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Writing advice

I came across this link on another writers' site, and found it a helpful reminder of what to look out for as I dive into another round of edits. Hope others find it interesting too - 32 writing rules by Alan Guthrie. I particularly like number 20!

https://notetoselfhumanize.wordpress.com/2010/09/14/32-writing-rules-allan-guthrie/

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Replies (32)
    • A good list, Kate. I particularly like the example in #10. #19 got a laugh, too. And, oh how I wish people would embrace #30.

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      • I'll be applying #30 to my sentences in future. A clever tip.

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      • Hmm... I liked that and recognized too many of the problems. 😁 One thing. What does this mean. '23: Don’t allow your fictional characters to speak in sentences. Unless you want them to sound fictional.' This obviously doesn't refer to dialogue = so? Love number 3 about the adverbs. I use one maybe every six chapters or so, and boy, do I notice them everywhere in other's writing. Filter words? Never heard of them.😎 

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        • #23 does refer to dialogue. Listen to people speak in real life. Try recording and transcribing a conversation. How often do you find a full, grammatical sentence? Yes, a few of us do regularly; we're the exceptions. Real dialogue is replete with non-sequitur subclauses and half-thoughts. Admittadly, that's harder to read, so it's about finding a balance that conceys the meaning without adhering to grammar.

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        • How appropriate no. 17 is for me. After months wasted trying to create a separate hook and inciting incident for The Fool (my debut novel), I couldn't do it. Reverted to my original, combined, version of chapter 1, and this morning my lovely editor sent me a rave review. Going with my gut instinct and throwing my MP into the thick of it right from the start.

          Love 20. Boy, does my MP have problems on her problems!

          19. Sex. Hmm.  I've got lots of consensual sex sans jealousy, but hell, it's steamy!

          29. My lot have to laugh, chuckle and smile a lot. Or else they'd be weeping or committing hara-kiri because of everything I inflict on them.

          No. 32.  Yeah!

          (Good thing there wasn't a rule about exclamation marks.)  😄 

          Thanks for sharing this, Kate. 

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          • Number 29. The only thing that annoys me more than a character who grins is one who shrugs.

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            • That made me grin. 

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              • Strange... I shrugged.

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              • A good list. 18 could take a lot of discussion. A goal and an obstacle in every scene can be played out in so many different ways. It doesn't have to be melodrama - the goal might be to have a quiet and uneventful afternoon. And the obstacle doesn't have to be blocking the immediate goal - it might be something that turns out to be a problem later. (But if the reader doesn't have a sense of foreboding, and is as ignorant of the long-term problem as the protagonist, the scene will still be boring.)

                And a scenes in which we learn someone's character, or their secret - does this have to have a problem and obstacle too? I mean, yes it's good to learn about someone by seeing how they deal with a problem, but is that always necessary?

                Then there's the issue of subsequent scenes: if it's straight problem-obstacle-obstacle overcome, now move on to next scene-problem-obstacle, the story rhythm can become predictable.This, then that, then something else.

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                • There's an awful lot crammed into #18, Glyn. As you say, it doesn't have to be melodrama. I suppose the idea of the goal is to make sure the chapter has a narrative drive and the characters aren't just sitting around having a chat. Perhaps added to this section should be 'what is seeded for the next scene', to avoid the predictable rhythm you mention.

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                • Hmm? My novels unfortunately include 'shruggers' and 'smilers' who have a tendency to walk instead of stroll or amble.😁  Easy to fix with the 'replace' function in Word. But, in novels of around 80000 words, which mine are, how many shrugs and smiles are okay without being noticeable? There are many words and short descriptions to handle the 'smiled' problem, with 'shrugged' it is not so. Any suggestions? It doesn't work to say, 'raised his shoulders in a jerky fashion.'😏 

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                  • Have you tried using the find function to hi-light all your smiles/shrugs. That way you can see on the page how many you've got and thin them out if they start to look like dandelions on a lawn. 

                    The Emotions Thesaurus gives lots of suggestions for tics. Worth a look if you've not come across it before.

