Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Writing Tips

And another thing: I wanted to start collecting writing tips (general ones, and those applicable to just the sci-fi/fantasy genre), and thought I might as well make it public.

This first set of tips is from K. D. Wentworth, coordinating judge for the Writers of the Future contest. They are the top five reasons she immediately rejects entries. (http://wotfblog.galaxypress.com/2007/07/ top-five-disqualification-points-during.html)
1. Poor spelling and copious grammatical errors

2. No sign that this is a science fiction or fantasy story by the end of the first page

3. Inability to tell what's going on by the end of the first page because the writer is withholding critical information from the reader in order to create suspense.

4. Overused tropes such as vampires, elves, witches, ghosts, trolls, dwarves and dragons, without an original take on the subject.

5. Massive information dumps at the very beginning of the story where the writer is telling the reader background information instead of working it into the story.
Looking through my old email for another list of tips a friend (Eric James Stone) sent me, I found that they were actually given by K. D. Wentworth as well, at a Writers of the Future workshop. Some are specific to WofF, others are very good tips no matter what you write. I was going to go through and highlight my favorites, but reading through the list, they are all just great tips, pet peeves, or problems I have myself. So I'll just mention one that made me laugh, and is really true: "Don't start with a character waking up. Or with amnesia. Or naked. Or being tortured. Or waking up naked with amnesia while being tortured."

  1. Don't send inappropriate submissions. It's a contest for science fiction or fantasy, so don't send children's stories or poetry or murder mysteries. Sometimes up to 50% of WOTF slush is inappropriate.
  2. Don't play games with the reader. Eight deadly words: “I can’t figure out what is going on.” If the reader can't tell what's going on, it's hard for the reader to get interested. This means (a) write clearly, and (b) don't withhold from the reader information that is apparent to the POV character.
  3. Put a speculative fiction element on the first page. Something that makes it clear this is science fiction or fantasy.
  4. Avoid overwritten beginnings. ("Frank's dual orbs of sight...," five adjectives in a row, etc.)
  5. Avoid word pictures that force the reader to see everything.
  6. Avoid characters in high school. (They can be high-school age, but don't have them actually in the school.)
  7. Don't count on the title to get noticed (or as the only indication of speculative fiction element).
  8. Don't start with a chunk of exposition. Prologues or things like fake newspaper stories can be a bad way to start.
  9. Characterization is not what someone looks like. Do not have a character notice his or her appearance in a mirror.
  10. Don't start with a character waking up. Or with amnesia. Or naked. Or being tortured. Or waking up naked with amnesia while being tortured. Such beginnings are done so often they are clich├ęd.
  11. Avoid overworked themes such as the characters being Adam and Eve, or with a character floating in space being born at the end, or Noah's ark.
  12. Don't use an unusual or weird POV character, such as the knife that will be a murder weapon. (She got a story in which the POV character was a dust bunny.)
  13. Don't submit a story that exists just for a joke.
  14. Avoid bad, over-the-top metaphors. "Words fell from his mouth like rancid spinach."
  15. Avoid trite conventions of the genre: elves, vampires, werewolves. (Can be done later in career, but hard when starting out.) Originality is valued in the genre. An original idea can beat a better-written old idea.
  16. Don't submit anything that has its origin in other media, or even hints at it. (No Star Trek, Star Wars, etc.)
  17. Don't submit with bad formatting.
  18. Don’t use overused words: “orbs,” “impossibly,” “smirked.” Don’t misuse words. (This is very subjective, of course, but she mentioned "impossibly" and "smirk" as ones she saw too much of.)
  19. Don't have a story in which nothing happens in the first two pages.
  20. Don't misspell, and if you do, not more than once per page.
  21. Don't make your hero a nasty, obnoxious jerk. Villains as heroes/unlikable main characters/irredeemable jerks as protagonists fail to gain sympathy from the reader.
  22. Eight more deadly words: “I don’t care what happens to these characters.”
  23. No serial killers.
  24. Don't fail to "land" the ending. (If a story is like a plane flight, the story doesn't end with the plane stopping in midair.)
  25. Don't have a passive main character.
  26. Don't use the wrong main character. Write from the POV of the character with the most to lose.
  27. Don’t start with poetry you’ve written yourself. (It's OK to begin with a short quote from someone famous, maybe.)
  28. Don’t use made-up words with extra apostrophes.
  29. Don’t use made-up words that are unpronounceable or have no vowels.
  30. Make sure the ending is prepared for in advance.
  31. Don’t include a map or illustrations.
  32. Don’t base it on a D&D campaign.
  33. Don’t write in second person.
  34. Don’t say “this is part 1″ or “continued” or “excerpt.” Don’t ever make the editor think the whole thing isn’t there.
  35. Don’t put copyright notice on the manuscript.
  36. Don’t go overboard on first sentence. We are supposed to believe it. ("After I fished Albert Einstein’s eyeball out of my martini...”) Sometimes the key is not to hook the reader, but to keep from pushing the reader out.

No comments: