Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Three good articles on the subject:

I think there’s something to be said for starting a story early and then removing the beginning. I’ve been struggling to find the right place to start Horror Movie and I think that’s achieved by cutting out the first chapter. The good parts can be put in the story later, while the boring parts aren’t required.

This way, the story starts with things in motion, and the characters are clearly doing things which result from the events of those deleted scenes. This is similar to a problem I’d often see when editing indie movies, where a scene would begin with actors standing there doing nothing. In the real world, they would have been doing something beforehand, but the director hadn’t thought of what that was. Often I’d cut the beginning of a scene and get into it when the action was building up.

An old article, but a good one. Elmore Leonard, Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle.

Unfortunately it’s a New York Times link, but seems to work despite their paywall.

To summarise:

  1. Never open a book with weather.
  2. Avoid prologues.
  3. Never use a verb other than ”said” to carry dialogue.
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb ”said”
  5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
  6. Never use the words ”suddenly” or ”all hell broke loose.”
  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
  10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Like all writing ‘rules’, some of them are made to be broken, but I agree with most and understand why he suggests them as rules because I’ve seen all these problems in short stories I’ve critiqued.

Without even realising, I’ve passed 100,000 new words for the year. I’m well behind schedule due to life intervening and they’re spread across too many stories, but it’s still a good milestone to hit.

Temporary discounts for the Smashwords summer sale:

Get them while you can!

Inspired by some discussions on a writing forum.

Prologues can work, but I feel they’re very much overused. For them to work, they need to be something from the history of the main character in the story (which is probably better handled when it becomes relevant to the story rather than as a prologue), or obviously something that doesn’t include the main characters of the story, and the events have to become important later. The prologues I hate are included solely because the writer isn’t good enough to build the exposition into the story, or they’re back story with some interesting characters who I expect to be part of the main story and then they disappear at the end of the prologue.

Good examples of prologues, for example, would be many of Clive Cussler’s books where the prologue is usually years in the past, it clearly doesn’t involve the main characters of the novel, it will become important later if not the driving force for the plot, and it’s an interesting story in its own right. Bad examples would be many of the unpublished novels I’ve critiqued over the last few years.

Great PDF on why the old publisher slush pile system was such a disaster:

On the Survival of Rats in the Slush Pile

It’s an old one but I only just came across it.

I just read the opening of The One That Got Away on Amazon using the ‘look inside’ feature and realised that the tiny sample size there means that you can’t read much of the story in the ‘look inside’ sample; a story which doesn’t get to the point quickly isn’t going to sell well because readers need to be enticed by what is available.

Which isn’t so bad as stories should open with a bang and keep the reader’s interest. I’m going to try an experiment; I’ve rewritten the opening of The One That Got Away on Amazon to cut it down and enter the real story faster while leaving the original, slower, opening on Smashwords. Let’s see which of them sells better.

This is an edited version of a comment I originally posted on the Passive Voice blog.

Writers get far less respect in the movie world than written fiction. Yet many are happy to work for free to get any kind of credit, and hope they actually do get their credit at the end.

There’s a big difference between novel writing and screen writing. If you have an unpublished novel, you can at least show it to your family and friends, whereas if you have an unproduced screenplay they probably won’t even know how to read it. The only way for a writer to prove they can write a movie is to write a movie that’s actually produced.

The other issue is that the screenplay is only the beginning of the work. Once it leaves the writer’s hands, the actors will improvise and the director will change lines or rewrite whole scenes. When the shoot is complete and the movie is just a bunch of files on a computer, the editor will cut lines, move shots around or even cut entire scenes which don’t work. The director may record new off-screen dialogue or some extra shots to fill in plot holes.

So by the end of the movie, it may bear little resemblance to the original screenplay. After many other people have interpreted it and revised it, the writer may justifiably be unable to take much credit for what finally reached the screen. In my case I take no credit for the ending of the one feature-length movie I wrote which was actually produced because the director threw out my wonderful ending and replaced it with his own.

By the time the premiere rolls around the writer thinks the director is a dick for rewriting their screenplay, the director thinks the writer is a hack because they had to change so much to make it work and the editor thinks the writer is self-indulgent because he had to cut out half the dialogue and the director is clueless because he had to spend six hours looking for any two shots he could cut together to make the final scene work.

Which has given me a good idea for Horror Movie. Damn, got to rewrite part of it again.

Hey, I just got banned from Absolute Write for questioning ‘Global Warming’ 🙂 ! Which isn’t such a bad thing, I need to spend less time on forums and more time writing.

