Little Gems

A place to share tips, tools, and information. That we have been taught, researched or gleaned through hard work and constant practice. This is a place of sharing so all can grow and benefit.

I picked up a few books at the Borders that was closing down by me, and one of them has been of immense help and I shall gladly share some of it’s wisdom with you. And I also took a seminar at Phoenix ComiCon taught by Michael A Stackpole, he said that he was fine with us sharing the information and so at some point I will post from that as well.

I look forward to anything that the rest of you have to share, please feel free to add to this thread.

ShowDon’t Tell

As a writer you are a salesman,you are trying to sell your story to the reader. And the best way to do that is by showing!

Info dumps are dry anduninteresting, and you cannot reason or use logic to sway your reader. They need to be shown evidence.


It was hot. (not only is this boring but it is also notdescriptive, how hot is it?)

It was hot and humid. (More information but it is not shown. Where is the evidence?)

He raised his hand to shield hiseyes from the glaring sun. (Here you areshowing the reader an action that is resulting from the weather, and we arehinting that there is no cloud cover to filter out the suns rays)

He removed his sweat stained hatand fanned himself. (Here we show anaction caused by the heat, and evidence: the sweat stains!)

Other things you could do:

Wiping or mopping their brow. Removing clothing because it has becomeuncomfortable. Applying sunscreen ordrinking fluids. Reddened skin, parchedmouths, you get the idea…

Show, don’t tell. NO WEATHER REPORTS!



I have gotten into the habit of carrying around a 5 themed notebook everywhere I go, I chose a 5 theme because I can work on multiple projects and still keep them in order. I do this because of something I had read, and also because of something that has happened to me more often than I care to remember. So here are the reasons I take it everywhere-

Ideas: Ever have a cool idea, an epiphany, a humorous pun or awesome line come to you. But by the time you get home to write it down it is gone? I sure as Hell have, and it pisses me the Frak off! Sure if I were a Preppy, a Ghost Hunter or wanted to draw attention to my self I could get one of those little digital recorders to talk into. But that is just lame, and I still would need to write them down latter anyways. Besides there is just something more cathartic and visceral about the sensation of writing it down, rather than saying it.

Observations: I am now armed whenever I see something cool or interesting and want to jot down the impressions it made upon me. Or if I feel like people watching and writing down quirks, behaviors and snippets of conversations so I can sprinkle them into a story to add more authenticity to a scene.

Dialog: This is my newest and coolest thing of all! This tip has been a Godsend. When I am pondering a scene with dialog I sit down and write down, no JOT (don’t overthink it, let it flow) down the dialog on paper with my pen. JUST THE DIALOG! This is important. No he said, she saids. No postures, mannerisms, facial expressions. No tonal qualities. JUST THE DIALOG. Why?

Pacing. By removing all of the extraneous crap you have the bare bones of the conversation. And because of that it flows naturally and freely. This was such a freeing experience the first time I tried it. Before when I wrote dialog it was frustrating, because it stuttered and stalled as I wrote it. And it never came out the way it was in my head. And it was because I was trying too hard to describe what I saw in my head and it bogged it down and ruined the pacing.

By allowing yourself to just scrawl the dialog onto paper it will flow naturally and be at its purest. Then you can bring it over onto the computer and begin carefully inserting the rest to create the scene and bring the characters to life as they speak your dialog.

The Journal, don’t leave home without it. :smiley:

[u][b]Character Voices

[SIZE=2]Another thing I have picked up was about character voices. If you can give your characters very distinct voices it will remove the burden of constantly having to identify to your reader who is speaking which line. This is something that the reader will pick up on as they become familiar with the characters, and just think of how this will improve the pacing of your dialog by removing extraneous ‘he said’ ‘she saids’.


[SIZE=2][SIZE=5][SIZE=2]This cannot be over expressed, you must read a frakton. And and a variety thereof. If you read too much of a certain author you risk unintentionally writing like them. Pay attention to their descriptions, world building and so forth. Some authors are sparse on the descriptions and heavy on dialog, others the other way around. I like breaking down action scenes, seeing how they set them up and describe the fights. Also color, smells and textures are fun to read or listen to, I have nothing against audiobooks. I listen to them at work and while I commute, I love comparing writing styles, but I think I have finally found my own.

