Creative writing advice – never explain too much

In chess they say you have to follow just three rules to play like a Grandmaster.  You have to play carefully, carefully, carefully. Something similar holds true when it comes to creative writing advice. Only, it’s something you have to avoid doing rather than the other way around. Namely, you should never explain too much. Yes, you read it right. Never, ever, explain too much. At first blush, this might look like a fairly banal mistake. Yet it isn’t only beginning writers who tend to explain too much. Now and then also more experienced writers make this mistake. Writers who…

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How to use stereotypes in books – writing myths debunked

Stereotypes in books… Shouldn’t they be like the kiss of death for the story you want to tell? Well, not necessarily. First of all, let’s consider what a stereotype is according to the Oxford Dictionary: a widely held but fixed and oversimplified idea of a particular type of person, group of people, or thing. In this definition the adjectives “fixed” and “oversimplified” are the ones that make any serious beginning writer consider stereotypes in books with diffidence, to say the least. Besides, in the past, some psychologists believed stereotypes were used exclusively by people particularly rigid, repressed, and authoritarian–the exact opposite…

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Backstory for characters – how to exploit it in fiction

Backstory is a history or background created for fictional characters in a film, television program, or a novel. Backstory for characters is therefore an essential part of any novel. Even those written with a minimalist style–like it is the case for Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates. Instead, in short stories the approach to backstory can vary notably—mostly depending on the length of the short story itself. In some cases we have almost no backstory–for example because, like in Sentry by Fredric Brown, it helps create the final twist. In other cases instead backstory is used unabashedly because it is necessary to the…

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The difference between character and plot driven books – and why creative writing prompts are useless

Character and plot are necessary parts of any novel. But, depending on how each is approached, they can change deeply the way a novel grows under an author’s fingertips. Novels based on plot focus primarily on the sequence of events they recount, and tend to treat characters quite superficially–often resorting to stereotypes, and steering clear of any meaningful introspection. Instead, novels based essentially on characters put a much more emphasis on the psychology, on the reasons behind a character’s actions. They tend to explore more deeply things like causality, feelings, memory. Character and plot -plot-driven books To make this distinction clear,…

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How to write descriptive passages – the iceberg metaphor

If not well organized, descriptive passages are often at risk of turning into info dumps, so killing the pace of your novel and putting your readers to sleep. To avoid such an unfortunate outcome and produce instead well organized descriptive passages, you need to know perfectly well what you’re describing. Both in narrative terms and in terms of factual knowledge. This is why you have to ask yourself many different questions about the story you want to write. Questions about your main characters as well as the secondary ones; questions about the setting; questions about the story arc, and so on.…

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Precise writing – how and when to use adverbs to write better

How the indiscriminate use of adverbs in creative writing can undermine precise writing, and how to avoid this. Precise writing is writing in which you as an author manage to put down on paper all your thoughts so that there’s (ideally) no discrepancy between what you want to write and what you actually write. Sure, seen from a distance, this transferring process might seem quite straightforward, but as any author knows only too well, precise writing isn’t always such a natural process. In fact, while it is relatively easy to write a page after the other just letting the words…

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Writing – how to find your voice and how it relates to style

Although in general when we speak we understand each other quite well, the way we speak is so personal that each of us can be said to speak a unique version of our shared language — linguists call this distinctive version an idiolect. The same goes for writing. No matter how hard we try to copy someone else’s style. The way we’re wired inside our heads, the experiences we undergo in our life, and who knows how many others variables, all make sure we leave our unmistakable fingerprints on our writing — always. That is the author’s voice. (For an illuminating…

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Alternative swear words or plain old swear words–which is best in fiction?

I’m more than willing to admit that alternative swear words can be useful at times, both when writing fiction and in real life. But old fashioned traditional curse words are so widespread for a very simple reason. They work. They help us to relieve stress. In fact, in any language, the moment a word ceases to have any function, it also stops being used. It somehow survives longer in dictionaries. But never in new novels (if they’re not historical ones) and in the everyday parlance of the people. In a way, evolution works for the words of a language just like for living organisms. As…

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