The best fiction writing tips I've received (so far)

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Nikky Lee

Nikky Lee
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The best fiction writing tips I've received (so far)

In summary:
1. Show, don't tell
2. Avoid adverbs
3. Rethink passive voice
4. Edit out filter words
5. Vary sentence length
6. Look out for repetitive starts
7. Recognise your overused words
8. Make dialogue count

What are the best tips/advice you've received? Have any transformed how you write? (For me it was #2).
 
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I would like to gently suggest that it's not necessary to completely avoid adverbs. :) They do, after all, serve a useful purpose. Where I usually see them incorrectly used is in dialogue tags. Example:

"No, put that over there," Kim said forcefully.

The forcefully TELLS the reader in what tone she spoke, and TELLS the reader the emotion we're supposed to feel. Consider this example instead:

Kim clucked her tongue and rolled her eyes. "No, put that over there."

Describing actions that show annoyance before the line of dialogue not only renders the tag unnecessary, but lets the reader experience the emotion of her command without being told how to feel. We're shown her emotion with one simple sentence, and it gives the sentence the right context without us having to tell that context to the reader.

Hope this helps. :)
 
An interesting exercise for #5 -
1.Mark the beginning and end of each sentence on a random page
2. Lay a piece of tracing paper (onion paper) over it and draw a line over each sentence - leaving a space between sentences
3. The resulting pattern on the tracing paper represents the rhythm of your writing. It should vary with the mood of what you're writing
 
An interesting exercise for #5 -
1.Mark the beginning and end of each sentence on a random page
2. Lay a piece of tracing paper (onion paper) over it and draw a line over each sentence - leaving a space between sentences
3. The resulting pattern on the tracing paper represents the rhythm of your writing. It should vary with the mood of what you're writing

That's awesome! :)
 
I would like to gently suggest that it's not necessary to completely avoid adverbs. :) They do, after all, serve a useful purpose. Where I usually see them incorrectly used is in dialogue tags. Example:

"No, put that over there," Kim said forcefully.

The forcefully TELLS the reader in what tone she spoke, and TELLS the reader the emotion we're supposed to feel. Consider this example instead:

Kim clucked her tongue and rolled her eyes. "No, put that over there."

Describing actions that show annoyance before the line of dialogue not only renders the tag unnecessary, but lets the reader experience the emotion of her command without being told how to feel. We're shown her emotion with one simple sentence, and it gives the sentence the right context without us having to tell that context to the reader.

Hope this helps. :)

Yep, 100% agree. I'm not advocating to eliminate adverbs completely but to use them less.

I know when I edit my work I look at all the adverbs in it and assess whether they add anything to the story and whether I could swap them out with something stronger. Sometimes I do, sometimes I feel they need to stay.
 
An interesting exercise for #5 -
1.Mark the beginning and end of each sentence on a random page
2. Lay a piece of tracing paper (onion paper) over it and draw a line over each sentence - leaving a space between sentences
3. The resulting pattern on the tracing paper represents the rhythm of your writing. It should vary with the mood of what you're writing

Oh, I like this! I might have to try it sometime. And I just thought that it could be interesting to compare your own rhythm to some of your favourite authors for interests sake. :)
 
I'll add to your list as well. :)

9. Stay true to your voice
10. Layer in emotion
11. Write your characters realistically, making each one unique

Somehow I missed this—but I like these points. The post was mostly to do with the technical aspects of writing, but I might write another (or two!) to do with neat tips I've discovered for story and character development.

Carol, can you explain #10? Emotion is probably the weakest link in my writing, and I'm always keen to hear more about how to weave it in well.

I'm also curious to hear more about this.

Re 11: One great tip I stumbled across over the weekend: treat your side characters as if they are the main character of their own story. Give them have their own independent goals, backstory etc. I thought it was quite a nice way of looking at it :)
 
Sure thing! :) The last thing I add to a scene is the emotion. I treat it like the sixth sense.

What is my POV character feeling or thinking? What does he/she see on the faces or in the eyes of the others in the scene? What does their body language show?

Is he/she feeling or thinking something different than he/she is saying, because he/she isn’t ready to show true feelings? And then of course I make sure to show my readers why they aren’t ready.

