth. The series finale is one of my favorite TV episodes ever.

Firefly was a total Whedon about face. A space western, with a ship you fall in love with as much as the characters. It took the idea of a western and turned it on its head. It took the idea of science fiction and turned it inside out. It made the words Browncoat and Shiney (and a lot of a language we didn’t understand but got the gist) part of entertainment history.

Any time a writer who can do all of that wants to share his top writing tips, I’m going to pay attention. They’re aimed at screenwriting, but several can apply to fiction as well.