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                    • Think that's something I might need in my life


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                    • I would shrug and say, somewhat lightly with a smile, do what seems right for your novel. If you follow rules to the letter you become AI. She ginned suggestively. 🤸‍♂️

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                      • I know that's what you meant, but AI doesn't follow rules. it follows the patterns it was trained on. So if it's learned by reading, it'll use the same sloppy techniques as so many writers out there do.

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                        • And, according to Elon Musk, will soon become human. Argh what hope have we in this barren and nasty world… go forth and write young man!

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                          • Who you calling young?

                            (As to what Musk predicts, he has a habit of overpromising; his ego needs the buffing.)

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                          • About a quarter of this list is covered when I wash my chapters through ProWritingAid. However, one on the list lost me.

                            "Characters who smile and grin a lot come across as deranged fools. Sighing and shrugging are also actions to avoid. Eliminating smiles, sighs and shrugs is almost always an improvement. Smiling sadly is a capital offence." 

                            This needs explanation. If not, then why? And what is the alternative?

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                            • On one hand, it's as Kate says: too easy a fallback.

                              The other hand is slightly subjective. Consider how people smile. It's a continuum, from the passive face through something hinted at, to satisfaction, to maniacal. I suspect that a lot of the objection to smiling is that some people interpret it – by default – as the upper end of that scale; they don't notice the lower end of the scale. And there are also people who feel that others who are permanently a few notches above passive are somehow derranged or hiding something or… (Knowing that life is out to take the piss, I've got a permanent smirk on my face, and as such have been on the receiving end of such opinions.) So, effectively, this is an issue of lack of precision.

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                              • And then there’s the “smile” that is actually a grimace when your yoga teacher says “yes, keep smiling!” (and the exclamation mark is allowed because that’s how she speaks).

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                                • I would add that the danger or having your characters smile or grin or even shrug too often is that the *one time* in your book when that smile or grin or shrug actually signifies something important, the reader might not notice it. 

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                                • Some good tips and like he says part of the point of rules is having fun breaking them. He seems to assume that none of us are writing about deranged fools or jerks. I might want my character to come across as one of those.😂

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                                  • Everyone has an off day. Jericho always delights me when I use a new device to read tips here about writing: 'NOT LOGGED IN USERS CAN'T 'COMMENTS POST'.'

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                                    • I love that.

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                                    • For the most part, I agree with his whole list . . . But I have to quibble with 14. 

                                      "Use ‘said’ to carry dialogue. Sid Fleischman calls ‘said’, “the invisible word.”  

                                      Sid Fleischman is wrong. Said is NOT an invisible word. I can see it just fine. When a book is read aloud, is not a silent word. I will hear it every time. Thus it is not immune to over-repetition. 

                                      Substituting melodramatic dialogue tags in place of "said" merits some of the criticism it gets, but I don't consider it a mortal sin the way some do. I've never quit a book because of a random "uttered" or "spat" or "retorted" or "shouted" or "mumbled" -- but I did stop listening to an audio-book in the middle of long cross-country road trip because I couldn't stand to listen to the narrator dropping out of character voice between each and every line of dialogue to tack on an monotone "he said" or "she said."  

                                      My version--if anyone cares--would be "Don't use dialogue tags to carry dialogue. One or two at the beginning of a conversation or when a new character joins in is fine. If you need any more than that to keep things clear, you may be using those tags as a crutch to prop up a weak scene with characters that sound exactly alike and have no discernable goals or action. That, or you've simply let the scene go on too long. Sort of like this post.  

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                                      • I've not tried audio books, but it's interesting if the narrator is doing character voices, why they don't prune some of the 'said's. It would seem odd to add in the monotone he said, after an obvious voice.

                                        This sort of circles back to #18 and making sure the scene is working and doing what it needs to. In which case tagging quite possibly can be minimal.

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                                      • This is a great list. I know I'm guilty of #29 in my current first draft!

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                                        • The only one I disagree with is number 19.

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