And don’t forget about the emotional response in humans to music or scents. Those are powerful so use them in your writing. :)

I make sure each scene has emotion in it, along with the other senses. Because I write romance, it’s just as important, if not more so, than describing what the characters see, hear, touch, taste, or smell.

Hope this helps! :)
 
From an editor’s viewpoint, writing is about balance.

The best fiction writing tips I've received (so far)

In summary:
1. Show, don't tell
2. Avoid adverbs
3. Rethink passive voice
4. Edit out filter words
5. Vary sentence length
6. Look out for repetitive starts
7. Recognise your overused words
8. Make dialogue count

What are the best tips/advice you've received? Have any transformed how you write? (For me it was #2).

#1, Showing is sensory-driven and takes more words. Another axiom of writers: Don’t use three words when one will do. The two conflict. Show is important. If you just need to say the moon is shining, then say it. Tell can move the story forward at a pace that show will slow.
#2 Adverbs exist, they have a purpose. Use an adverb when it has a purpose without fear. Avoid lazy writing by using adverbs.
#3 Passive voice has it's place. "To be or not to be", that is the search for passive voice. That is Shakespeare's jab at those who fail to utilize a writers tool.
#4 There seems to be a feeling among critics - they think filter words are bad and don't realize they have merit. Oops, I used four filter words in that sentence. I should have said - Critics say filter words are bad. If you can't say it any other way, use a filter word and don't feel bad about it.
#5 Absolutely, that's balance. But, for impact. Use multiple short sentences. To finish a complex thought, use multiple long sentences grouped until the thought is complete. The rhythm of the prose is dictated by the content revealed to the audience.
#6 I agree, especially "he" and "she".
#7 We tend to used the words we know resulting in overuse. This is a tough one.
#7a Repetition - Repeating the same word within a short period of time is a bad thing. Shakespeare enjoyed taking jabs at this axiom. "Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and caldron bubble. Fillet of a fenny snake, In the caldron boil and bake...", (forgive me if I got this wrong.)
Repetition of words has it place at times.
8 - I would like to say, "make dialogue real".
8a - Exposition in dialogue should fit the context.
#9 Agree
#10 Agree
#11 Agree - note #9 makes this one tough or visa versa

These are just my opinion. Writer's tips, guidelines, rules or axioms are there to help writers improve in their trade. With experience, a skilled craftsman will break the rules in a fashion that makes their voice unique.
 
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The best fiction writing tips I've received (so far)

In summary:
1. Show, don't tell
2. Avoid adverbs
3. Rethink passive voice
4. Edit out filter words
5. Vary sentence length
6. Look out for repetitive starts
7. Recognise your overused words
8. Make dialogue count

What are the best tips/advice you've received? Have any transformed how you write? (For me it was #2).
Was that from Jerry Jenkins?
 
Was that from Jerry Jenkins?

It's a summary of a blog I recently wrote - so all me :) The ideas on it have come from talking to writers, reading articles, and from workshops I've attended. It's by no means a be all and end all list, however, they are the tips that have helped my writing the most.

I'm also interested to know what other writing tips other people have received that have helped them grow as a writer. Perhaps it will help me too :)
 
There's some great stuff here. I particularly liked 8. Make dialogue count and 9. Stay true to your voice. Understanding those two have been the most transformative for me. My dialogue used to be horribly expositional. Fixing that was a huge leap forward, along with realising that people don't have to talk in straight lines. And the voice thing was transformational simply because I'd never thought of it as a thing before it was explained to me.

--

#3 Passive voice has it's place. "To be or not to be", that is the search for passive voice. That is Shakespeare's jab at those who fail to utilize a writers tool.
Careful there, Bob. To be or not to be... isn't in the passive voice. There's a common misconception that all uses of the verb to be make a passive voice. This isn't true. I am from England clearly isn't passive. Shakespeare's famous line is a word order substitution for emphasis.

To be or not to be... in the case of Hamlet means to live or not to live (or more specifically, should I kill myself or not?). Shakespeare makes a substitution for emphasis along the lines of:

My friend he works in Panama. [Where the un-emphasized sentence would be My friend works in Panama.]​
To be or not to be that is the question is the emphasized version of:

To be or not to be is the question

which is equivalent to saying

The question is to be or not to be.

In none of these cases do we have a passive voice.
 
