It’s mind boggling. If you google ‘writing advice’ you get 479,000,000 hits. On YouTube you get 2,120,000.
I am guilty of this, too. Scattered through this monstrosity of a weblog are my ‘rules of thumb.’ Why do I post them? I’d like to think I’m trying to be helpful. Or maybe I’m just out for the glory of it.
Nah. There’s not much glory in a weblog about reading and writing. And here’s a thought: maybe you don’t care about this kind of advice at all. Maybe you want book reviews and nothing else.
The only way to get to the bottom of this is to ask you: what makes you come read a weblog? There are two ways to give me your thoughts, and I hope you’ll use both of them.
If you leave a comment please be specific. Be honest. You can’t hurt my feelings (you don’t last long in this business unless you can handle criticism). And remember that every time you leave a comment you have entered into the BIG BIG Giveaway that will happen at the end of the summer.
There is a huge amount of advice out there, and a lot of it strikes me as poorly thought out. But in the great big mountain of do-this-don’t-do-that there are some treasures. I love what Kurt Vonnegut has to say about writing. Here are his eight basics.
- Use the time of a total stranger [your reader] in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
- Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
- Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
- Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
- Start as close to the end as possible.
- Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
- Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
- Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
This is from his preface to Bagombo Snuff Box. Note that he goes on to say: every single rule can be broken, and has been broken successfully. But that’s not where you start.
*Featured image by Magnetic-Eye / Deviant Art