[u][b]The Readers Trust

[SIZE=2]Never break their trust, if you make a promise at the beginning, keep it. If you design a bunch of rules as to how your world or magic system word, keep to it. If you break the rules because you wrote yourself into a corner and need to cheat to get out of it the reader will notice this and get pissed off.


[SIZE=2]I find music helps to set the mood and help me write. I use Pandora because it is ‘hands off’, I do not need to keep stopping and choose new albums or tracks. And I created a number of different stations for different moods. My only suggestion would be to avoid music with lyrics, why?

Because you run the risk of paying attention to the words and getting distracted. :smiley:

OK, that is enough for now, I hope this is of benefit to you. God Bless.[/SIZE]

[u][b]Making the Uncommon - Common, and Approachable Emotionally

[SIZE=2]Questions/prompts to ask yourself as you are composing your story.

  1. Is your story realistic? Are your characters ordinary people?

  2. What in the world of your story makes you angry? What are we not seeing? What is the most important question? What puzzle has no answer? What is dangerous in this world? What causes pain?

  3. Where in the world of your story is there unexpected grace? What is beautiful? Who is an unrecognized hero? Who needs to be saved?

  4. Give your feelings to a character. Who can stand for something? Who can turn the plot’s main problem into a cause?

  5. Create a situation in which this character must defend, explain or justify his/her actions. How is the plot’s main problem larger than it looks? Why does it matter to us at all?

  6. Find places in your manuscript to incorporate the emotions, opinions, and ideas generated in the prompts above.[/SIZE]

You must write badly first.

Mistakes lead to discovery.

Letting yourself be bad, is the best way to become good.

No conflict= No story

The purest form of storytelling is: Conflict + Action + Resolution

Conflict that moves a story forward is a WANT and an OBSTACLE

You two key tools are: Emotion and Showing

Okay, so I know no one here has ever seen my writing so faith in my expertise is absolutely nil, but I’ve taught creative writing at the undergraduate level, I’ve assisted with many SF classes, and I have an MA in creative writing (for what all THAT is worth). But I’ve heard a lot of writer’s lectures and I’ve taken more than a few short story, novel, and screenplay classes, and these are some points that I thought were important that Omra hadn’t covered (there really wasn’t much left to say, actually–you did a great job, Omra!)

As a writer, here are a few books that have influenced me:

Syd Field’s Screenwriting
Damon Knight’s Creating Short Fiction
Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird
Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey<—This has influenced me the most
Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces<—ditto

What I would add to this discussion is that it is important to not forget plot and that all plots have a single core thread: a hero who has a problem (conflict). Your hero must either solve the problem (conflict), or be solved BY the problem (and perhaps die, as in tragedy).

Oh yes, and if you love your characters, you will beat them senseless. Don’t baby them and let them vault over obstacles. Have them fall. Again. And again. And again.

Learning about the different character archetypes is also important, which is why I recommend the Vogler and Campbell texts. Reading them helps authors to realize the different types of characters that are available to the author, but also anchor your writing–this is especially important for SF and fantasy writers–in the oldest of storytelling modes: myth.

A little juju for the writer: feed your subconscious. Give it all sorts of movies, novels, paintings and music on which to feast. If you are writing, you should also be reading something to refresh your subconscious. Connect with your subconscious. Name it. What does it look like? Call it into being and force it to work for you.

(Caveat: “starving” your subconscious–not ingesting any art–also seems to work for some people. Try that if feeding it doesn’t work.)

The most important advice which I can give and which I often ignore myself: forget about it being art, and don’t worry about your first draft being “good!” Get a post-it, and write in sharpie on it in biiiig letters: JUST WRITE THE DAMN STORY, [YOUR NAME HERE]!

Anyway, hope that helps. I’m also looking forward to any advice.

Thank You Prof_Manuel for stopping by and giving us such good advice. I look forward to anything else you may offer, no doubt more will come to you down the road. (at least that is how my mind works… :D)

I am also thinking of proposing a Beta Reader thread and seeing if there are enough writers in here to start up some local writing clubs where they can get together to collaborate and inspire each other on their ongoing works. But one thing at a time… baby steps… baby steps…:slight_smile:

I had a similar idea, but I was thinking some sort of monthly Google+ hangout writer’s group with a Googlegroup acting as a listserv for messages and a file-drop for texts. I have strategies for dealing with both small groups and large groups, and I’m sure we can make something work. I also have some experience with using all these tools for similar pursuits.

