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Oct. 2nd, 2007 04:20 pm (UTC)
Saw the link on Boing Boing and glad I came
I've been a tinkering scrivener for some time now. After reviewing your list, I'm re-energized to go back to one of my "works in progress." I'll stop back and check in again. Thanks for writing.

Oct. 2nd, 2007 04:41 pm (UTC)
Re: Saw the link on Boing Boing and glad I came
I'm starting to think my estimation of "hundreds" of new eyeballs today was well under.

Glad you liked it, and good luck!
Oct. 2nd, 2007 04:52 pm (UTC)
Thank you, etc.
Not only are lists like this highly entertaining for readers, they're invaluable for those looking to transition into being writers.

I haven't been published yet, but with people helpfully pointing out the common pitfalls, I have hope.

Oct. 2nd, 2007 05:14 pm (UTC)
Re: Thank you, etc.
Good luck. The submission process feels like a game of whack-a-mole that never ends. But eventually it does.
Oct. 2nd, 2007 05:04 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the spot-on and entertaining list. The only one I'd take issue with is the prohibition on head-hopping within a scene or chapter. If done well, it can be fantastic and enrich the experience of reading the work. Henry Fielding hops from one character's head to another all the time, and nobody thinks Tom Jones is a piece of hackwork.
Oct. 2nd, 2007 05:13 pm (UTC)
I've seen it done well, too. If amateurs could do it as well as professionals, I wouldn't be complaining.
(no subject) - charliegrrrl - Oct. 2nd, 2007 06:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - fastlearner - Oct. 2nd, 2007 06:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 2nd, 2007 06:25 pm (UTC)
Re: Head Hopping isn't MPOV, Folks
Thanks for having my back. You're righteous.
Oct. 2nd, 2007 06:45 pm (UTC)
Make that vinaigrette, please . . .
And yes, feel free to call me nit-picky.

For more info, please see:

Other than that, great stuff & greatly appreciated.

Oct. 2nd, 2007 07:05 pm (UTC)
May I also suggest George Orwell's Six Rules for Writing?

1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.

3. If it is possible to cut out a word, always cut it out.

4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.

5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
Oct. 2nd, 2007 07:11 pm (UTC)
Yeah, it doesn't get any better than that. I'm pretty sure I've linked to the full Politics and the English Language a couple of times on this site. Why I Write has some nice bits too.

In one form or another this problem comes up again. The problem of language is subtler and would take too long to discuss. I will only say that of late years I have tried to write less picturesquely and more exactly. In any case I find that by the time you have perfected any style of writing, you have always outgrown it. Animal Farm was the first book in which I tried, with full consciousness of what I was doing, to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole. I have not written a novel for seven years, but I hope to write another fairly soon. It is bound to be a failure, every book is a failure, but I do know with some clarity what kind of book I want to write.

Looking back through the last page or two, I see that I have made it appear as though my motives in writing were wholly public-spirited. I don't want to leave that as the final impression. All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one's own personality. Good prose is like a windowpane. I cannot say with certainty which of my motives are the strongest, but I know which of them deserve to be followed. And looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally.

I do wonder if Orwell, having perfected political writing with 1984, wouldn't have moved on to something else, if he had lived.
Oct. 2nd, 2007 08:05 pm (UTC)
From the viewpoint of a multi-genre demi-author...
Most of these are actually pretty useful. I do have a few minor points to take up with your list, though, so if you don't mind...

1.) Sometimes head-hopping actually comes in handy, and not just when you're doing MPOV writing. Anybody who's ever played one of the Suikoden games (PS1 and PS2) and has gotten near the end knows that sometimes, head-hopping from person to person can give you a sense of wrapping things up...and some people's thoughts lead you to another person. Even when this person's point of view hasn't even been mentioned anywhere in the book previously, it CAN be useful for tying up a few loose ends.

5 and 6.) As a few others have mentioned, sometimes these things come in handy...and not just when there's an axe-wielding maniac waiting inside. Sometimes, authors just need to give the reader a break from the hectic pace that the rest of the book can have. I DO agree that they shouldn't be over-used. No more than two, preferably, and do it with one if you possibly can.

9.) Almost tends to trip a lot of people up. Especially me. I HATE dealing with absolutes, so 'almost' and 'nearly' work their way into my writing with depressing frequency...whereupon my editor yells at me. However, sometimes they have their place...just don't over-use them.

10.) To this one, I like to apply what I call the 'common occurrence' rule: if I say it's, oh, an armory...you'll probably expect weapons to be in there. So producing something like a hacksaw...wouldn't be good. Producing a rifle of some kind -would-. (My editor calls this the 'common SENSE' rule, but I don't like the implications that a lot of people lack it.)

12.) Leaving out time frames can be a deliberate move...but I don't like doing it. I try to give some sort of hint as to WHEN and WHERE my plots are taking place...even if it's something so simple as *winces* 'spring by the lake'. You can't know how much I hate that phrase...

