I Smell Your Rookie Moves, New Writers

I am occasionally in a place where I read work by new writers. Sometimes this is at cons or conferences. Sometimes it’s in the sample of work that’s free online or a fragment from a self-published work. Sometimes I just roll over in my bed and there it is, a manuscript by a new writer, haunting me like a vengeful incubus.

I would very much like to yell at you.

Now, listen, before I begin the part where I scream myself hoarse about the things you’re doing wrong, I want you to understand that we’ve all been there. We’ve all done it poorly. Doing it poorly is the first step to, well, not doing it poorly. I have written my fair share of HOT PUKE, and it’s just one of those things you have to purge from your system.

(Though here we also enter into another caveat: HOT PUKE is not actually a delicacy. You do that shit over in the corner, barfing it up in the potted plant so nobody sees until morning. You don’t yak up today’s lunch in the middle of the living room and then do jazz-hands over it: “Ta-da! The Aristocrats!” What I’m trying to say is, your rookie efforts are not automatically worth putting out into the world, especially if those efforts cost readers money to access them. The mere existence of a story is not justification for its publication. Don’t make people give you cash for your inferior efforts. Get it right before you ask money to reward you for getting it wrong.)

Here, then, are some things I have noticed in drafts by new or untested writers, and these are I think standard errors — and they’re ones also that tested authors sometimes stumble into, so peruse this list, see if you have stropped up against any of these sins like a randy tomcat, and then fix your business. Get it? Got it? Good?

Let the yelling commence.

Telegraphing Every Goddamn Thing

It is compelling, I know, to figure out every single thing that is happening all the time always in your story. Characters smile and laugh. Okay. They fidget. Fine. They drink a cup of tea with their pinky out. Sure, why not? But if you’re writing out every hiccup, burp, fart, wince, flinch, sip, and gobble, you got problems. A character turns on a lamp? Super, you don’t need to describe how they turn it on. I don’t need to see John Q. Dicknoggin unzipping his fly before he pisses, and frankly, I may not need to see that he pisses unless it’s telling us something about his character. See, the problem is, when you telegraph all these movements — when you describe in detail every minute micro-expression and irritable bowel movement, you fill up the page with a laundry list of Incredibly Uninteresting Nonsense. Which leads me to —

Not Everything Is Interesting

At a rough guess, I’d say 90% of All Things Ever are uninteresting. Dull as drawing with white crayons on white paper. Things are boring. Life is boring. Details are mostly boring.

Storytelling, though, is the opposite of that. We tell stories because they are interesting. We offer narrative because narrative is a bone-breaker: it snaps the femur of the status quo. It is in fact the sharp, gunshot-loud fracture-break of the expected story is what perks our attention. Guy goes to work, works, comes home, has dinner, goes to bed? Not interesting. Guy goes to work, has the same troubles with his boss, endures the standard problems of the day (“where are my goddamn staples?”), goes home, eats an unsatisfying dinner, goes to bed and sleeps restlessly until the next day of the same thing? Still not interesting. Guy goes to work and gets fired? Okay, maybe, depending on if he does something unexpected with it. Guy goes to work and gets fired out of a cannon into a warehouse full of ninjas? I’M LISTENING.

Description is the same way. You don’t need to tell me what everything looks like because I already know, and most things aren’t that interesting. Leaves on a tree are leaves on a tree. For the impact of story, how many points each leaf has or how they move in the wind is not compelling. This isn’t a video game where you get points for painting every aspect of the environment with total authenticity. Skip it. Tell us the stuff that is unexpected. The things that shatter our notions: if one leaf has blood on it? Then we need to know that. We want to know that.

Cut the boring stuff.

Write the interesting stuff.

Trim, tighten, slice, dice. Pare it all down. Render. Render!

Which leads me to…

Going On Tooooooo Loooooooooong

Whatever it is you’re writing, it’s too long. Cut it by a third or more. Do it now. I don’t care if you think you should do it, just do it. Try it. You can go back to it if you don’t like it. Consider it an intellectual challenge — can you utterly obliterate 33% of your story? Can you do it mercilessly and yet still tell the story you want to tell? I bet you jolly well fucking can.

Get To The Fucking Story, Already

The story begins on page one.

Repeat: the story begins on page one.

It doesn’t begin on page ten. It doesn’t start in chapter five.

It starts on page one.

