Being a Better Writer’s Summer of Cliche Writing Advice: Don’t Be Boring

Welcome readers, to the fifth installment of Being a Better Writer‘s Summer of Cliche Writing Advice! That’s right, this is entry number five! For some of you, you know what that means, but there may be some newcomers here (as this summer series has pulled in a number of new readers) saying “Hey, what is this?”

It’s pretty straightforward, really. One thing you’ll notice as an author or even just as a fresh writer starting out is that once you openly declare yourself as such, advice just comes out of the woodwork. Everyone and their dog (and possibly their cat) just starts tossing advice at you that they heard … somewhere. Most of them probably couldn’t say where, or they’ll ascribe it to someone famous they’re fairly certain wrote a book. But they heard it, and they’ve been told it’s good advice, and when they hear that someone is planning on writing, well … they share it. They share all of it.

In other words, authors new and experienced often face a deluge of writing advice in the form of short, easily remembered phrases. Phrases that can quickly be read and repeated at a moment’s notice. Phrases that sound pretty helpful.

But are they really? That’s the real question here, and what Being a Better Writer‘s Summer of Cliche Writing Advice is all about. Are these short, simply sayings worth repeating? Are they useful to a new writer, or even an experienced one? Or are they the equivalent of a passer-by telling a mechanic to “check the brake pads” while they work on a transmission problem?

Each week, we look at a different cliche saying that writers hear constantly or see repeated online. We break it down, examine it, and see if it’s really worth listening to, acknowledging, and passing on … or if it’s something that does more harm than good, something that sounds good, but really isn’t helpful.

With that said, let’s get to it! And this week, we’ve got a classic to look over. This week, we discuss …

Don’t be boring.

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Being a Better Writer: Cliffhangers

Afternoon readers! I hope your weekend was exemplary! Mine was actually pretty rough: I twisted my lower back again and got a vertebrae out of position. It’s … not  comfortable, especially as it aggravated a muscle imbalance in my pelvis (which was due to one knee being weaker than the other) and made all those muscles go berserk … Long story short, there was a period on Friday, before I found an exercise video that made these muscles release, where even moving could make me gasp in pain.

Yay! More material for another book!

Anyway, it definitely disrupted my weekend. I spent my days lying on the floor, trying to keep my back as straight as possible to try and even things up. Thanks to a massage therapist, the muscles in my back and pelvis have mostly relaxed, but the vertebrae is still out of position, so I’ve got an appointment with a chiropractor …

Anyway, point being I almost cancelled today’s Being a Better Writer so that I could catch up on things … but that wouldn’t really be fair. Besides, I’ve got some good topics coming up, and really want to get to them. So, without any further talk, let’s get to today’s topic: the cliffhanger.

Cliffhangers are a pretty classic bit of storytelling, as well as pretty self-explanatory. At least, as a concept. A cliffhanger is when you end a chapter or a story with a character hanging from a cliff in some fashion. Not a literal cliff (at least, not always), but in a sense that the protagonist is under an imminent or some sort of danger. And at the most basic, that’s pretty much all you need to know: End a chapter or a story on a moment where your characters are in peril. This ratchets up the tension, and keeps your reader wanting to turn the next page. But is that all there is to it? Well … no. Because like anything else in writing, there are good and bad ways to do this, and other elements such as pacing to take into consideration.

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Classic Being a Better Writer: Pacing

Welcome back to another classic Being a Better Writer post!

Confused? New around here? Don’t be! Being a Better Writer is a weekly writing guide posted to this site every Monday designed to help writers of all experience hone their craft. Beginning or experienced and in need of a refresher, BaBW has been a staple of Unusual Things since actually before the site existed. You could say it’s one reason my site exists.

Anyway, although each post is carefully tagged and organized, as well as searchable via the site search function, there’s still a lot of material to go through after the years. Classic posts are a way to bridge the gap and make it easier for some to find the topics that they’re interested in.

This week? Pacing! An oft overlooked by quite vital aspect of any story.

Pacing—
Have you ever seen a film or a read a book where things started out with a bang and just kept exploding? Or a tense film that just stayed tense and never gave you a moment to relax? And by about halfway through, you’re actually bored with both of them? That’s because the pacing was poor. You can only keep an audience in a constant state of tension/suspense/action before the audience is tired of it. They need a moment to relax, to digest. To think about what’s happened. They need a slower moment where they can catch their breath, and if they don’t get it, they’re going to stop enjoying whatever it is they were watching.

Pacing – Part II—
If I were to put it in my own words, pacing is the measure of timing that flows through your story. It is the rate at which things happen, the length and depth of scenes and sentences, and even the rhythm by which the events in the story flow …

… Because contrary to what a lot of young writers think, there’s more to writing than simply getting the right words down on the page. You can write a wonderful, otherwise well-written story full of heart, character, and adventure, and yet create something that fails to deliver to the reader at all because of improper pacing. There’s more to writing than simply getting all the right words out. You need to have the right length and timing to go with everything.

