Whats the best, and worst writing advice you've ever read/seen/heard of, or been given?

Wayne Mack

Well-Known Member
Joined
Sep 12, 2020
Messages
917
Location
Chantilly, Virginia, US
Two suggestions that I pulled from Brandon Sanderson's lectures that I find useful are:

Give each main character a unique interest or concern. Use that focus to give the character an identifiable voice when using the character's POV or when the character is involved in dialogue.

Make each character the hero of his or her own story. Especially for villains or misguided characters, there should be a logical reason for them to act they way they do. Don't make a bad guy act just for the sake of being evil, give him or her a somewhat altruistic reason behind his or her actions.
 

JunkMonkey

Lord High Vizier of Nowt
Joined
Dec 19, 2010
Messages
2,663
Location
A wet, but photogenic, bit of Scotland.
Make each character the hero of his or her own story. Especially for villains or misguided characters, there should be a logical reason for them to act they way they do. Don't make a bad guy act just for the sake of being evil, give him or her a somewhat altruistic reason behind his or her actions.


Spider Robinson said something similar somewhere (I think it was him) along the lines of: "Every spear carrier in any book thinks he's the hero". It's like that standard piece of advice handed out by frustrated directors to bad actors all over the world that the actor should be in character before he comes on not as he comes on. And to stay in character till he's well off the stage.
 
Last edited:

sknox

Member and remember
Joined
Mar 25, 2013
Messages
1,649
Location
Idaho
>I play it safe by treating all writing advice as opinion.
I tell people to use the following as a guideline.
All advice is bad advice.
Except for the bit that works for you.

This extends over time, too. What was bad advice at one point in an artist's development might later turn out to be meaningful. And vice versa--or at least the formerly useful advice becomes irrelevant.
 

therapist

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 2, 2021
Messages
131
A bit of writing advice I stumbled upon recently was to 'write with intention'. Meaning to be aware of what you are trying to achieve while writing, instead of just mindlessly writing out a scene. I like that.

I read that Hemmingway monologue posted earlier. Was surprised by his advice:
"The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing I can tell you so try to remember it."

I've heard similar advice about not stopping at the end of a scene. Seems strange, but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense.
 

sknox

Member and remember
Joined
Mar 25, 2013
Messages
1,649
Location
Idaho
That assumes not only that I know what will happen next, but that what I "know" today will not change tomorrow. I stop in the middle all the time but still manage to get stuck. That Ernest could be a real jerk sometimes. <g>

I like the write with intention bit. My own self-advice is along the same lines: never write anything by accident. This tends not to fit will with free writing and its ilk. The Muse doesn't much like it, but she's a cranky old gal who rarely comes into my study but instead stands out on the sidewalk and laughs whenever I stumble.
 

Stephen Palmer

author of novels
Joined
Dec 22, 2009
Messages
5,589
Location
Shropshire
I read that Hemmingway monologue posted earlier. Was surprised by his advice:
"The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing I can tell you so try to remember it."
Another way is to go for a walk after the day's writing in order to sort out away from the computer screen what happens next.
 

Toby Frost

Well-Known Member
Supporter
Joined
Jan 22, 2008
Messages
6,450
I was talking to a writing friend of mine yesterday about good advice that nobody ever gives. Her suggestion was "Don't perv over your own characters", which sounds ridiculous but now I look back over some older fantasy novels...
 

IntoTheBlack

Well-Known Member
Supporter
Joined
Feb 28, 2018
Messages
50
Location
Oxford
Hello,

For me, the best advice I have ever been given is as follows.

Keep writing, keep reading and never stop... writer's block is a sign your plot, characters story etc..is not so well thought through. Force something onto the page, and you can shape it when you review. Finally stop being so hard on myself, without criticism where would I be? Though the advice I give to friends is mainly to find an editor that you can work with. Another set of professional eyes will help your projects grow and sharpen your writing no end.

I hope this helps :)

IttB
 

mosaix

Shropshire, U.K.
Supporter
Joined
Feb 13, 2006
Messages
7,746
Location
Shropshire, U.K.
What Steve said.

The closest thing to a gospel piece of writing advice is that if you want something good to come from it, you've got to stick at it. I think Teresa put it here a while back as "Most Writers Quit Too Early". Slightly behind it is you've got to be able to learn and adjust.

Worst...

Show, Don't Tell - I think this tweet breaks it down well, but the tl;dr is you can't follow that advice all the time.


"Loathsome" seems a little strong for what is reasonable advice.

When we've been asked to recommend / rank our favourite Science Fiction stories here on Chrons, Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes is mentioned again and again. The entire story is a beautiful example of show don't tell.
 

