Have you ever been distracted by the Internet when you were supposed to be writing?
Typically when I get “distracted,” I will justify it by searching for writing tips because… maybe someone has come up with something original? I wouldn’t want to miss that! Plus, the more I read about how to write, the better I will write! Right??
Ahem. To some degree. But if reading about writing is keeping you from actually writing, your competency will not increase. Most likely, you will end up overwhelmed. There’s too much out there. How do you even know if it’s good advice?
I’ve already gone over the most helpful advice (for me). I’m sure my mind will change in the future, in which case I will write a part 2. Now let’s break down the least helpful writing tips, beginning with #5, in order to distinguish between which tips are almost universally reliable, and which tips may inhibit your writing if you take them to heart (this is based on personal experience). In no particular order of importance…
5. Cut out adjectives and adverbs.
“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs.” -Stephen King (every writing blog features this quote somewhere; now it’s my turn)
Sure, everything can be used in excess, and that’s basically what this tip is about. It’s not a bad thing to eliminate verbosity. If you can cut sentences or paragraphs down without losing the essence of your message, fine! Go for it. I happily trim adjectives and adverbs when I am editing my manuscript.
But… don’t let this advice echo in your mind too much while you’re writing. It might slow you down or make you paranoid. You might spend too much time with a thesaurus trying to find the perfect verb so you don’t have to use an adverb. I still do this.
The reality is that every writer writes with a different style. Sometimes it’s okay to use “walked sleepily” or “said softly.” I tend to resort to phrases like these when I’ve already exhausted other reasonable alternatives, or when they flow better in a sentence. Write in a manner that will be comfortable for a reader to read. If you use “said softly” every time someone whispers in your book, that might stand out to a reader. That doesn’t mean you want to cut it out altogether. Change it up throughout your novel!
The best way to avoid the problems that might stem from this advice is to read. A lot. Expand your vocabulary so this is rarely an issue. Don’t worry too much about excessive adjectives and adverbs until you are in the editing stage. Those will be the easiest things to notice and revise later.
4. Only use “said” or “asked.”
Listen, using “said” with every dialogue tag can be dull. Many people say that it is “invisible” to the reader, but when “said” is used every time, it begins to stand out (at least to me; I don’t know why). It’s another one of those things that you don’t have to take to the extreme. I know this is controversial, but you can change it up once in a while. You don’t need to use fancy words. Words like “muttered,” “whispered,” etc. are completely fine in moderation and when applicable. Dialogue tags shouldn’t be used too often, anyway. You should avoid them as much as possible and write action instead.
3. “Show” instead of “tell.”
This is only bad advice if you apply it to every situation. “Showing” is most often preferred because it provides juicy details that “telling” might skip. “Show” when those details will enrich your story. “Tell” when you don’t want to bog your readers down with superfluous detail. You decide which will be most effective while writing.
2. Think of the worst thing you can do to your character and do that.
You want to push your character through tough obstacles, obviously, but, depending on your genre and plot, it may not be necessary to do the absolute worst thing to them imaginable. The conflict must serve a purpose in your character’s arc. If you are striving for a happy ending, give them time to heal and grow. Allow them to experience a glimmer of happiness here and there to contrast against the gloom.
1. Avoid using big words.
Big words are great if you want to be more precise. Use them correctly and sparingly!
Writing advice tends to be restrictive. Of course there are rules, but good writers are allowed to bend them occasionally. I hate rules in general and find loopholes whenever I can. No piece of advice applies to everyone in every circumstance. You’ve got an entire language (or more) at your disposal, and you can do whatever you want with it!