Tuesday, January 17, 2012

writers cheat sheet

Ah, residency... That time when you get to connect with old writer friends, make new writer friends, get your words critiqued and your mind expanded with new ideas, eat bad cafeteria food, sleep little, drink too much, and all the rest. :)
It's interesting; we have critique groups with a wide variety of writers and it seems we experienced writers always tell the newbies the same things. So, if you would like to appear experienced, here's my cheat sheet for writers:
  • Dialogue Tags:
    • Know how to punctuate these, e.g. "You rock," Joe said.
    • Only use "said" or "asked" in your dialogue tags. I'm not kidding.
    • Only use one dialogue tag per paragraph.
    • It's better to use beats instead of dialogue tags, e.g. "You rock." Joe picked up his pick.
      (Beats are small physical actions.)

  • Characters' Physical Description:
    • Characters shouldn't think or talk about the color of their skin, hair, eyes, etc. when in their own point of view.
    • Generally, do not describe the height, weight, girth, color, of characters--unless you write romance, or maybe fantasy.
    • Describe characters via qualities that are important by showing these qualities to the reader.

  • Don't use Distancing words, like "thought", "perceived", "realized"--anything that's a synonym for "thought". These put an extra layer between the character and the reader and you don't need it. Similarly, words of perception like "saw", "heard", "felt" also put distance between the character and the reader.
  • Don't use extra words like "that", "well", "just", etc. These are rarely needed or effective.
  • Don't use adverbs.
  • Know your genre. You need to know what genre you are writing in. This is important. I'm going to write more about this later in week.

Good luck with your writing!