Fiberglass Cyborg

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 13, 2021
Messages
334
Two suggestions that I pulled from Brandon Sanderson's lectures that I find useful are:

Give each main character a unique interest or concern. Use that focus to give the character an identifiable voice when using the character's POV or when the character is involved in dialogue.

Make each character the hero of his or her own story. Especially for villains or misguided characters, there should be a logical reason for them to act they way they do. Don't make a bad guy act just for the sake of being evil, give him or her a somewhat altruistic reason behind his or her actions.
That reminds me of the slightly meta bit in "The Lord of the Rings," where Sam asks Golum if he thinks he's the hero or the villain!
 

Fiberglass Cyborg

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 13, 2021
Messages
334
Write what you know: "I've never seen c-beams glitter in the dark by the Tannhauser Gate, but I have had to clean up when someone's had a dump on the stairs"...
Nah
As a songwriter, when I write what I know I sometimes get accused of being a phony. No, I really do know slightly more about entomology than I do about Lerve. I once did a song from the point of view of a cocaine addict which everyone loved. Never so much as smoked a spliff.
 

DAgent

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 26, 2021
Messages
105
As a songwriter, when I write what I know I sometimes get accused of being a phony. No, I really do know slightly more about entomology than I do about Lerve. I once did a song from the point of view of a cocaine addict which everyone loved. Never so much as smoked a spliff.
In an old day job I used to have, I had to advise people on certain financial issues they had. I had access to all the information they'd provided about their affairs, the legal issues relating to them and specialist software to do all the adding up and a guide on how to do so manually.

Nine times out of ten I would always be told by these people I was wrong or didn't know what I was talking about because their friends had told them what they would be entitled to, or what they had gotten based on their own details. Suffice to say if there was anything wrong it was because they'd not gave me enough details to work with. And just because someone else got a refund for example, it doesn't follow that everyone they know would also be due a refund.

But two occasions really spring out to mind. One time a "payroll expert" told me he had calculated all his staffs payments correctly, so they can't be due to pay tax bills. But I pointed out his results were all wrong as he was using the rates from several years ago. He told me the rates never changed. I showed him the rates for the last 6 years which had all changed every year.

Another was when someone told me our results for his payments were all wrong, and talked me through his own calculation process. Which was one he had made up all by himself and as such gave him a much smaller bill. When of course you put them through the correct process, well, his bill was a lot bigger.
 

Ray Zdybrow

Asocial Robot
Joined
Jan 7, 2020
Messages
272
Location
Eusterby, UK
In an old day job I used to have, I had to advise people on certain financial issues they had. I had access to all the information they'd provided about their affairs, the legal issues relating to them and specialist software to do all the adding up and a guide on how to do so manually.

Nine times out of ten I would always be told by these people I was wrong or didn't know what I was talking about because their friends had told them what they would be entitled to, or what they had gotten based on their own details. Suffice to say if there was anything wrong it was because they'd not gave me enough details to work with. And just because someone else got a refund for example, it doesn't follow that everyone they know would also be due a refund.

But two occasions really spring out to mind. One time a "payroll expert" told me he had calculated all his staffs payments correctly, so they can't be due to pay tax bills. But I pointed out his results were all wrong as he was using the rates from several years ago. He told me the rates never changed. I showed him the rates for the last 6 years which had all changed every year.

Another was when someone told me our results for his payments were all wrong, and talked me through his own calculation process. Which was one he had made up all by himself and as such gave him a much smaller bill. When of course you put them through the correct process, well, his bill was a lot bigger.
Apparently David Foster Wallace studied accountancy in order to write "The Pale King"... I never finished that book, but, apparently, neither did DFW
 

sknox

Member and remember
Joined
Mar 25, 2013
Messages
1,649
Location
Idaho
>Nine times out of ten I would always be told by these people I was wrong

Yup.

As the poet sayeth:
Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest....
 

Alleycorn

New Member
Joined
Dec 22, 2021
Messages
4
Will read more thoroughly through the thread later, but I saw no one had posted these, which I would consider an example of bad advice: the link The original writer of that list deleted them from her Twitter, but of course, nothing is really gone from the internet...
 

Fiberglass Cyborg

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 13, 2021
Messages
334
I've just scored a copy of Jeff Vandermeer's "Wonderbook" for Christmas. Not got that far into it, but I can already see one major difference from so much writing advice I've encountered. He's happy talking about ways to encourage messy, irrational creativity, not just a set of mechanistic rules for mastering the craft of writing in a marketable way.
 

Similar threads


Top