On Advice

Writers are forever giving writing advice. This is because a) writers are a chatty bunch (we like to write stuff) and b) one thing that we all know is how to write. We like to talk about things we know. And new writers are forever looking for advice from the old hands.

First thing, before I get started: McIntyre’s First Law:

Under the right circumstances, anything I tell you could be wrong.
–Vonda N. McIntyre

That isn’t going to stop me from giving advice, just like all the other writers out there. If you happen to be a newbie, remember this when any writer tells you how to write: It isn’t actually ‘how to write,’ it’s how they write. Perhaps it’ll work for you; perhaps it won’t. Take what’s useful and leave the rest. Which leads me to my first (and only) actual rule of writing: If it works, it’s right.

Just below that, I have two Strong Guidelines:

  1. Don’t bore your readers.
  2. Don’t confuse your readers.

Everything else is Art.

I’ll leave you today with another couple of laws:

Watt-Evans’ Law of Literary Creation: There is no idea so stupid or hackneyed that a sufficiently-talented writer can’t get a good story out of it.
–Lawrence Watt-Evans


Feist’s Corollary: There is no idea so brilliant or original that a sufficiently-untalented writer can’t screw it up.
-Raymond Feist

and …

Sturgeon’s Revelation: 90% of everything is crud.
–Theodore Sturgeon

That includes 90% of advice about writing.

On Plots

What is a plot? It’s a sequence of events, with one special property.

A sequence of events is this happened, then that happened. A plot is this happened, then that happened, because.

Some say there are three basic plot engines:

  1. Person against nature
  2. Person against person
  3. Person against God

“Person against person” includes as a sub-group “person against self.”

Some say there are five basic plot engines. They are:

  1. The brave little tailor
  2. If this goes on
  3. The person who learned better
  4. Who am I?
  5. How do we get home?

Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol is an example of “The person who learned better.” Dickens’ story has such a strong plot engine that it’s survived everything from Mr. Magoo to the Muppets.

Some folks add “Reader, I married him” to the list. Others add “A person leaves town” (and its inverse, “A stranger comes to town”).

I like to say that the oldest engines pull the heaviest freight.

On Dreams

So, can dreams turn into novels? Indeed, say I, for I have done it.

Here I point to our novel Land of Mist and Snow. It started as a dream of a 19th century sailing ship racing against a steam locomotive.

A kraken was somehow involved. The kraken didn’t make it to the finished novel. The ship vs. train scene did.

Land of Mist and Snow cover

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