14.) Sometimes, the names we come up with are so...bad...that people can't help but want a NORMAL name. And, of course, there are those who write about parallel dimensions...things that take place on an Earth that isn't quite this Earth.

15.) THAT annoys me more than you can ever know. I've noticed a great many authors of medieval-style books act as though court, taverns, and shops are the only place anything is ever said. My writing, more often than not, has characters picking up bits of rumors just by listening to what people say as they're walking (riding, etc) from place to place, whether they're in a town or just on a road.

19.) You can't know how often I've had people--editors and readers alike--tell me to be MORE descriptive. I suppose it depends upon what genre and age group you're writing to.

20.) Many editors give length requirements...and you wouldn't believe the lengths some of us have to go to in order to MEET those requirements, and still keep things concise. More often than not, I find myself stretching things out, rather than cutting things down. Again, I suppose it depends on various things.

Of course, all of these are just my viewpoint. Others will disagree, I'm sure.
Oct. 2nd, 2007 08:11 pm (UTC)
Re: From the viewpoint of a multi-genre demi-author...
Well done. I like your commentary on #10 especially, so that makes two very good observations on that one today. I should probably add a line or two and give you guys credit.

I'm quick to admit that #19 is a taste thing. I think I put a disclaimer at the top saying that some of these just bugged me, not editors or the reading public in general. I could even be accused of hypocrisy, because here and there I'll let myself go in a book and just wallow in description if its something that interests me.
Oct. 2nd, 2007 09:03 pm (UTC)
#14 - I've heard that the genesis of "Stranger in a Strange Land" came from a similar talk Heinlein was giving, where he said something like "you wouldn't have a Martian named Smith, for instance" - and that idea stuck in his head. Which is an instance of "you can break the rules, if you know what the rules are and you break them on purpose".
Oct. 2nd, 2007 09:44 pm (UTC)
On the flip side - "#14 Strange days. Stranger names" has an evil twin: the weird for weird's sake syndrome.

Too many writers write about strange magical places where everything HAS to be different with odd names and strange rituals associated with them, which would be fine if the culture their characters live in had some reason for being that different...

But going to the tavern for a beer is going to be immediately more familiar than taking the tronga cart to the felibar for a smelging furlig of blarnin.

And yeah, I'll bet they have taverns on Mongo's home planet too. :)

I've read some wonderful SF/F where the writer has set up a truely different civilisation that really did need new words and rituals to work... but it's VERY hard to write something like that well and takes a lot of focus and determination to make it come out interesting to the reader.

As is so often noted: SF isn't really about aliens - it's about regular people in unexpected situations, or even not so unexpected situations... with rayguns. Ok, ok.. that last is space opera, but the point remains.

Do you name your car 'Bringer of Light' or your pen 'Slayer of Bad Cliche'? Well, why assume other cultures would? I'd hate to think the entire universe (outside of North America) behaves like an adolescent version of the fictional Norse. :)
Oct. 2nd, 2007 09:54 pm (UTC)
Yes, good points.

Thank you for adding to the discussion!
Oct. 2nd, 2007 10:23 pm (UTC)
Missed this the first time...
...good stuff, and useful.
(no subject) - halfassured - Oct. 2nd, 2007 11:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 2nd, 2007 11:17 pm (UTC)
You know who's good at doing this sort of thing is Thomas Harris. In Red Dragon he either opens conversations with something unexpected

"I think he had to touch her" Graham said in greeting (Ch 3)

elaborate verbal fencing (conversations with Hannibal Lecter)


Attorney Byron Metcalf took off his tie at five o'clock, made himself a drink, and put his feet up on his desk,.
"Sure you won't have one/"
"Another time," Graham, picking the cockleburs off his cuffs, was grateful for the air conditioning

Professional anxiety, having danger signals going off in his head during the "Niles, my name is Will Graham, I need to talkt with you for a few minutes" (Ch 12)

But most often he just sets up conversations by saying who's present and where they are, and the first line of dialog is an interesting discovery or statement.
(no subject) - dewimorgan - Oct. 3rd, 2007 12:53 am (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 2nd, 2007 11:08 pm (UTC)
I really enjoyed that. Thank you.
Oct. 2nd, 2007 11:16 pm (UTC)
Oct. 3rd, 2007 02:08 am (UTC)
this post
While you are quite helpful to a rank beginner like myself, I'm sorry to say that your criteria would have flunked Hugo (smooth transitions), Balzac (overly long and precise description), Zola (long, rambling politico-social exposes), Poe (just about everything), Dos Pasos (multiple POV), and many others of my favorite writers
Oct. 3rd, 2007 02:27 am (UTC)
Re: this post
I was under the impression that I restricted these suggestions to amateur writing when I wrote

I believe in paying it forward, so sometimes I take a look at amateur manuscripts. I imagine I'll keep doing it until some ballsack Balzac sues me for having a character named Tom when they also had a character named Tom.

It's amazing how many of the same mistakes you see over and over again. Different authors, same flaws.