Get to the point. Get to the story. Intro characters and their problem and the stakes to those problems as immediately as you are able. You think you’re doing some clever shit by denying this? You think you need to invest us in your luscious prose and the rich loamy soil of the worldbuilding and the deep nature of these characters — ha ha ha, no. We’re here for a reason. We’re here for a story. If by the end of the first page there isn’t the sign of a story starting up? Then we’re pulling the ripcord and ejecting. We’ll parachute out of your airless atmosphere and land on the ground where things are actually happening.

Dialogue Works A Certain Way

Writing has rules.

Storytelling has fewer rules, and certainly more flexible ones.

But actual writing has legit rules.

It’s not math, not exactly — but things do add up a certain way and we are beholden to either apply the rules to our work or break the rules to create a specific effect.

You don’t just break the rules because it’s fun, or worse, because you don’t know them. That latter is where a lot of new writers fall. They simply don’t know that things work a certain way, and when you write in contravention to These Certain Ways, we can all smell it. It’s stinky. Your prose gains the vinegar stink of flopsweat as you gallumph about on the stage of the page, not knowing how to actually do this thing you promised us that you can do.

Dialogue, for instance, is one of those things that has rules. And for some reason, it’s one of the most common things I see get utterly fucked. The basic gist of dialogue is:

“Comment,” Dave said.

Right? Quotes, with a comment in the middle, the whole thing broken out with a comma tucked inside the quotes, and then a very simple dialogue tag.

“Comment.” Dave said.

That’s wrong. You need the comma.

“Comment”, Dave said.

That is also wrong. That comma wants to be warm and safe inside the quotes. Where bad writing will never hurt it ever again.

You can, of course, get fancier.

“I’m starting this sentence,” Dave said, “and now I’m going to finish it.”


“I want to start a new sentence,” Dave said. “Sentences are really cool.”

Note the difference between those two methods. The period versus the comma. The two complete sentences versus the dialogue tag interrupting a continuing sentence.

You cannot mix and match this.

“I want to say some more stuff,” Dave said. “so please let me say stuff.”

No! No. No. Stop that right now.

Sometimes you don’t even need the dialogue tag if you feel like orchestrating action in the appropriate arrangement around the quotes:

Dave adjusted his crotch. “My crotch is itchy ever since I let it become infected with ants.”

We don’t need to know that Dave said that because it’s pretty fucking clear Dave said it.

Certainly you can use other dialogue tag verbs other than said, but usually, you shouldn’t. Dave exclaimed, protested, shouted, screamed, shrieked, ejaculated, harrumphed, blathered, babbled, gabbled. Use those sparingly. And make sure they’re actual dialogue verbs. Don’t say:

“I don’t know which testicle is my favorite,” Dave shrugged.

Shrugging isn’t the proper verb there. You feel like because it’s a communicative verb it counts.

Spoiler alert: it doesn’t. You can’t shrug a word. Communicative gestures are not the same thing as proper dialogue verbs. No matter how hard you want them to be.

Once you get going with two characters, you can eschew dialogue tags entirely.

“I punched a fucking cat,” Dave said.

Eduardo winced. “You shouldn’t punch cats. That’s not nice.”

“I will fucking punch a cat when I fucking want to punch a cat. I’ll even fuck a cat.”

“Oh, Dave. You’re so funny!”

Also, watch your adverbs.

Adverbs get a bad rap in fiction, which is silly because adverbs are everywhere. In fact, the word ‘everywhere’ in that sentence? It’s an adverb! Holy shit!

Adverbs, though, become a problem when staple-gunned to all your dialogue tags. “I am made of bees,” Shirene said indubitably. “I like cake,” Roger exclaimed excitedly. “Porn is amazing,” Darrell ejaculated orgasmically. When you say those aloud, they sound terrible. Childish. They also do a very good job at telling and a very bad job at showing. If Roger in his love for cake tells us about how much he likes cake while grabbing us and shaking his violently, we can get a pretty good sense he’s pretty jacked up about some motherfucking cake. Even better, he doesn’t need to tell us. He just needs to stick a shiv between our ribs and steal our cake and then eat it greedily over our bleeding, mewling body. After that, we will possess little doubt how greatly he approves of the cake-eating experience.

Let Them Talk And Then Shut Them Up

You need to let your characters talk.

Dialogue is grease that slicks the wheels of your story.

And eventually it gets tiresome. You love the characters and you think they should be allowed to go on and on all day long because you think they’re just aces. They’re not. Shut them up. Keep the dialogue trim and vital. Concise and powerful. Let them have their say in the way they need to say it — in the way that best exemplifies who those characters are and what they want — and then close their mouths. Move onto the next thing. Let’s hear from someone else or something else.

