What's the most useful fiction-writing tip

you’ve come across?

I’ve been writing novels for 47 years now (as yet to be published), which says something about both my persistence and inadequacy as a writer :laughing: and like many of you I have most of the fiction writing guides on the market. So aside from the old caveats Show Don’t Tell, Use All 5 Senses, Get Inside Your Characters, yadda yadda, what has been the most important lightbulb moment you’ve read/heard about/discovered in terms of your work?

Mine I think has come fairly recently, from Sol Stein (Stein on Writing, How to Grow A Novel), a really first-rate master of the craft:

“The difference between fiction and nonfiction is that the purpose of nonfiction is to convey information, and the purpose of fiction is to evoke the reader’s emotions.” (I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the gist of it.)

I got sidetracked for quite a few years as an academic, so the conveying of information got lodged pretty solidly in my creative mind. And has all along weakened the impact of my fiction. That little tidbit of info has helped me a lot in this latest revision.

Next? :wink:

Every story must at the minimum have its Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and Ike Clanton. (Of course, two or even, exceptionally, all three of them can be embodied in the same person.)

Sounds like Vic-K and that bunch of miscreants he`s got squatting in his empty cranial cavity. :open_mouth:

I seem to remember you telling vic-k you were just pushing fifty! :open_mouth:

47 years? Wow.

A friend and fellow director told me once, way before he became my friend and I was still learning how to direct: “Just tell your fucking story.That’s really all there is.” I think that was the most useful advice I ever encountered. Oh, and another one, this time by Nike: “Just do it.”

Ahem, considering both, I tend to like short… orders, shall we say? I think anything more complicated might be too complicated for me, I’m more the simple, backcountry boy…

I was!! I pushed it right over the brink. :wink:

I wrote my first “novel” when I was ten. I got up every morning at 5:00 and typed 10 pages on my old Olivetti Underwood. It was a horse story, called “Tallyho for Treasure.” I think it ended up being about 100 pages or so. I still have it somewhere, I think.

It’s probably my best work to date. :laughing:

I would say the most useful tip: Read and write daily. No excuses; just do it.

Since we are at it: during writing a novel, screenplay, whatever, you will probably write one outstanding scene, a brilliant paragraph, a true piece of masterful artistry, something so perfect it almost hurts.

[size=150]Throw it away[/size], at once.

Chances are, the rest of your story will be good, some of it very good. But, as you go along and write that story, you will always compare it to that one masterpiece.

Probably what’s helped me most when evaluating writing advice and feedback is my attitude: consider it objectively, try it if you can’t come up with a logical reason not to, then determine where/when that advice is appropriate.

For example, I personally ignore the advice I quoted, because it damages my writing. I might mark such examples of “brilliance” to come back and examine later when I can be more objective about it. Sometimes, they’re still good. Other (and most) times, they prove themselves to be awful (or awfully confusing).

But if you can’t find a logical reason that a particular recommendation is crud (like, My narrator’s a high-bred lady who’s using formal speech patterns! Making her say “knocked up” is not appropriate!), then try it. Make a copy of whatever it is that you’re going to try it on, so you still have the original, but try it.

Best tip: Get up at five every day and write ten pages. Do this for forty-seven years. :smiley:

Thats a novel with approx. onehundredandseventyonethousandfivehundredandfiftytwo pages, +or- a couple of pages, here or there. Like to see how much Amazond charge y` for delivery. :open_mouth:

The best tip and the one thing I wish someone had told me when I was seventeen:

[size=150]“Finish it!”[/size]

That means: Don’t stop writing when you have the impression that what you are writing is bad, or mediocre, or awful, or useless, or whatever. Maybe it is, maybe it’s not. You won’t know it before you have finished the thing and put it away for a while. And even if it’s really not good, you will learn from it. And the point is:

[size=150]“You only learn from finished things.”[/size]

I severely damaged my writing for more than ten years with the habit of stopping whenever I thought “no, this is not good”. It began when I stopped a novel at page 80. The next novel I tossed at page 45. And soon I abandoned novels at page 6!

When you’ve written it, don’t just read it.
Read it aloud.

Even though the advice was simply repeated by the one whom I quote (paraphrase would be more accurate)

But first wait a while–the longer the piece, the longer the wait–until you’ve forgotten what you’ve written. And then read it aloud.

A word of caution folks! Be careful you dont end up like the poor old squirrel, and forget where y put it! :open_mouth:

I also find it useful to read from a print out if I’ve done all the writing on a screen. The change in viewing media helps me to spot mistakes.

Most of the essential advice has already been given.

Hugh’s comment leads to one more, especially important in fiction.


Listen to the way people talk, the way different people talk in different situations. Few things turn me away from a novel as quickly as characters who all sound alike: same diction, same vocabulary, same rhythm.

Listen to someone you know talking on the phone. You’ll probably know who s/he’s talking to – a close friend, a bill collector, an old lover, the neighbor next door – simply from the tone. Your readers need to hear your characters’ voices that same way; they know, even if they don’t think about it, that you don’t talk to Sergeant Friday the same way you talk to Basil Fawlty. And conversely, that Basil and the Sergeant do not sound alike.


Try to arrange to have an unhappy childhood.

Hugh! :laughing:

I guess I got lucky after all…

Charles Dickens, the Brontes, Graham Greene, Doris Lessing, Stephen King…