I'm also interested to know what other writing tips other people have received that have helped them grow as a writer. Perhaps it will help me too :)
Write even when you don't feel like it, or you'll never finish the novel! I think that's the best advice I've ever been given. :)

Left to my own devices, I'm an Olympic procrastinator.

 
@Rich. I love that video. Even watching it again I laugh! Pretty much summarises my entire university experience (minus the 2 all nighters). His blog is great too.
 
To be or not to be... isn't in the passive voice. There's a common misconception that all uses of the verb to be make a passive voice. This isn't true. I am from England clearly isn't passive. Shakespeare's famous line is a word order substitution for emphasis.

To be or not to be... in the case of Hamlet means to live or not to live (or more specifically, should I kill myself or not?). Shakespeare makes a substitution for emphasis along the lines of:

My friend he works in Panama. [Where the un-emphasized sentence would be My friend works in Panama.]​
To be or not to be that is the question is the emphasized version of:

To be or not to be is the question

which is equivalent to saying

The question is to be or not to be.

In none of these cases do we have a passive voice.

Yes, thank you. I put this post up today in Writing Wiki to clarify the TO BE issue re: passive voice, because it’s a common misconception.

https://colony.litopia.com/index.php?threads/correctly-identifying-passive-voice.4751/
 
Careful there, Bob. To be or not to be... isn't in the passive voice. There's a common misconception that all uses of the verb to be make a passive voice. This isn't true. I am from England clearly isn't passive. Shakespeare's famous line is a word order substitution for emphasis.

To be or not to be... in the case of Hamlet means to live or not to live (or more specifically, should I kill myself or not?). Shakespeare makes a substitution for emphasis along the lines of:

My friend he works in Panama. [Where the un-emphasized sentence would be My friend works in Panama.]​
To be or not to be that is the question is the emphasized version of:

To be or not to be is the question

which is equivalent to saying

The question is to be or not to be.

In none of these cases do we have a passive voice.

LOL, that was Shakespeare's jab at passive voice, in fact active and intended to create discussion because discussion is promotion and promotion brings in the halfpennies. Shakespear wove jabs at the wealthy who put on airs of higher education, even to the extent of spelling Shakespere different when writing to different sponsors to create discussions amidst the sponsors on the correct spelling. (all of the uses of Shakespear here were used by him, and more).

Bob
 
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My info comes from libraries and hard copy but I did a google search and found this Spelling of Shakespeare's name - Wikipedia . Remember, everything you read on the internet is true. Smiles.

Bob

As far his jabs at the wealthy (he was in their midst - his heiress wife was wealthy), I don't have any internet links but from the original text from As You Like It, where he makes a pointed jab at the wealthy.

AMIENS
And I’ll sing it. (taking paper fromJAQUES) Thus it goes:
If it do come to pass
That any man turn ass,
Leaving his wealth and ease
A stubborn will to please,
Ducdame, ducdame, ducdame.
Here shall he see
Gross fools as he,
An if he will come to me.

AMIENS
What’s that word "ducdame".

JAQUES
'Tis a Greek invocation, to call fools into a circle. I’ll go sleep if I can. If I cannot, I’ll rail against all the first-born of Egypt.

AMIENS
And I’ll go seek the duke. His banquet is prepared.

The actual meaning of “ducdame” is heavily debated. Jaques’s answer seems to be mainly a jab at the noblemen who have followed Duke Senior into the woods.
 
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Best advice ... "Get on with it already..." Or, something like that.

You can do this at slickwrite.com. It's free. Obviously I picked a section that flattered me. I like to flatter me. That green column is average word length in a sentence. Four seems a weird average but who knows ... when you take into account one letter words like 'I' -- and I write in first person -- then I suppose four is okay. But since it's an average.... it's a different kind of measure. There would be less variation I'd think. Who writes a sentence with ten 15 letter words. So ... am going to post this before I hurt my head. Screen Shot 2018-08-29 at 10.08.47 AM.png
 
No worries, titles and page numbers are fine if you have them.
Really Rich? This off topic and not relevant to the thread.

If you haven't noticed subtle jabs at the aristocracy and other groups like the Puritans, then so be it. I have writing to get back to.

As to who was Shakespeare, here's an essay that may interest Who Was Shakespeare?

Sorry for being off topic.
 
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