Saturday, 20 February 2010

Top Tips for Aspiring Writers

The Guardian has just run an article in which various established writers offer advice to newbies. Here is my contribution (which they decided not to use; apparently my work is a little too outre for their readers!).

1. Never, ever use adverbs. Consider the following: “Caspar ran quickly along the trench, leaping over the myriad torn and twisted bodies of his former comrades. One man, ripped almost in half by shrapnel but clinging obstinately to the lingering seconds of his life, flailed at Casper’s leg; Casper aimed a kick at the man’s chin, delivering it with such force that head and neck parted company. ‘You’ll pay for this, Caspar!’ wailed the detached skull as it span through the air. ‘I will have my re--’ the curse was cut short by a sniper’s bullet, which finished the work that the artillery bombardment and Casper’s boot had begun, sending ribbons of viscera flying in all directions. A stray eyeball struck Casper in the eye, blinding him. ‘Ah!’ he cried. Then he brightened up. ‘Well, I guess I had that coming.’” As you can see, the adverbs (“quickly” and “obstinately”) provide the reader with no useful information; they are ballast, keeping the prose from taking flight. Shed them!

2. Try not to tell the reader more than he needs to know: “Michelle opened her purse, a brown Dolce & Gabbana flap-over that her mother had bought for her two years before as a reward for completing a degree in Advertising and Media at the University of Suffolk, and removed the Emerald of Ptarnok, which was covered in lint.”

Conversely, don’t forget to include crucial information: “Oliver tiptoed along the corridor, trying to make as little noise as possible so as not to alert the guards. Unfortunately, he walked right into one of them. ‘Ha!’ cried the man. ‘Back to the gaol with you, boy!’” (Question: why didn't Oliver see the guard? Answer: because he's blind.)

3. Writers write; non-writers do not write. Writing 101.

4. If you’ve never read a book and don’t intend to, don’t bother trying to become a writer. Unless you’re already famous or have interesting ideas, in which case all this advice is irrelevant.

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