Pithy Writing Advice

I used to have an orange file folder in which I carried stacks of manuscripts to my writing workshop every couple of months. Inside that folder, I wrote quotes–things that people said while critiquing, some their own, some from another workshop or from a mentor.

I can still paraphrase most of the quotes. Somebody probably told Homer some of these things, back in the day.

1. Start as close to the end of the story as possible.

2. The first sentence should aim the story.

3. A short story is about the most important event in someone’s life. A novel is about the most important period in their life.

4. It may be in your head, but if it’s not on the page, it didn’t happen.

5. Reduce the plot to a single sentence. Then you’ll know what’s important and what isn’t.

6. Don’t have too many characters whose names all start with the same letter.

7. Don’t be afraid to let yourself write crap. (in the first draft, anyway!)

Three Rules of Short Stories
1. Why do we care? (about the character/s)
2. What’s the failure cost? (of their actions or inactions)
3. What do we win? (hopefully, character change as well as a plot outcome)

And my own contribution: Don’t make the editor’s decision for her. That is, if you don’t submit a manuscript, the editor can’t accept it.

What is your favorite writing advice?

About Victoria Janssen

Victoria Janssen’s first erotic novel, The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom and Their Lover (Harlequin Spice, December 2008), was translated into French and German. Her second Spice novel, The Moonlight Mistress (December 2009), was translated into Italian and nominated for a RT Reviews Reviewers’ Choice Award. Her third novel is The Duke & The Pirate Queen (December 2010). She has also published erotic short stories as Elspeth Potter. Her blog features professional writing and marketing tips, genre discussion, book reviews, and occasional author interviews.
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9 Responses to Pithy Writing Advice

  1. janni says:

    3. A short story is about the most important event in someone’s life. A novel is about the most important period in their life.

    That is a good way of looking at that.

  2. Victoria Janssen says:

    I wish it was mine!

    I also was told once that feature films are more like short stories than novels, which is why novels are hard to make into movies.

  3. R F Long says:

    Good post.

    “Don’t be afraid to let yourself write crap” This is very true and ties in with “you can’t fix a blank page”.

    My 2c –

    Add in rich sensory details as relevant. Don’t just tell us what a character sees. What do they smell, taste, hear and feel as well?

  4. jenn says:

    If it’s your baby wrap it in cotton wool and put it to bed.

  5. Kate Pearce says:

    When you write, be true to yourself, be brave and courageous with your prose-and if you believe in your work it is good, regardless as to whether you are published or not.

  6. Victoria Janssen says:

    Oh, these are all so excellent! thanks!

  7. Lucy says:

    I would say – don’t “think” yourself out of your voice and instincts.

  8. Nell Dixon says:

    My favourite is – ‘Just finish the d**n book’ I have a card with JFTDB next to my computer

  9. Kate Willoughby says:

    Characters are what they do.

    When your characters laugh hysterically at your joke, it comes across as forced.

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