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 [she, her] currently writes cozy space opera for Kalikoi. The novella series A Place of Refuge begins with Finding Refuge: Telepathic warrior Talia Avi, genius engineer Miki Boudreaux, and augmented soldier Faigin Balfour fought the fascist Federated Colonies for ten years, following the charismatic dissenter Jon Churchill. Then Jon disappeared, Talia was thought dead, and Miki and Faigin struggled to take Jon’s place and stay alive. When the FC is unexpectedly upended, Talia is reunited with her friends and they are given sanctuary on the enigmatic planet Refuge. The trio of former guerillas strive to recover from lifetimes of trauma, build new lives on a planet with endless horizons, and forge tender new connections with each other.
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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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