Do You Have Any Creative Writing Advice?

I was asked for some of my own writing advice, but I don’t know that I really have anything concrete. I don’t like posts that tell you things like “never end your sentences with a preposition” or “don’t edit while you’re writing” or “only use dialogue tags ‘said’ and ‘replied'” all of which are ridiculous to me. Everything has a time and place, but I don’t want to be one of those annoying “follow your heart” people. So, I’m going to try.

* Certain narration styles drive me crazy.

1) The omniscient narrator. The omniscient narrator makes me feel like I have ADD. Well, I do, but it makes me cognizant of it. I find the thing most difficult about an omniscient narrator is that it’s difficult for me, as a reader, to find a focus. This narrator frequently jumps back and forth between the personal thoughts of one person to another, and it’s difficult to separate the overwhelming knowledge and what each character knows and sees.

2) First person present. I understand imminence, wanting to move the story quicker, but… it bothers me. I feel like if you’re a person telling a story, obviously, you’re telling it at a later date and past narration would be more correct. It’s just a pet peeve. The Hunger Games novels were particularly challenging to get through due to my thoughts on this.

* Do the Work

So, I lied to you. This is one of the rules. It’s not really a writing rule, but a preparation rule. Do the work. Know your characters inside and out. You have to be able to put yourself into their shoes and see things not only from their perspective, but how each character views your other characters. Know your villain. Know your world and its rules. It’s easiest to answer the big six: Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? There shouldn’t be a question that you can’t answer. And “just because” doesn’t count as an answer.

* Dialogue tags

Occasionally, I like the peruse some of the writing blogs on WordPress, and I’ve noticed something interesting. Whenever anyone is giving advice on how to write dialogue, I see this bit of advice: only use the dialogue tags, “said” and “asked”, and use “replied” sparingly. In the years that I’ve been taking writing courses, this piece of advice has never come up (at least not while I was paying attention). In fact, it always seemed to me like the exact opposite was required. So, I had to wonder, were these people on crack?

As I’ve begun to dig a little further, asking both writers and readers, the logic of this advice began to come out. A reader told me that if the novel was full of other dialogue tags, it tended to sound amateur. A writer described a class where the teacher berated him for sounding like a fourth grader, who just discovered dialogue tags.

So, my problem with it is this. “Said” and “asked” convey virtually nothing. From a communication standpoint, it’s a nightmare. I’ve brought up communication before when I discussed author intent. When encoding a message, only ten percent of that communication is verbal. Everything else is nonverbal. How many times has someone told you, “It’s not what you said, but how you said it”? That means, when writing, ninety percent of the message isn’t being received and must be replaced. Use of other dialogue tags such as “muttered”, “groaned”, “whispered”, and “whined” are more efficient than a long description.

Also, dialogue tags have other uses other than indicating who is speaking. Sometimes they provide a longer more literal pause affecting flow and pacing. It provides negative space in dialogue. Any artist knows that the negative space is just as important as positive space. I do agree that having a dialogue tag for every piece of speech is ludicrous, but if there is a change or greater purpose for it being there, I say knock yourself out.

* A Little Bit of Poetry Can Go a Long Way

Be creative in your descriptions. I’m not talking a constant “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” or giant extended metaphors, but saying that someone waddles away like a penguin dancing on hot coals can offer a strong mental image for that extra punch. Why a penguin would be dancing on hot coals? I don’t know, but it’s the best I can do off the top of my head.

A Little Shameless Self-Promotion

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“The sequel to Wingéd tells the story of Kapera, a rebel foiche Dé, a weapon of God, in her fight to save the life of Grace, a target of the Demon Wingéd. However, Kapera is a reluctant participant. In spite of her feelings, Kapera will risk everything she holds dear to save the millions that would die if the Demons get theirs hands on this one child. Can Kapera put aside her anger long enough to defend Grace against certain death? And will she ever find the peace she craves?”

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“Thousands of years ago, before the age of Friedel and Kapera, there lived a soldier and harbinger of death. When Cassius and Emmy meet as Candidates, they are instant friends, but their friendship is threatened as the Cassius rises in the ranks of Dragons and fears for her safety. As his world is torn asunder by witches and Demons, he cannot shake the love of a Moth, who longs to be more than what she is. The third installment of the Wingéd saga tells of the rise and fall of the most notorious figure in Wingéd history, his ultimate disgrace, and the Moth who would do anything for him.”

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Available on Amazon for the bookworm on your list!

Interesting Things Learned Through Novel Research

1) We’re all just people.

I find that most people are under the impression that ancient peoples were stupid, and for some reason, it’s like this huge joke to make us feel better about ourselves. Well, they didn’t have all the facts right and believed in multiple gods, so they must have been stupid. I understand that it’s difficult to see ancient humans being anything like ourselves considering that they lived so differently. However, humans haven’t evolved very much since we became Homo Sapiens (yes, the theology nut is going to talk evolution; don’t get too excited).

“Homo Sapiens” showed up 200,000 years ago (Wikipedia [yes, I got information from Wikipedia. Bad author]), and modern humans, as we think of ourselves now, came around 50,000 years ago. Therefore, this encompasses all of modern society. So, the Ancient Greeks? They look like you. They think like you. No matter the education level, they can reason just like you. Maybe even better than you, because let’s face it, the Ancient Greeks are awesome.

What absolutely sealed this idea for me was when I started reading the translations for graffiti found in the ruins of Pompeii. Yeah, not Greek, but what can you do? First of all, heh, it’s graffiti! Second of all, it’s just as awful as an profane as spray-painted dicks under an overpass. For example, “(Bar/Brothel of Innulus and Papilio); 3932: Weep, you girls. My penis has given you up. Now it penetrates men’s behinds. Goodbye, wondrous femininity!” and “Nuceria Necropolis (on a tomb); 10231: Serena hates Isidorus”(Graffiti from Pompeii/pompeiana.org). Yeah, I don’t know Isidorus, but I really want to know what he did.

We are way more similar than anyone realizes. It should not be surprising that humans could erect these monuments or have these vast kingdoms. It’s not surprising, because to say that they couldn’t do it means that we couldn’t do it. They’re us just with a different set of beliefs and culture. Ah, which brings me to…

2) Culture is arbitrary.

I can’t really find one resource that led me to this conclusion, but I’ll try and explain myself. Humans tend to be a little ethnocentric. We believe that our way is the right way, and everything we believe to be sacred (or even unjust) now is the way that it’s always been. For example, many people believe that it is natural for a woman to be overemotional and prone to crying, and this has been the mark of women forever and always was. Well, throughout history, it was actually the opposite. (I’m sorry that I have no proper citations. I learned this in History class when I was reading Ben Franklin’s autobiography and found it weird when he kept expressing how much “affection” he had for other men.) To be emotional and crying were marks of passion, and only men who had all this testosterone (although they didn’t call it that obviously) could be passionate. It was considered normal for women to be calmer or even stoic. A passionate or emotional woman was considered unfeminine.

What I’ve learned by delving into history is that culture is a collective idea and subject to change. And it does, constantly, based on the ideals of its members.

3) There’s such a thing as Rock Gong.

Seriously. Check it out.