Writing Advice

Writing advice from the famous and successful. (I think it all applies pretty well to writing scripted material. Most of it applies to live storytelling too.)

Kurt Vonnegut:

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

(#7 seems to contrast with #2. In live storytelling IMHO #7 doesn’t apply.)

C.S. Lewis:

1. Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn’t mean anything else.

2. Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them.

3. Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean “More people died” don’t say “Mortality rose.”

4. In writing. Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, “Please will you do my job for me.”

5. Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very”; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.

(When telling a personal story #4 won’t quite apply IMHO. While you definitely don’t want to tell the audience what to feel or think you will sometimes tell the audience what you felt or thought at the time.)

Jonathan Franzen:

1 Never open a book with weather…

2 Avoid prologues… A prologue in a novel is backstory…

3 Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue…

4 Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” …

5 Keep your exclamation points ­under control…

6 Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose”…

7 Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly…

8 Avoid detailed descriptions of characters…

9 Don’t go into great detail describing places and things…

10 Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip…

(#3 and #7 don’t apply to spoken English in a life personal story IMHO)

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