Month: July 2012

Gone Fishing

To my dozen or so readers:

Writing All Wrong will be taking another hiatus.

Supply and demand, as usual. There’s a little more demand in other realms of life that dictate my supply for the next while.

I’ll catch you all later. Happy writing. Don’t do it wrong.

If you’re new, peruse the archives. There’s enough there to set you straight.

H2

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Read Better, Write Better

You’re reading all wrong.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

Dear Writing All Wrong,

I’d like some advice on the following:

Since I’ve been writing stories I’ve hardly picked up a book to read. Some people have frowned upon me for that. They believe that reading books of successful authors can help you become one yourself. I believe it will only cause me to copy the authors’ methods of success, instead of coming up with a style of my own.

Is it really necessary to read other people’s books to become a good writer?

“That crazy German girl”, Gun Barrel City, TX

For starters, “methods of success” ≠ writing style and voice. And there’s a world of difference between “successful” authors and good authors.

Reading and writing are a balance, if a curious one. Readers who always read, never writing, remain good readers. Whereas writers who always write, never reading, may not even exist.

Reading is an important part of the input/output continuum. Can’t understate that. But let’s stick to the question, poke holes in some myths here.

1) Reading books of “successful” authors will NOT help you become one yourself.

Most “successful” books are crap. Do you want to be known as the author whose books are ones you see in grocery stores? If that were the case, we’d have more “successful” authors, no? Eating a steady stream of Big Macs, McRibs, McChicken Sandwiches, and Land, Sea, and Air McBurgers isn’t getting you closer to profiting off of owning your own McDonalds. So it is with the consumption of any product of “success.”

2) Reading books of “successful” authors will NOT cause you to copy “success.”

At best, you’ll be copying stilted prose, thin plots, and sham characters. That kind of material, for worse or for worser, could influence your voice.

But is influence a bad thing? Not really, because:

3) Reading good books will influence your style for the better. Let it happen.

You derive your style from influences. Take a gander at artists’ Wikipedia profiles. Even comedians have blurbs as to their influences. And who they influenced. Nothing new under the sun; soak it up anyway.

You can derive your economy of style from Saramago, or your expansiveness from Henry James. You can delve into the magical from reading Marquez, or the whimsical from Twain. Set your bar of influence high, and your writing will do better to follow.

Be influenced by artistry, aesthetic merit in writing. Not just “success.”

4) Read other people’s books to be a good writer? No. Read better books to be a better writer.

It isn’t 100% necessary. But it’s worth the effort.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).

On Writing Prompts

I was out shopping with the missus today, scouring cheery aisles of education supplies. To my surprise, I found an abundance of writing/literature/communication aids. Didn’t think they taught any of that, given today’s dismal educational climate.

Found boxes upon boxes of “writing prompts” in the mix. Really? We’re in that kind of shape these days, eh? Judging by the emails I’ve gotten (and ignored), it seems so. Can’t say it’s all bad. But there’s room to make them better.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

Do you know of any good writing prompts?

—Meghan Simon, Bournemouth, England

Other than “Write. Write now!” or “Why are you wasting your life?” Not really.

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t much need writing prompts. Writing is borne of the imagination; it’s the genesis of inventiveness. How proud of yourself do you feel when you take someone else’s idea and write off of that? Or when you develop seeds you expect others to plant?

Fine. I realize it’s more of a recreational gimmick. But don’t go so much planting the seeds of others when you can create them yourself. That’s half the fun right there.

But for the sake of the post, here are some writing prompts for your enlightenment, if you must:

—A zombie suffers a traumatic brain injury and loses his craving for the brains of others. Does he find love among the mindless of his own kind or among the humans who fear him because he’s “different?”

—The future version of yourself has broken into your house, left everything in shambles, set your car afire, and eaten all of your Bacon Blast™ Doritos®.

—Instagram now offers a taste of your food and drink right when you photograph them. Your protagonist is blind. She only has a flip phone.

—A clockwork android befriends the wrong person: Leonardo da Vinci.

—Technological breakthrough allows for universal translation of the barks and thoughts of dogs. Animal rights groups campaign against dog ownership after it’s discovered that the vast majority of dogs hate being owned by humans. Shep just wants a toy.

—Bullying is banned in the United States. To enforce the bullying ban, the Dept. of Education has authorized local, student-led Anti-Bullying Task Teams to use whatever force necessary to combat bullying. With that kind of authority, there’s no way bullying ever happens in America again.

—Your apartment has been robbed, cleared of everything, save for a watch, a copy of The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, and a bratwurst with a half-finished game of tic-tac-toe etched into it.

—A writer justifies his writer’s block by imagining it into a mental illness. And it’s contagious. Crap.

—A hip, young Los Angeles comedian wades through parties, afterparties, and after-afterparties chasing dreams, money, and love in a sea of affluence and popularity. JUST KILL THIS GUY ALREADY.

—A man walks a giraffe down the street.*

I actually wrote something brief from that last one. Did you have any good works come from a decent writing prompt?

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).

Less is More: Describing Characters

You’re in the business of writing to write stuff, tell stories, and do it well. You take great care (I would hope) to paint lightly, letting this thing called “imagination” fill in the rest.

And then you screw it up by slapping down all the details, leaving the reader with no work to do.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

How do I describe my characters the right way? Is there a way of doing too much? Too little? Where’s the happy of happiest mediums? 

—Ramona O’Neal, Blue Mound, Tex.

I’d like to say that there is no “right way,” only many “wrong ways.” But that sounds more amusing than it is true.

Just to make this easier, here are some of the wrong ways of going about it.

Beginning with description 

A rookie mistake. A bad writer mistake. Unless you write to dumb readers, they will figure this character out.

Using a mirror

I. Will. Not. Read. Your. Book. If. A. Mirror. Is. Used. To. Describe. Your. Character. This is the cheapest trick of cheap tricks.

Going “Whole Hog”

Including every single detail just tells your reader, “Hey, I don’t trust you to get this right. Let me do all the work. You just buy my crap, follow my posts, and eat the circus peanuts I toss you from my blog, ok?”

Using description as a plot point

That’s also a cheap trick, unless this is The Rhinoceros Man, Vol. 2 or whatever.

Character description is over-rated. Don’t underestimate your reader’s imagination. Give them something to work with, then let them take the rest.

Heck, while you’re at it: weave it into the story. Work smarter.

“He itched his pug nose.”

“She plucked a stray hair, letting the red strand fall to the sand.”

“He hiked up his frayed cargo shorts and wiped the sweat from his unibrow.”

“The punches darkened his once blue eyes into stinging maroons.”

“Her spindly hand stung from slapping his foetid jowls.”

“His paunch threatened to burst through his designer shirt as he shifted his bulk toward me. He’s more substance than style, even if he labored for the opposite.”

Swift tells. Strong brushstrokes. Strategic nuance. Get the painting started. The joy of reading is filling in some of that detail yourself. Don’t cheat your reader.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).