The Try/Fail Cycle and the Evolving Story—
Now, I’m going to preface things with a caveat here: We know that the hero is going to win. Usually. 95% of the time, it’s a safe bet that the hero will emerge victorious in some fashion or another. But on the journey there? A hero who simply crushes all in their path doesn’t really make for an entertaining read because the reader always knows what is going to happen. If your hero fights mook after mook, takes down trap after trap, and comes out on top every time, well, even if your action is written in an incredibly well-done manner, you’re still going to start running into readers who just start skipping over things. Why?

Because they’ve gotten bored.

 

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Being a Better Writer: Keeping Things Moving and in Context

So this last weekend I came to a conclusion. I’d spent the week writing, as usual, working on the first draft of Jungle (you know, that sequel to that Colony book everyone keeps talking about), but between being sick and low on sleep (said sickness really, really wanted me to sleep), something just wasn’t clicking. Something about the chapter I was working on, even when I finished it, felt off.

I spent my Saturday thinking about it. Running things over in my mind. Thinking about what critical plot elements the chapter introduced, how it did so, what the characters did when interacting, etc. And finally, I reached an important conclusion: The chapter wasn’t working because it was dragging. It was a slog. And it had to go.

Said chapter is now marked for deletion and rewrite. Actually, rewrite isn’t even the right term. Summation is more accurate. Because, I realized as I was thinking about it, everything that happens in that chapter could also be told in a different chapter in half the time, at a later point in the story, when there is, to put it plainly, more going on.

The chapter I’d written was dragging. It wasn’t keeping the story moving.

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Being a Better Writer: Digging Deeper With Characters

Yes! Being a Better Writer has returned to Monday!

Honestly, I think I just got lucky this week in not being called into work today, but even so, it feels good to be working on BaBW on a Monday again! This is the day when it’s supposed to go down … Well, up, technically.

Today is also the first day we’ll be going off of Topic List IX! That’s right, new list, new topics!

Which brings us to today’s topic of choice: digging deeper with characters!

This is a topic I actually only added to the list recently, in light of some of my own reading experiences. You see, about a week ago I stumbled across a short story and blitzed through it, only to end up thoroughly nonplussed.

I’ll be frank. It wasn’t a very well written story. The dialogue was poor, the grammar even less impressive, the pacing nonexistent, tell instead of show everywhere, etc, etc. It was clearly someone’s first or second work … more likely the former. So lots of issues, both little and large. That’s just how a first work goes, though.

Anyway, the issue that stood out most to me, however, was the one around which the “crux” of the story itself resolved. The story was centered around two characters, one trying to get to know some secrets about the other in order to be less “alone” (essentially). But … it completely fell flat. And since this was the purpose of the story (these two characters interacting), everything else that was wrong with the work sort of fell by the wayside in the path of this largest omission. Sure, there were pacing problems, grammar issues, etc, but the core that the story wanted to deliver, nay, promised to deliver, that of a character-driven piece, was completely whiffed.

Why? Simple: It didn’t give its characters any narrative depth or weight. They were simply … pieces, for lack of a better word. Static markers being moved along a timeline. They reacted and they moved, but only in the same way that a game piece moves and reacts. They may have taken a position or “moved” from place to place, but they were still essentially markers for “Character A” and “Character B,” with little nuance or action outside of that.

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Being a Better Writer: Don’t Rush

Just a heads up, there may be a skipped BaBW post in the coming weeks, as I work to get Colony ready for release. Scheduling, time in a day, and all that.

In a manner that is somewhat fitting, I picked today’s topic because it’s one that I can rush through, so that I can get back to work on Colony all the quicker now that the weekend is over. I get the irony; I’m rushing through a post on not rushing. And since I’ve already laughed at it, don’t feel ashamed for snickering. It is ironic.

Anyway, in the spirit of that rushing, let me dive right into things and get to the crux of what I’m talking about today. Don’t rush, after all, could probably be pushed into a number of writing areas, from editing to brainstorming. And yes, it applies to all of those areas as well. You see evidence of this from time to time.

But today I’m going to talk about one of the more common “rushes” I see made, especially with younger writers. Go to a writing class in a college somewhere, or hop online and take a look a fanfiction (if you dare) and you’re going to find this issue in spades.

The rush to the ending.

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Being a Better Writer: Avoiding a Sagging Middle

All right! And we’re back with today’s follow-up to one of our more recent posts! Remember? The one about health?

Okay, I’m actually joking. This isn’t a post about that. But it was too good an opportunity a joke to pass up. Sagging middle … anyway …

No, today is another topic by request, but it’s not about that sagging gut. Well, it’s not about the sag you were just thinking of, but the one you probably thought of when you first saw the title to this BaBW post. You know, the one that you’re worried about finding in the middle of your story.

Yes, that middle.

So, let’s dive right in. We’ll do that by first asking this question for those who may not have heard the term: what is a sagging middle?

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