Being a Better Writer: Checklisting

Hey readers! Welcome back to another installment of Being a Better Writer. Not only that, but it’s a normal installment! That’s right, the Summer of Cliche Writing Advice is over and done!

It was a huge hit too, especially with some of the more common sayings. However, just because it’s over doesn’t mean that if you missed it all is lost. Just check out the tag ‘Summer of writing advice” to locate the whole set once more if you’re looking for them.

So, we’re back to regular Being a Better Writer posts, which means we’re back to discussing the topic of writing and all the various aspects of it we can improve at. So, for today? I’ve got an interesting topic for all you readers and writers out there. Readers, I’m sure, have noticed it, as I myself have found it on display in more than one book. And writers? Well, let’s just say this is a common error that anyone can slip into. Even with Jungle I’ve found this issue cropping up more than once and had to make some edits. Today’s trap is something all writers, novice and experienced, can fall into.

Today, I’m talking about checklisting.

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Being a Better Writer’s Summer of Cliche Writing Advice: Show the Monster Last

Welcome back readers, to another installment of Being a Better Writer‘s Summer of Cliche Writing Advice. This time, flu-free.

Okay, that may not make much sense if you missed last weeks post. Last week’s was a bit light because I was battling the flu, and it was all I could do to get a basic, simple post up and then go take a nap. Ah well. But it got done! And so, this week, we continue with the Summer of Cliche Writing Advice but now with cognitive abilities back at full strength!

Okay, so if you’ve just stumbled across Unusual Things, you might be wondering what this post is. So, a bit of quick background. Being a Better Writer is a weekly feature that’s fairly self-explanatory: Each week it takes a look at some facet of writing and talks about it, from character development to pacing to genre, with the goal of doing exactly what its title claims and helping those who read it improve their writing skill.

The Summer of Cliche Writing Advice, then, is a special summer feature this year talking about all those bits of easily repeated, cliche advice that seem to follow authors like moths around a light. Little bits of advice like “Show don’t tell” or “Nothing new under the sun,” those phrases that authors new and old hear constantly spouted by a well-meaning public.

But … here’s the thing. A lot of short, easy to recall phrases tend to be oversimplified versions of the originals, to the degree that quite often they’re not as nuanced as the originals, or in some cases have taken on entirely different meanings altogether in the process of being stripped down. Which means a lot of this advice directed at authors? Well, it’s befallen the same fate. Some of it is useful … and some of it can be useful or even flat out harmful, the original phrase so far removed from the short, easy to remember version that its meaning has gone a very wrong direction.

Hence, this series, where we take a look that these phrases and short bits of advice and see what really makes them tick. Are they useful? Good? Bad? What do the really mean?

So, with that in mind, let’s get to it and take a look at this week’s bit of cliche advice:

Show the monster last.

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Being a Better Writer’s Summer of Cliche Writing Advice: Let Your Readers Breathe

Hello readers! Today’s post is going to be short and sweet because … well, to put it bluntly, I am majorly under the weather. Fever last night and through the night, stomach doing more flips than a circus acrobat, and other, less savory stuff.

Anyway, I’m pretty wiped, but I’ve got a drive to deliver to you readers what I’ve promised. So we’re going to go with a shorter post today (I hope) because I do want to curl into a ball somewhere for a little while and just close my eyes.

But first, before I get to that, there were two posts I made this weekend that drew a large number of traffic, and if you’re not a weekend frequenter (it’s not my usual time to post) you may have missed them. There was on titled What Can You Do For Your Favorite Authors about, well, what readers can do for authors they enjoy. Then there was a second post behind it called Invisible Censorship and Books which definitely got some attention, and if you haven’t read it, you should.

Okay, enough of that. I’m going to write about writing now. Or rather, writing advice. That is what the Summer of Cliche Writing Advice is all about. One thing life as an author brings is cliche bits of writing advice from every relative or well-meaning stranger out there.

The thing is, this advice usually comes in the form of quick, easy-to-recall statements that are simple to repeat, and sure, based on actual advice from somewhere. However, as we’ve discovered this summer, the act of truncating these sayings down to something that’s so quick and easy to remember, well … Sometimes it makes it less than useful advice.

Sands, sometimes it wasn’t very good advice to begin with, or has been taken painfully out of context. But either way, we take a look at it, dive into what makes it tick, and whether or not it’s worth following or repeating.

So this week? We’re going to look at a slightly less-common bit of advice, but one many young authors have still likely heard.

Let your readers breathe.

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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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