17 January 2012

writers cheat sheet

I had the opportunity to critique some less experienced writers in workshop recently. Writers who have not partaken in many workshops tend to do many of the same not-recommended things. If you would like to appear to be an experienced workshopper, here's my cheat sheet for writers:
  • Dialogue Tags:
    • Know how to punctuate these, e.g. "You rock," Joe said.
    • Only use "said" or "asked" in your dialogue tags. I'm not kidding.
    • Only use one dialogue tag per paragraph.
    • It's better to use beats instead of dialogue tags, e.g. "You rock." Joe picked up his pick.
      (Beats are small physical actions.)

  • Characters' Physical Description:
    • Characters shouldn't think or talk about the color of their skin, hair, eyes, etc. when in their own point of view.
    • Generally, do not describe the height, weight, girth, color, of characters--unless you write romance, or maybe fantasy.
    • Describe characters via qualities that are important by showing these qualities to the reader.

  • Don't use Distancing words, like "thought", "perceived", "realized"--anything that's a synonym for "thought". These put an extra layer between the character and the reader and you don't need it. Similarly, words of perception like "saw", "heard", "felt" also put distance between the character and the reader.
  • Don't use extra words like "that", "well", "just", etc. These are rarely needed or effective.
  • Don't use adverbs.
  • Know your genre. Of course Electric Spec writers know they write horror, science fiction, and/or fantasy--so you're ahead of the game. Kudos!

We are starting the production process for our February 28, 2012 issue so stay tuned for more information.

Keep submitting (for our May 2012 issue)! Thanks!


Martin Willoughby said...

Not sure about the 'adverbs' rule. If used sparingly, they can be effective.

Maverick said...

Agreed with Martin that adverbs, used sparingly, can add a bit of spice to the story and give it an extra "oomph" when called for.

lesleylsmith said...

Of course, the beauty of knowing the rules is knowing when to disobey them. :)
I must admit I do use adverbs once in a while.

One of the electricspec editors, however, always deletes adverbs! :)

Colum said...

# It's better to use beats instead
# of dialogue tags, e.g. "You rock." # Joe picked up his pick. (Beats are
# small physical actions.)

Oh. My. God. This is where 'the twitches' is coming from!

When critting other writers I often see a strange phenomenon in which characters will appear to be massively overcaffinated. They will be unable to stand still during conversations, every single line of dialogue will terminate in some physical action or 'twitch', meddling with clothes or playing with hair or of shifting weight from foot to foot, or something.

Are we to understand you're to blame for this?!


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