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’s Summer of Cliche Writing Advice: Show Don’t Tell

Welcome back readers, and welcome to the second installment of Being a Better Writer’s Summer of Cliche Writing Advice! Where we, one week at a time, will be taking a look at all those cliche, kitschy sayings that always seem to follow people in the wake of any writing project. Those one-sentence colloquialisms that are tossed out by the dozen on Facebook, Tumblr, or even in real life.

You know, the quick, easy to remember, easy to spout off stuff that sounds fairly smart.

Well … is it? Because last week I compared these sayings to a sculpture that had been carved in a game of telephone: something that’s been passed around so much and so often that while the general shape is sort of in line with things, the rest of the details are more caricatures of actual elements then real, detailed items.

And this summer? For the next few months, Being a Better Writer is going to dig into these bits of cliche advice and see what they really have to offer. Is there wisdom in there? Something we can glean from a such a distilled saying? Or has it been passed on and reduced for brevity so many times that the saying is effectively worthless?

Well, that’s what the Summer of Cliche Writing Advice is all about. We’re going to break these sayings down, And this week’s quick quip of choice?

Show Don’t Tell.

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Being a Better Writer: Atmosphere

Welcome back, readers! It’s Monday once again, and that means it is time for another Being a Better Writer post! But first, a bit of background.

Did you know that the first Being a Better Writer post went up August 2nd, 2013? It wasn’t on this site initially, being hosted on a free blog, but has since been transferred to here (it was The Art of Misdirection for the curious). Five days later, Misdirection being such a popular success, it was followed by a post on why writers need to read. Then a post on details. Before long, Being a Better Writer was a regular, weekly Monday post, and has been ever since, even when migrated from that blog and onto this site.

That means in just two months, BaBW will have been being regularly posted for six years. To put another spin on it, I only published my first book in February of 2013. I’ve been doing Being a Better Writer almost as long as I’ve been published. Once a week, baring holidays. That’s something like 47-48 posts a year. For six years.

All provided free of charge for any who may come across them. Being a Better Writer has appeared in college English course syllabi, on writing forums, on Reddit, and linked from just about everywhere. Sands, I’ve even had people attempt to “borrow” it. More than likely, there are a few places that have that I don’t know about too.

But again, all free of charge, and as of several years ago, now on an ad-free site.

The point I’m getting at? No, Being a Better Writer isn’t ending. Nor is it slowing down. There are enough writing topics out there that they’ll probably never run out. So don’t worry about that.

No, what I am suggesting is that if you’re a regular or long time reader of Being a Better Writer, don’t forget that there’s an author working to make ends meet behind the screen. One that has faithfully delivered a new Being a Better Writer post once a week, save holidays, for nigh-on six years. It’s a one-man show here on the other end where BaBW is concerned. Topics have to be found, research has to be done, the post themselves have to be written …Over six years that’s totaled over half a million words worth of writing advice. That’s a lot of material. If each BaBW post was condensed into an average lengthy novel (120,000) words, that’d make it a five-book series. Or just two shorter-than-average books of my own.

That’s a significant investment. I’m not trying to toot my own horn by bringing this to your attention, though. What I’m suggesting is that if you’ve ever found Being a Better Writer useful, whether it’s as the occasional reader, someone who shows up every week to read the newest post, a student from a college that’s syllabi made us of it … Whatever your initial cause for coming across it, please consider the fingers at the keyboard behind it. Maybe share the post so that more eyes can see it. Or, if you’ve got some spare cash, you can always purchase a book to support the author and see if they follow their own advice. You can even become a Patreon supporter, funding from which is used to keep the site ad-free.

But even a share is great. Did you like a Being a Better Writer post here on the site? Share it on Facebook, Twitter. Let those you know, well, know. They may find it just as useful.

Alright, I’ve said my six-year piece. Now, on to today’s post! Atmosphere!

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Being a Better Writer: Moving From Essays and Non-Fiction Forms to Fiction

Readers, in case you somehow missed it, Shadow of an Empire is now out! And you should definitely pick up a copy. No, seriously, you really should. Reviews are starting to trickle in, and you definitely do not want to miss this book. Just click that colorful cover to the right there, or if you’re reading this post on an archive binge, the books tab.

Now then, with that said and out of the way (buy the book!), let’s get down to business for today’s hotly requested topic: How to switch from writing non-fiction work like essays and reports to something that’s a work of fiction.

Well, for starters, if you’ve acknowledged that there’s a difference, you’ve made the first step. Believe me, this is not always the case. Not everyone realizes that the two are fundamentally different, or that the experience and knowledge that make one form of writing sing will serve only to drag the other down.

Because writing a piece of non-fiction, be it a textbook, an essay, or a news article (at least, in the days when news articles weren’t clickbait opinion pieces) is a process entirely different in execution than writing, say, a short story about a character who goes out to buy milk. So different, in fact, that we’re going to run headlong into one of the oldest battles of fiction.

Show Versus Tell.

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Being a Better Writer: Showing Character and Setting with Small Details

First of all, I apologize for how late this post is (it’s Tuesday). Turns out, I’d almost forgotten that I had a meeting at my part-time Monday. Now, I can’t work currently, but I can attend a meeting. So I did, forgetting until Sunday night that this automatically conflicted with the Monday morning Being a Better Writer post. I then got up a little early to try and work something out, but didn’t get too far before I had to head off to work.

Side note: The knee is still recovering. Trying to get my back pay for the several weeks worth of work I was unable to do. We’ll see what happens. Wish me luck!

Anyway, so today’s topic. I want to dive right into this one headway, because it’s a good one. Often here before I’ve talked about show versus tell, right? And yes, that’s show versus tell, not show don’t tell. The first is proper (all things in balance). The latter is overblown purple prose taught as a guideline to push writers into showing, but then unfortunately not untaught.

Anyway, there are, if memory serves, several blog posts on that very topic here on the site. But I want to go one step further and tackle something that usually comes right on the heels of telling someone to “show” something.

The question of “how?”

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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: Body Language

How do you show that a character is angry? Or nervous? How do you show that two characters are not on the best of terms with one another while they are on decent standing with another member of their group? Or that one of them is nervous? Jumpy?

Now, note my usage of show in the questions above. I didn’t ask how a writer could tell a reader of any of those things. No, I asked how they could show them. Once more, we come back to the old show versus tell discussion, except this time, I don’t want to focus as much on the mechanics of showing versus tell as I do on one small, simple question: How do you show a character being angry, nervous, or upset without simply telling the reader? How do you get those emotions across without simply pointing out to the reader that “Samantha was angry” or using the dreaded “ly” adverb? Especially if we’re writing from a perspective that isn’t the focal point of the emotion we want to get across?

Which is why today, we’re going to talk about body language in our writing. This might test our observational skills a little (after all, how often do you just watch conversation?), as well as our understanding of social graces and signals. And we’re going to look at what goes into a silent conversation.

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