Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Summary of Mantras for the Writer

This post serves as a central point of reference to which all my writing mantras can be linked ad seriatum.

I started this business of writing down my writing mantras and explaining them with a great deal of energy, and I foolishly bundled five of the mantras together in one long post. A few shorter posts would have been better. I calmed down a bit and I wrote a shorter explanations after that.

#1 Work your opening paragraph to death.
#2 Give no excuse to dismiss your work in the opening pages.
#3 Bracketing a story often works.
#4 So does “in media res.”
#5 Make your reader want to “get on the train” with your characters.
These all bear on considerations of the opening for your story. They may seem self-explanatory, but they're elaborated upon here just in case they aren't.

#6 Evoke sympathy for the hero, then evoke identification with his story goals.
Because I was reading like a writer, I realized there was a method to C. S. Forester's madness when he had everyone be so mean to that nice Horatio Hornblower.
In the universe of hard-hitting dialog, you will seldom find a laundry list.

I clumped together these mantras because they both deal with something I'm less comfortable with and less interested in: poetry.

#11 Put not your hope in adjectives nor prepositional phrases, either.
#12 Modifiers in general should be replaced with stronger nouns and verbs.
#13 Use a thesaurus as often as you drink Tabasco.
The writer needs a vocabulary. With a vocabulary you can know what word has the exactly-right shade of nuance when you want an action, or when you want a being. A lame vocabulary will cause you to decorate your nouns and verbs with crutches like adjectives, adverbs, and propositional phrases. You can't fix a lame vocabulary by going to the Thesaurus.

14    Minimize use of dialog tags.
15    A bit of body language can cue who’s speaking.
16    As well as the intent of the speaker: interrogator vs interrogate-e.
17    “Proper names can cue who’s speaking, Mulder.” “Is that so, Scully?”
18    But if you must use a dialog tag, use “said.”

All these mantras concern dialog tags. Too many of them make your prose wooden. "With some creativity, you can eliminate all dialog tags," he boasted.

#19 Vary your sentence structure.
#20 If all your sentences start with the same first word, see the previous mantra.

See dull sentence. Bore dull sentence. Bore.

#21 There are no new plots, but there are plenty of fresh characters

Here's where I confess the dark secret that lies behind my first Finding Time story.

The unrequited desires of each of your characters are spurs in their sides, the air beneath their wings, and some other metaphors you can supply. These "wants" pull your story forward.

Just like contented characters are death to stories, harmony is moribund thereto. You should always have some conflict, even if it's just over who goes through the door first.

Action scenes are fun and confusing. Clarity of expression is always paramount, but action scenes need to convey the tumult more clearly than whether the chessmen are precisely aligned or how they're feeling.

#26 Alternate slow scenes and fast scenes.
Remember how those action scenes are confusing? A slow scene after it is a good place to explain in detail what just happened.

#27 Show, don’t tell. Depict sensa to the reader and let him/her interpret it.
#28 Show, don’t tell. Witness, do not preach.
The reader likes you to interpret the meaning of a scene as much as s/he likes you to chew his/her food.

#29 Read your stuff aloud at least once
The process of speaking the words aloud gives you the chance to hear unfortunate combinations of sounds that can prove a distraction to your readers.

#30 Remove things that “go without saying.”
If a word goes without saying, you shouldn't say it. Many words can be reasonably inferred.

#31 A character acts toward a goal because s/he is motivated, but faces a conflict.
You have to give your characters reasonable motives for their actions. Combine them together and you have the architecture of the story.

#32 All these mantras have exceptions.
The idea is not that the mantras become false, but that there are domains where they are less effectual, and that there are other mantras that may be more effectual at that point. The wise writer then chooses a trade-off that best improves the story.

#33    Everyone’s writing stinks until they write a million words.

Don't take my word for it Ray Bradbury said it. If you disagree, write a million words and compare your output before and after.

#34 If you are right and the group is wrong, nod, smile and slowly back away.
If you turn your writing group into a debating society, you're missing the point.

#35 If two different groups say the same thing, you really are wrong.
You are in a writing group to hear what the voices inside your head are not saying.

#36 Others who ignore these mantras will get published ahead of you. 
You can do everything right and find someone who doesn't may get ahead of you.

#37 Read like a Writer.

To a writer, reading is no longer a passive leisure pastime, but an opportunity to steal learn.

#38 This list is not finished...

1 comment:

  1. Excellent! Just got unstuck with these! Merci.
    (novice writer)


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