I realize we can use the forum to disseminate drafts, but for modes in which format is everything (screenwriting) this is less than ideal. Also, I’m leery of posting portions of my work on a forum–not that I think any GWCers would run off with my draft, but some random lurker/ troll who’s not signed up might.

Physical meeting is probably best, but I think an online “meeting” may suffice especially with this new-fangled “hangout” technology.

Let me know if you’ve had any success “grouping” anyone.

I never would have thought to use Google+ for that, clever… Can you send docs to each other like on Skype? I wonder if Google Documents could be used with it also? You could both be looking at the same doc at the same time… There are a fair number of GWCers in my area but only three that I know of who are writers, I have not approached any of them yet about a writers club. Not until I think I have disciplined myself enough and built up enough of a manuscript to justify my proposal, I don’t want to commit myself or anyone elses time to it until I think it is justified.

I envision a monthly meeting at a location with food and drinks central to everyone’s location. I think the idea of a monthly get together would also be a great motivator for everyone to keep busy with their writing. It would be embarrassing to show up and only have two or three more pages than last time… :smiley: It would be like having a Gym Partner, you always do better when you have someone you are accountable to. And we all need a little honesty and encouragement time to time.

I don’t know if you can send documents through G+, but the googlegroups application adds the functionality of a centralized e-mail address that broadcasts to everyone registered to the group. It also archives the messages and attachments so that everyone that is registered can download them. It’s what some of my screenwriting classes have used to get drafts to each other.

I agree. It is like having a gym partner. Having a writing group is essential to writing seriously. You can’t really count on friends and family to always help you by reading your writing. It’s an imposition on them and they will probably tell you your writing is wonderful no matter what they really think about it (that’s been my experience anyway). By seeking out other writers and helping them and being accountable to them, you will produce more. There are lots of precedents for this pattern: the Bloomsbury group and many of the modernists knew each other and read each others works.

Anyway, I have no idea if there are any writers here in Texas. I’d be up for an across the interwebs meetup though. You know, we could always set up an arbitrary date some time in the future by which time we need to have x amount of pages or whatever. I don’t know. Maybe we should start another thread and see if anyone is interested and do a headcount.

[u][b]Double Duty Descriptions


[SIZE=3]One of the things I learned from a writing podcast (Writing Excuses, I highly recommend it! :)) is to try and find ways to make your descriptions reveal more. To not just describe what is around your character or how your character appears, but also about their mindset and or condition. Internal dialogs are great for this because whenever they are mulling something over the way they view things reveals something about them.

Another way I apply this has been to permanently remove certain words from my Writer’s Vocabulary, such as walk, walked, run, ran, talked; in other words very generic and non descriptive words. And made a very conscious effort to replace them with words that perform Double Duty.


Instead of- He walked over to the door to make his escape.

You could use:

Strode- Sounds more purposeful doesn’t it?
Hobbled- Now the poor guy is wounded…
Wobbled- Drunk?
Wove his way- Lots of debris in the way.
Sashayed- ahem He is gay or very eccentric.
Dragged- Very wounded or very hungover.
Rolled- It’s FastCart!
Jumped- He is in a hurry.
Bolted- The same.
Fled- Fits nicely with the word escape in the sentence.
Flew- Could be metaphorical or real…
made for-
warily approached-
drew toward-

Anyways you get the idea, there are multitudes of replacements that give you more bang for your buck, the same goes for ran.

Streaked, bolted, dodged, retreated, accelerated, raced, flew, charged, etc.

The old words still creep in during outlines and notes, but it is becoming more habitual to avoid them. And when doing editing and or a second draft is when I find it easiest to restructure a sentence to get more out of it, rather than pondering it during the initial write.[/SIZE]

Some books that have been of great help while writing-

Descriptionary: Hard to describe… :smiley: So here is a link (definitely get a used copy!)

The Describers Dictionary: More for inspiration and getting a flavor for something you want to describe…

Flip Dictionary: This one and Descriptionary are my favorites.