It also gave me a good idea for another short story that I’m going to try to get written in the next week or so, and some future blog posts:

“Deifying scientists” – which was the original subject of the thread until someone brought up ‘Global Warming’ and someone else starting posting paraphrases from the fake Heartland ‘strategy document’.

“Why are so many writers left wing?” – which is an interesting subject and I think it’s more complex than it might first appear.

“Global warming: scam or what?” – I’ve been following the ‘Global Warming’ circus for around twenty years now and I rarely enter threads about it because they’re so tedious and boring. But I really should write something about it one day.

Character names are one of the hardest things to get right in a story. In the past, I’ve agonised for hours trying to pick the right character name before even starting the story… and then changed them again after the story was finished.

Lately though, I’ve been trying something else. Instead of picking a name, I name them for their role in the story or their personality and pick a name to replace it at the end. This has the additional benefit that I don’t forget what they are supposed to be doing in the story, since their name tells me.

With War Show, for example, I have Cool, Beer, Nerd, Nazi, Girl and Granny as some of the main characters. Their roles are reasonably self-explanatory and I’m sure I’ll come up with some good names later.

Some interesting posts on book blurbs and story structure that were linked to on the Kindle boards:

This probably helps to explain why I’ve been going around in circles on Horror Movie for so long, as I started from a simple idea to see where it would go. Normally I write outlines, but I wanted to see how well that worked; I’m not sure that it did. I just trimmed out a few scenes that definitely won’t go into the final version, so the word count should now be approximately correct.

This is something I read a couple of years back but forgot to bookmark, and I’ve been looking for it again for some time because I couldn’t remember who wrote it: The Lester Dent Pulp Paper Master Fiction Plot.

Lester Dent was the writer of the ‘Doc Savage’ novels, and while pulp fiction tends to get dull after you’ve read enough of it, I think his ‘master plot’ here is worth a look by any aspiring writer; the most important elements such as rising menace, showing not telling, ‘shovelling grief’ onto the hero, making every word count etc are important in any genre other than experimental fiction that only three people will ever read (and two of those are your relatives).

I think I’m going to take his advice and write a short story following his formula just to see how it comes out.

I certainly think the expanding backlist of trade published writers re-releasing as e-books will be big over the next few years, but I’m not convinced it’s going to be so big that new writers won’t be found. The more lasting backlist novels have remained in print, while many of those that have gone out of print did so because they’re far less relevant than they were when first released.

Whole genres that were popular a couple of decades ago don’t really have much relevance to people today. Cold War thrillers, for example, or post-WWIII nuclear survivalist action novels; the good ones are still around, but the majority probably deserved to vanish into the depths of $0.99 used book sales on ebay. SF stories set in the far future may still be relevant, but those set in the near future written a couple of decades back, not so much; I remember one of Clarke’s novels where he wrote about people entering competitions to find information on a global information network… it was probably pretty cool in the 80s, but today it’s rather quaint and most people would think ‘why don’t they use Google?’

I just found an exercise book full of stories I wrote when I was nine years old. It must have been among the piles of junk random stuff from my parents’ house that I shipped over when I emigrated, and I discovered it again while looking for a book I needed as research material for Highgate Horror.

I guess the challenge now will be to rewrite one of the stories and publish the revised version :).


So, the presents are opened and the turkey is eaten. Now is probably a good time to set some goals for 2012.

I’m going to aim for three novels and a dozen short stories out by the end of the year. That doesn’t seem impossible as I have more than three novels at first draft level so I’m going to be rewriting those and releasing them, and I only need to write one short story a month to meet that requirement.

Still, I have a busy year coming up in my day job so we’ll see how much time I can make to get the writing done.

I remember a trade-published writer saying he was on a panel where someone claimed that only 100/200-ish writers actually made a living from writing, and he then said ‘hang on, there are seven of us on this panel’ then asked anyone else in the room who made a living from writing to put their hands up, and another couple of dozen did.

I’ve seen various discussions about this elsewhere and the conclusion seems to be that several thousand writers make a living from writing fiction in America. Which isn’t great, but is still much better than the claim.

There’s also the ‘the average writer only makes $500 a year from writing’ claim which has similar problems to ‘the average self-published book only sells 200 copies’; it’s perfectly true, but meaningless because so many writers make no money in a year.

Hemingway’s four rules for writing well:

Four Rules

1. Use short sentences.
2. Use short first paragraphs.
3. Use vigorous English.
4. Be positive, not negative.

Simple and they make a lot of sense.