Writing Advice and Feedback #5

Twitter Writing Advice or Listicle Advice or Pithy Advice

As of the writing of this post, Twitter was dying. Who knows what state it will be in by the time I post this particular blog. But the idea is the same. 
The idea of Twitter Writing Advice, Listicle Advice, or short, succinct advice is that Writers™ just want a bunch of check-boxes of writing advice that will guarantee their success. To some extent, that may be true. But the advice you get in 280-characters, a list, or without additional context is basically worthless.

Example, “Show, Don’t Tell”

Everyone knows the basic “Show, Don’t Tell.” Hell, I was taught that as a child in English class about writing having nothing to do with fiction. Where did that advice come from? Well, I’ve read many interesting suggestions on that ranging from a CIA plot to sway politics via fiction to silent films to Anton Chekhov, a playwright. Quite frankly, none of the sources of these give sources that satisfy my scientist’s heart. I have no opinion on the source. My problem lies in how this advice is given. That is, simply and often without anything to actually help a fiction writer grow. Even in the course in which I first heard it didn’t really expound upon it usefully. 
When given as advice, “Show, Don’t Tell” is useless. Only give or receive this advice if you’re in an hour class in which ways in which discussion of “tell” as important and helpful. Only give or receive this advice if you’re in an hour or more class in which you discuss what is meant by “show” without it resulting in purple prose or overblown narration. Only give it if you are prepared to really discuss what “show” means and what “telling” is and how they are not mutually exclusive and can be mutually beneficial.

Twitter Advice

My first gripe in this post is when on a 280-character limited social media someone posts Found 25 instances of “asked” in my MS. Time to get trimming!
A writer might walk away from seeing such a post thinking, “is ‘ask’ a filler word now? Should I be removing dialogue tags of ‘asked’ from my prose?” The answer is No. No, it is not and no you should not. Why is this person citing “asked” as something to trim? Who knows? They didn’t elaborate. They didn’t thread. They just tweeted out a person goal that now reads as Writer Advice.
Or better yet, actual writer advice! There have been amazing disk horses over such things as “do people frown with their mouths or foreheads?” or “nobody sighs as much as writers think they do.” Often this advice is a random person giving advice using their own personal pet peeves as though it is helpful and useful – just like that 1* review on feedback I mentioned before.
Personally, I enjoy the pushback on these. But if you miss the pushback, you might think the advice is good.
By definition, micro blogging media such as Twitter or even Mastodon, is meant for short, sweet communication. It does not allow for nuance. I’m not even sure long blogs, such as this, can really get into advice clearly. Because communication is limited. 

Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules for Writing

You’ve come acrost one or more of these:

  1. Never open a book with weather.
  2. Avoid prologues.
  3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.
  5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
  6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
  10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
When I came back to writing groups after about 15 years of not being apart of fiction writing groups, these pieces of advice were being passed around like candy. I implore you to go back to my first piece of advice. Who is Elmore Leonard to give this advice? He’s a writer who had books and short stories published for 30 years before he gained widespread notoriety – in 1985. He was supposedly “one of few genre writers taken seriously by lit circles.” LOL, okay. Please let me know if I’m wrong, but based on photographs and when he was writing, he seems like a cis-het-NT-able-bodied-white man. He basically constrained huge amounts of writing to his world view and preferences.
Oh. This seems like prescriptive writing advice in a list based upon one writer’s personal pet peeves presented as hard and fast rules. Please see above.
I’ll be honest, I’d never heard the thing about only using “said” as a dialgue tag until 2020. So it wasn’t even accepted advice until after this guy died. But I get told “Publishing says…” Did Publishing say? Or have a lot of people in Publishing read this prescriptivist advice, felt the need to present some basis in fact or figures, and have made up that “Readers don’t see ‘said.’” Can I get a price check on that? Like, how was that determined?

My advice…

Find a writers group you can trust who will discuss the advice given, so that there is nuance and context. In the group, go through craft books together and discuss the advice with critical eyes and minds. Do not fall prey to pithy Writer Advice without understanding where it is coming from, with good sources. Going back to my first blog post – Who is giving this advice? What’s the context of the advice? What’s the nuance about this advice? Furthermore, is it prescriptive? Does it improve your writing to follow as just a list? Do you understand the goal behind the advice? Do you understand why the originator gave the advice?
I have brought my confusion over advice to one of my writers groups many times, and our discussion has often cla
rified whether it was something I seriously needed to consider thinking about for my writing, discarding as absolute nonsense, or discarding because it just wasn’t effective advice for me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *