Writer’s Log: 1751 Writing Wrong

No, not righting wrongs. I’ll leave that to the characters of our stories.

What I’m referring to here is practicing the craft but doing so incorrectly.

We all know, a “writer writes” (both Billy and Danny say this in the movie), but what if what you write is wrong? Poor form? Grammatically, technically, logically, or structurally wrong?

If you practice and practice, but you’re doing so in a way that you’ll need to correct yourself, perhaps severely, in the near future, what you’re doing is learning bad habits.

Bad habits are hard to break.

I was a fool when I began. I just dove straight in; the water was deep and dark and could take my plunge. Unbeknownst to me, there were snags and rocks and muck just beneath the surface — and boy did they hurt when struck. I’d been an avid reader, effectively watching from the sidelines as authors plied their craft. “I can do this,” I thought. “Swish”, “Goal”, “Crack” — the sports analogies are many. Fans feverishly following every movement of the hands and balls of expert players: “Sure looks easy from here.”

I’d been better served by writing small pieces and having them tortuously shredded by a fiction editor; take baby steps, careful, incremental progress. I’d have learned the right way to write. Instead I created an unstable foundation which I’ve had to deconstruct and rebuild over years now. I’m explaining this in the hopes that some burgeoning, aspirational writer takes these cues and adjusts the arc of their career such that they build a solid foundation — first.

Here are some corner stones I’d wish I’d learned early on.

  1. Grammar, dialog grammar specifically. Proper use of the m-dash, semis and contractions.
  2. Active vs Passive. When you write “was” or “were” outside of dialog think, “Can I say this with more action?”
  3. Controlled use of dialog tags. “He said, she said…” Scale back such tags. Instead use a character’s actions to link spoken words to a character.
  4. Describe don’t explain (or show don’t tell for most). Adverbs tend to tell, that’s why they’re frowned upon. When you explain you insert a layer of distance between the story and a reader.
  5. Maintain proper POV. Oy! what a bother. Learn your POVs early. Subtle intrusions into the minds of characters — whose thoughts we should not be privy to — are a no-no.

    These last few are more style and nuance and are never fully learned, only slowly perfected.

  6. Consistency of voice, both of the story and of the characters. If you write over time, months or years, on a story, you’ll need to keep the voice of your characters in your mind as you sit after a break and begin afresh. That’s why may writers say “write the whole thing in a flurry.” Well, I can’t do that. So re-entering a character’s mind is critical.
  7. Story mechanics: time accounting, flashbacks, dreams, travel, world building consistency. These will help your story become complex and engaging. Time serial stories are boring. Screwy physics or mismatched abilities will break your reader’s suspension of disbelief.
  8. Cycles of conflict, action, resolution, reflection. This is my personal preference; frame your stories as a sine wave of varying activity.
  9. Character arc: hidden angst, emotion, motive, doubt, conflict, result. A more advanced subject here. Good stories have odd and conflicted characters.
  10. Plot design and tuning: allusion, foreshadowing, subplots, intra-themes. Complex stories force the reader to work — and a working reader is an engaged reader.

These are points of advice I’ve learned from many editors and writers, here and elsewhere. You know who you are.


15 responses to “Writer’s Log: 1751 Writing Wrong

  • George F.

    Wow man, PH just announced he’s not posting on WP and left a parting post. Worth a read. Check it out and I’ll be looking for your comments. It’s acerbic, as to be expected.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Anony Mole

      We all need a break from this mental dead-zone called social. NPR had a bit this morning, $ to give up social media for a year? $300 bucks was it. Give up email? $8500. No one takes social seriously, well, except the socialites.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Anony Mole

      If Anthony Bourdain can off his bad self, I guess were all dangling on the hook. Maybe all he needed was a break.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Phil Huston

      Hell, guys, this IS draft mode for me. I wrote Bobby B and The Art of Drowning on the run, as jams. My shorts starring Jackson or Deanna are chapters parked in scrivener that fell out of my head. And guess what? Nobody gives a fuck, I AM writing for the exercise. Because I have to. The same reason I put on headphones and something I know like the back of my hand since 73 will still take me places words and normal modes of transportation will never go.

      Liked by 2 people

  • George F.

    If you want to write for the sense of self expression and creativity, write at will and post it to places like WP. Think of your writing like a game of chess. It’s fun in and of itself. Eventually, when you get ambitious and want to publish, take this advice. I’ll save this post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Anony Mole

      Very true. If writing isn’t pleasurable… why do it?

      Liked by 1 person

      • George F.

        Eventually, however, one will inevitably ask: “what’s the point?” With writing, the “point” could be getting published and getting paid. Until then, learn to enjoy the process. Which is why I don’t mind when our friend PH shits all over my first drafts. LOL! Do I learn something from him? Sure. But I gotta dig through a big pile to figure it out. Until then, I’ll move forward and consider my writing a brain exercise….like chess.

        Liked by 1 person

  • Phil Huston

    And damn this bbbbbbblllllooooootoooth keeeeyyyboaaaard.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Phil Huston

    Stay out of character’s heads is one of the best bits, unless it is internal dialogue. The “silent soliloquy”. A LOT of rich and famous authors do not. A character can have a conversation that tells the story, then take a walk and we get it all internalized. The equivalent of 4 talking heads on CNN speculating about something. At the same time. Some audiences like all that detail. I lean toward the iceberg. We know who the characters are by what they say and do, the choices they make. Which is all we know of people in the real world. So why make more work out of it?

    And dialogue. Goddammit, LISTEN to people. Listen to music. Listen to the phrasing. Some old blues guy said (paraphrased) don’t play it if you couldn’t sing it. Stilted dialogue kills screenplays (think Hallmark) and books. If you’re going to write dialogue, unless it’s a Valley Girl, leave all the cutesy similies and metaphors to Wodehouse, women, adult gay males who write scenes in minutia like 7th grade girls and the Brits. If you need an adverb tag to make it work it’s set up improperly or lazy. Make your characters work for it.

    Story arc and alll thatt yooour own business. Tell your story. Your way. Think Hollywood in the 30/40/50 era, when they had to earn it. Noir. “Captain Blood”. “Bus Stop”. those are stream of consciousness, no arc. Mitchum or Bogart sweat and shoot and end up where they started. Flynn swordfights and sails off into the sunset with a babe. All Marilyn wants is a little respect. We are programmed by the formulaic BS that is the procedural/ By that I mean ALL procedurals from romance to mystery to conspiracy to SciFy. Don;t get sucked in to that if your story doesn;t fit the formula. write YOUR story, the way you want it to go. And then seek professional advisement, find out you suck, fix it.
    And above all, remember – our words aren’t really our children, or a neccessary appendage. If you gotta whack ’em, do it.

    Liked by 3 people

  • floatinggold

    Phenomenal well of advice here. Thank you for sharing.
    I am curious to know, though:
    How did you find out that your initial writing was no good?
    How can you tell it is good now? (This is not meant to say that it isn’t, I am just wondering how could one tell if their writing is decent.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Anony Mole

      (Yeah, it’s not good, but it’s not bad now — and it was.)
      The first five points are those that can be used as true/false checks. I failed every one of them when I blundered through my first manuscript (and much of my second).
      Write 1000 words, four pages, of a standalone scene and then go back and examine your words for infractions.
      It may not be good, or even cogent. But if you find no faults of type 1-5, then you’ve beat my demons with one stroke.
      The “good” part comes later, and that, that is where practice is the only way forward.

      Liked by 1 person

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