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Has the Common Writing Advice Changed?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Devor, Jan 14, 2018.

  1. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    That's largely why I started this thread, HeliotropeHeliotrope.

    First there's the sort you usually find in internet articles, which often have like 5 to 10 kind of sketchy "rules" to make your writing better, and they usually focus on not being like the stuff you see in a slush pile. Stuff like, "Don't introduce your MC by having him look in a mirror...." 'Cause apparently, that's a common thing with bad writing.

    There's also been, as I mentioned in the OP, a common trend towards pushing prose that "disappears" behind your story. That means you shouldn't use fancy turns of phrase or eloquent descriptions. You should "tighten up the wording" and "focus every moment on building tension." It's often taken beyond prose into the storytelling, tightly cutting extra scenes and detail to keep things moving. And when followed through fully, it creates the kind of fast-moving, high-intensity writing you might see in most thrillers, which is probably where the advice comes from.

    From there, we have the "critiquing" advice, which is often to push show-don't-tell as far as you can before somebody hits you.

    Finally, there's the discussion of Hero's Journey and 3-act and 4-act and 7-point story structures, which are sometimes taken to a high level of formula (the inciting incident needs to happen around page 8 in a 200 page book...). Of course, many times people strip the "formula" but keep the jargon and take a looser approach to it, which is necessary when you have complex multi-POV, multi-volume stories.

    Of these, the tightened prose, tense story approach has had a lot of appeal to many people - I would say - because it's a clear, cohesive, understandable, teachable approach to writing, if not always the most appropriate for a specific author or story. And again, it's all based on cutting the excess.

    I have a copy of Maas's Breakout Novel but haven't done much more than flip through it.
  2. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

    Ok. This is what I"m going to do.

    I'm at my coffee shop right now working on my novel. I get until 9:30 which is nice for me.

    Tomorrow I'm going to do my best to dissect all that. I'm going to do it by creating multiple threads. One for each of those specific topics, because honestly, if we try to discuss all that in a single thread we will be no better off than those overly distilled zombified "15 things NOT to do in your manuscript" posts you are talking about. Each of these rules are deeply misunderstood, which is why the controversy. We need to talk about each one individually and we need to give each one room to 'breathe', as it were.

    As I see it now, I'm understanding the frustration. It is a frustration I have had since joining this site three years ago and I saw all this terrible, distilled advice being tossed around that was creating a mess of people's writing.
    Michael K. Eidson likes this.
  3. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    To reply to the OP, I have to say no. And then yes.

    Go look at Lester Dent's advice
    Dirty 30s! - The Lester Dent Pulp Paper Master Fiction Plot
    You see the date. I know his advice is still cited. So is advice from any number of other early 20thc writers.
    I'm not sure 19thc writers gave advice to aspiring writers. Certainly styles have changed. I cannot make it through Pilgrim's Progress. And while some 19th century writers are still fun to read, if you go back to mid-range writers that were popular (the Internet Archive is a good place to find these), they were pretty awful. So, tastes have changed. By inference I could suppose that had someone written a Dent or Hemingway type advice column in, say 1850, the advice would have been very different.

    But since the 1920s? Naw. There's *more* of it. Worse, the core gets reformulated and trotted out in new rhetoric constantly, giving the illusion of change. But good characters, tension, lean prose, all that is old news. Pulling it off well, that's the eternal present.
    Dark Squiggle, Nimue and Heliotrope like this.
  4. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    Here’s a fun one, can’t recall if it was Maass or from the book Nabokov’s Favorite Color was Mauve... or both may have touched on it.

    No Weather Openings. You will see this hammered by agents all the time. BUT, check some of the best selling authors in the world for weather openings. Ding! All over the place. Most readers don’t give a shit. Period.

    Rules based upon irritable agent opinions may not be the way to go, and yet they are the gatekeepers.

    Passive sentences are bad when they’re bad, but fine when they’re necessary... much like the word “that”.

    I’m sure some buffoon has suggested the Inciting Incident must hit at a certain point but I’ve never seen it with a hard line drawn in the sand. Not even in screenwriting (which is about as prescriptive as you can get), except perhaps... if it’s half way you’re in shit. The Inciting incident should come early, but where is not prescriptive.

    Tightened prose can mean different things to different people. It could mean limited filler words (hooray!) or it could mean simple sentences (booo!)

    Show don’t tell is a clusterflubber. I’ve seen published writers who also teach at respected institutions try to demonstrate show don’t tell, and my response was (ripping off Buzz Lightyear) That isn’t showing! It’s telling with style! Show don’t tell is a balancing act like so many other things. But, as far as rules go, this basic premise is here to stay, thank the Iowa Writer’s Workshop for that, heh heh. But it too has a variety of nuances in definition and usage.

    Tense story... eeee, well, here we gotta hit Maass... tense doesn’t mean your gut in a knot, eyes bugged... I could die any second!... tension has a wide range, although I’m sure some folks have totally blown this out of proportion in the attempt to formulate a rule. This could be one of the more destructive “rules” if taken too far.

    -ly adverbs are bad... Not 100% true, but mostly true (heh heh). Never worry about them in dialogue, and YA, MG, and probably some genre, but they’re concerning because to me it demonstrates the writer isn’t digging deep into their skill.

    Enough babble, bed.
    Gribba and Chessie2 like this.
  5. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    Yes, it can be taken too far. However, there does need to be some tension on every page. It just doesn't need to be the earth-shattering type on every page. I think that's what you mean.
    Chessie2 likes this.
  6. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

    This pretty much sums it up. I do love adverbs though. They're terrifically terrific.
  7. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    , she said, adverbially.

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