I apologize for not being clear.
Oct. 3rd, 2007 04:39 am (UTC)
Fortunately, I don't have many of these problems. One I *do* have is the opposite of catalog copy: not knowing enough about the parts of a dress to describe them accurately. And my favorite scene in Dorothy Dunnet's books are those where she describes a room, going through exacting detail about what's in it. There's something about being in the presence of such breathtaking knowledge about the contents of a 14th century apothecarist that compels me to keep reading.
Oct. 3rd, 2007 07:12 am (UTC)
A grain of salt
Or who knows? Mayhap we should take this advice with a truckload.
Neal Stephenson, bestselling sci fi author, flagrantly violates rule number 1. In THE DIAMOND AGE we get, what? 11 POVs by page 45? All but 2 of 'em superfluous? William Gibson traduces against the head-hopping rule even more outrageously. Try slogging your way through the multiple pointless confusing POVs in VIRTUAL LIGHT...if you don't drown in the swamp of Gibson's prose first.

Either Rule Number 1 qualifies as a bad idea, or some of the most acclaimed science fiction writers hitting the bestseller lists today rate as rotten writers.


Y'know, I'm gonna go with door number 2 here, Monty. On all of Gibson's post-COUNT ZERO novels, I had to skip entire chapters because of the infuriating POV-hopping. Gibson's writing had become unreadable after 1987 until he pulled out of his power dive with PATTERN RECOGNITION and returned to (gasp!) the good old single POV, beloved of competent writers everywhere.

This points up the gross incompetence not only of the most acclaimed science fiction authors today, but also of the most feted science fiction editors currently committing linguistic malpractice. Patrick Nielsen Hayden should get his ass fired from Tor. He oversaw the sinkhole that is Vernor Vinge's RAINBOWS END. And, yes, that sludgefest boasts enough head-hopping to make you dizzy. Vinge can't write his way out of a pay toilet, but we knew that. Alas, neither can Gibson or Stephenson. What's the common denominator between all three? Let's see...Vinge's unreadable novel just won the Hugo (had to, no book that bad could possibly avoid winning a major prize) while Gibson's latest crapfest just hit the New York Times bestseller list, and of course Stephenson's most recent head-hopping extravaganza, the Baroque Cycle, broke sales records on multiple continents.

It never fails. Give the public bad writing, and they lap it up like dogs eagerly lapping up their master's vomit.

That's the trouble with advice about how to avoid bad writing. Follow it, and you won't sell to incompetents like Patrick Nielsen Hayden and you won't follow in the footsteps of guys like Stephenson and Gibson. The best writers have been chased right out science fiction, from Patricia White to Harlan Ellison to...well, you know who they are. 'Nuff said.

Gross incomeptence at the highest levels. Acclaimed editors who can't edit worth spit, bestselling authors who write prose so bad you find yourself taking a sharpie and sratching out whole tens of pages and scribbling agnry notes in the margins... Remind you of anything? The denizens of the current White House? String "theory"? Or those mastermind economists like the "mind-bendingly smart" Lawrence Summers who gave the world that priceless nugget of superb financial advice, shock therapy privatization for Russia in the early 90s?

Between rules 1, 2, 7 and 19, that pretty much puts paid to every novel Neal Stephenson ever wrote. Not to mention Charles Stross's godawful ACCELERANDO. Oh, well. What do I know. It's all just sour grapes.

Exactamundo. And Iran is preparing to build nukes so we *got* to invade 'em. And those tax cuts for the top 1% are going to benefit _you_. And Hillary will spearhead a gen-you-wine national single-payer health care plan for all Americans any day now, yes sirree. Oh, and by the way, we need to stay the course, 'cause things are going just _swimmingly_ in Iraq. Hey -- Orson Scott Card says western civilization is doomed if we don't stay the course. And what do I know compared to a mastermind like Card? Nah, I'm spouting crap -- Patrick Nielsen Hayden is a *great* editor, William Gisbon is a *masterful* novelist, and our prez will go down in history as the peer of Lincoln and Washington and Jefferson.

"Thank you sir. May I have another?" -- Joe Mantegna, "House Of Games," screenplay by David Mamet (1987)

Oct. 4th, 2007 09:31 pm (UTC)
Re: A grain of salt
I don't like to enforce "rules" in general, and I've noted some quibbles that I have with this list. I also would say that nowadays we're missing out on many good works of fiction that'll never get published through the traditional model, because now everything's set up to produce best-sellers only. There's a paradigm that you can't violate. You mustn't write in "old" and "unapproved" styles. Most of the classics would not be pubbed today--but the argument is that they wouldn't be making it in the market today. It's just a sign of the times. I know we are missing some good books, but there's nothing to be done for it. In the past, we also lost good books that have not survived to come down to us through history. The best we can do is hope that through the 'net, some of our work is preserved despite it all (if digital formats continue to be readable.) Someday, perhaps it'll be of historical interest. (grin)
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