Coming as we are, nearer to the February 14th deadline of our Short Story Challenge, (Hopefully you all haven't forgotten about it!) I thought a bit of useful writing advice might be welcomed for those of us stumped on a sentence or blinded by the glaring white of a blank page. (Figuratively speaking.) For more on the Short Story Challenge.
ADVICE TO WRITERS A Compendium of Quotes, Anecdotes, and Writerly Wisdom From a Dazzling Array of Literary Lights Compiled and Edited by Jon Winokur seems just the thing to snap us out of our possible literary doldrums on this cold winter day.
(The book was published in 1999.) From the editor's Introduction: This book will not teach you how to write. Whether you use a fountain pen or a word processor, writing is finally sitting alone in a room and wrenching it out of yourself, and nobody can teach you that.
But here's some good advice anyway, since Jon Winokur maintains that ...you can still learn, because writing is self-generating...
Begin with an individual and you find that you have created a type; begin with a type and you find that you have created - nothing.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Nothing is as important as a likable narrator. Nothing holds a story together better.
The character that lasts is an ordinary guy with some extraordinary qualities.
The characters have their own lives and their own logic, and you have to act accordingly.
Isaac Bashevis Singer
A character, to be acceptable as more than a chess piece, has to be ignorant of the future, unsure about the past, and not at all sure of what he's supposed to be doing.
On Critics and Criticism:
The artists who want to be writers, read the reviews; the artists who want to write, don't.
Listen carefully to first criticisms of your work. Note just what it is about your work that critics don't like - then cultivate it. That's the part of your work that's individual and worth keeping.
Dialogue has to show not only something about the speaker that is its own revelation, but also maybe something about the speaker that he doesn't know but the other character does know.
A man or woman who does not write good dialogue is not a first-rate writer.
George V. Higgins
Remember that you should be able to identify each character by what he or she says. Each one must sound different from the others. And they should not all sound like you.
It's easy, after all, not to be a writer. Most people aren't writers, and very little harm comes to them.
Believe in your own identity and your own opinions. Proceed with confidence, generating it, if necessary, by pure willpower. Writing is an act of ego and you might as well admit it. Use its energy to keep yourself going.
Writing a book is like driving a car at night. You only see as far as your headlights go, but you can make the whole trip that way.
Be in love with yr life
Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
Blow as deep as you want to blow
Write what you want bottomless from the bottom of the mind
Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
As a writer you are free. You are about the freest person that ever was. Your freedom is what you have bought with your solitude.
Ursula K. LeGuin
Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it.
Edgar Allan Poe
Reporting the extreme things as if they were the average things will start you on the art of fiction.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Fiction is a lie, and good fiction is the truth inside the lie.
The mystery's very much the modern morality play. You have an almost ritual killing and a victim, you have a murderer who in some sense represents the forces of evil, you have your detective coming in - very likely to avenge the death - who represents justice, retribution. And in the end you restore order out of disorder.
Anybody who shifts gears when he writes for children is likely to wind up stripping his gears.
Write what makes you happy.
There are only two things to write about: life and death.
Examine nature accurately, but write from recollection, and trust more to your imagination than your memory.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
On Qualifications and Requirements:
I know everything. One has to, to write decently.
An essential element for good writing is a good ear: One must listen to the sound of one's prose.
Real seriousness is regard to writing is one of the two absolute necessities. The other, unfortunately, is talent.
You have to be a little patient if you're an artist: people don't always get you the first time.
If you have enough talent. you can get by after a fashion without guts, you can also get by after a fashion again, without talent. But you certainly can't get by without either.
On Rules and Commandments:
Either it sounds right or it doesn't sound right.
Resist much, obey little.
Do not pay any attention to the rules other people make...They make them for their own protection, and to hell with them.
What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.
A good style should show no sign of effort. what is written should seem a happy accident.
Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.
Technique alone is never enough. You have to have passion. Technique alone is just an embroidered potholder.
On Tricks of the Trade:
Read over your compositions and, when you meet a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.
I don't know anything about fingerprinting or ballistics or any of that stuff, and if you're any good you can fake most of that.
Robert B. Parker
When the plot flags, bring in a man with a gun.
The trick is leaving out everything but the essential.
Don't say the old lady screamed - bring her on and let her scream.
The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a the lightning bug.
Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say 'infinitely' when you mean 'very'; otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.
On The Secret:
The secret of good writing is to say an old thing in a new way or to say a new thing in an old way.
Richard Harding Davis
When you sit down to write, tell the truth from one moment to the next and see where it takes you.
Learn to write by doing it. Read widely and wisely. Increase your word power. Find your own individual voice through practicing constantly. Go through the world with your eyes and ears open and learn to express that experience in words.
P. D. James
Make it new.
The shorter and the plainer the better.
There isn't any secret. You sit down and you start and that's it.