Being a Better Writer’s Summer of Cliche Writing Advice: Never Use Adverbs

Hello readers on this wonderful, sunny (if your weather is like it is here) Monday morning! I’m here to alleviate your Monday blues with this week’s Being a Better Writer! Which, you may notice, is still in the grips of our summer special, the Summer of Cliche Writing Advice! Week seven of the feature, no less!

A bit of background if you’re unfamiliar with this or BaBW and encountering it for the first time. Being a Better Writer is a weekly series all about, well, as the title says, becoming a better writer! Running now for almost six years, BaBW has discussed hundreds of topics from developing characters to working out subplots to keeping pacing fresh. If you’re new to Unusual Things, then congratulations, because you’ve just stumbled across one of the web’s better writing resources for fiction.

But what about this “Summer of Cliche Writing Advice” stuff? Well, that (or this, rather) is a special summer feature. One thing you may have noticed if you’re a writer of any experience is that the moment you become a writer, it feels like the whole world descends upon you to give you advice … regardless of any actual experience in the territory.

Actually, scratch that. It doesn’t feel like it. The world does descend on you. From Facebook, at family gatherings, in conversation with ordinary people … Everyone has some sort of advice to give you. Usually in the form of a short, quick saying that “everyone” seems to acknowledge as writing advice of some kind.

But is it really? Because a lot of advice that’s been shortened and trimmed down to a single, quickly repeated and easily remembered phrase has the issue of being, well, too short to be of much value. Or in some cases, ended up with exactly the opposite meaning to the original well-intended advice.

In other words, some of this advice writers are flooded with is advice so often repeated that few bother to question if it really has any worthwhile meaning, only assuming that it does. But …. does it?

That’s what the Summer of Cliche Writing Advice has explored these past two months. Each week, we’ve taken some of this advice, from “Show, don’t tell” to “There’s nothing new under the sun” and tackled it in-depth, digging into what it means, what it teaches, whether or not that’s useful to a new writer—and if not, what a new writer should learn instead.

This week? That trend continues with another bit of oft-repeated advice all writers hear. So let’s get down to it. This week, we discuss a tricky one. This week, our bit of “advice” is:

Never use adverbs.

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Being a Better Writer: The Ellipses and the Em-dash, Odd Forms of Punctuation

Welcome back readers! I hope you had, if from the US, a successful and interesting 4th of July, and if not from the US, a solid weekend! I did. For starters, my friends and I gathered and watched all of Season 3 of Netflix’s Stranger Things. I won’t spoil anything (obviously, I mean, come on) but I will say that I think it’s better than the second season. Mostly because they fixed the largest flaw with the second season, which was some weak pacing in the last few episodes. Here everything is much more tightly bound together, and there’s never really a single moment where even if you feel like you can stop that you want to.

So yeah, it’s really good. I do recommend. Next, there are only a few hours left in the Independence Day Sale! By tomorrow, it’ll no longer be available, so if you were planning on grabbing Shadow of an EmpireColonyDead Silver, or another book of mine while they were on the cheap, now’s your last chance! You’ve only got until the end of the day!

Finally, just a quick heads-up that we’re about to start the Summer of Cliche Writing Advice here with Being a Better Writer, and we’ve put out requests to you, readers, for every bit of cliche writing advice you’ve ever been told. If you missed the announcement, there’s a lot of cliche writing advice out there that can do more harm than good, especially when it’s taken literally and without the context it once had. So BaBW is going to spend the summer breaking down that advice, stepping back to look at what it really means and what you should be learning from it.

That starts next week and runs through either the summer or until we run out of cliche advice! If you’ve got one that you’ve always heard, go ahead and post it in the comments so it can go on the list!

Right, so with all that said (you read it, right? Sale, Stranger Things, and Summer of Cliche Writing Advice!), let’s talk writing! Specifically, let’s talk about some of the lesser-taught methods of punctuation out there: the ellipses and the em-dash.

You’ve seen them before … Right? In fact, there was one right there! Those three periods right in a row, the “…” That’s an ellipses, and you’ve likely seen one from time to time when reading a book. Or a lot if you read comics, or fairly regularly if you’re reading technical or research papers that use a lot of quotations. Though the use is a bit different in that last one.

Point being, you’ve likely seen it used somewhere. But, even though used on occasion, you don’t see it used as often as, say, the comma, or the period, or the question mark, all of which are regular features of punctuation you’re taught about in a basic school education.

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Being a Better Writer: Voice VS Grammar

Welcome back readers! It’s Monday, and that means Being a Better Writer! So, our topic for today? We’re going to start off with a little quiz. Nothing complicated, just pick answer A or answer B.

The setup? Picture a man sitting alone in a train car. He’s alone in his berth, the other three seats unoccupied. He keeps glancing out the window. His leg is bouncing up and down in a rapid rhythm. His clothes are wrinkled, unkempt. He looks as though he may have missed his last shower. His fingers keep beating a nervous, staccato beat against the arm of his seat.

The door is open, and he jerks his eyes to it as a trolley stops in front of it. The man behind the trolley politely asks if the occupant would like anything.

The man in the berth opens his mouth and says—

Option A) “No, thanks.”

Option B) “No thanks.”

So, which option is correct?

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