I Don’t Know Who Your Characters Are Or What They Want

Each character needs to be a shining beam — each distinct from the next. Bright and demonstrative of its own color. Not archetypes, not stereotypes, but complex and easily distinguished people. And I want a reason to care about them. Right out of the gate, I want this. I need to know what they want, why they want it, and what they’re willing to do to get it. I need, in very short terms, their quest. Whether desired or a burden, I gotta know why they’re here on the page in front of me. That’s not true only of the protagonist, but of all the characters.

Who are they?

If you can’t tell me quickly, they become noise instead of operating as signal.

Too Many Characters Bumping Into Each Other

It’s very hard to manage a lot of characters.

I do it in some books and the way that I do it is by introducing them piecemeal — not in one big dump like I’m emptying a bag of apples onto the counter (where they promptly all roll away from me), but one or two at a time. Let them have a little oxygen. Let them have their time in the light so we can see the above task performed: they can use that stage time to tell us who they are, what they want, why they want it, what they’ll do to get it, and so on and so forth.

But jumping in with too many characters is a soup with all the ingredients.

It’s just a mushy, flavor-bombed mess.

It’s a thing I see in the work of new writers.

And it rarely works well unless you’ve developed the skill of working your characters the way a conductor commands all the musicians and instruments in a symphony.

Every Character Sounds The Same

Builds off what I was saying earlier about every character being her own shining beacon, separate from one another. And I think it’s pretty clear: if each character sounds like a replicant of the next, you’ve got a problem. It’s not just about vocal patterns. It’s about what they’re saying in addition to how they’re saying it. It’s about their ideas and vision and desires. Look at it this way: it’s not just your prose that makes you your author. It’s not just your style. It’s what you write. It’s the themes you express. Characters operate the same way. They have different viewpoints and needs. They have their own ways of expressing those viewpoints and needs, too. Get on that. Otherwise, they’re all just clones with different names and faces.

Trying To Show Off

Stop doing stunt moves. You can do that later. Right now, assume that you have a single goal: clarity. Clarity is key. It is king. If I do not know what is going on, then I’m out. If I am in any way confused about what’s happening on the page? I’ll fuck right off and watch TV or check Twitter or fondle myself. Do yourself a favor and aim to just tell the story. Get out of the way. Be clear. Be forthright. Be confident and assertive and show us what’s happening without compromise and without burying it under a lot of mud.

You don’t get points for being deliberately ambiguous.

* * *

The Kick-Ass Writer: Out Now

The journey to become a successful writer is long, fraught with peril, and filled with difficult questions: How do I write dialogue? How do I build suspense? What should I know about query letters? How do I start? Where are my pants?

The best way to answer these questions is to ditch your uncertainty and transform yourself into a Kick-Ass Writer. This new book from award-winning author Chuck Wendig combines the best of his eye-opening writing instruction — previously available in e-book form only — with all-new insights into writing and publishing. It’s an explosive broadside of gritty advice that will destroy your fears, clear the path, and help you find your voice, your story, and your audience.




Writer’s Digest

189 responses to “I Smell Your Rookie Moves, New Writers”

  1. The saddest thing is, with enough hype and enough graphic sex, even Hot Puke sells, and one can only hope those baby writers eventually learn something despite their ability to push the “publish” button now. PS thanks for a great post, and I recognize my earlier self and am so glad I wasn’t able to easily self publish back then!

  2. This post immediately and continually forced me to become defensive about my writing. That’s how I know it’s useful advice. Thanks!

  3. Not gonna disagree with any of the points in the article, but it’s funny how when I go back and re-read TOBFMY (treasured old books from my youth) I see these rules broken all over the place. I’m reading Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy right now, and Douglas Adams just didn’t give a damn about certain writing rules. But I’m still locked in!

    So I guess rule #1 is STORY TRUMPS EVERYTHING!

  4. While this article makes many really good points, it is very poorly written. It contains many current shitty writing tropes which I teach my writing students to avoid. 3 of many examples:
    1) Snarky, arrogant condescension.
    This is a plague of the internet. It can take many forms but it creates a kind of fatigue in the reader. Blog after blog after blog AFTER BLOG lean on this style of commentary because it easy (or lazy) and self-propulsive. It may have been incisive in 2002, in 2015 it is about as compelling as hipster sarcasm, and closely related. It is very possible to cover this article’s subject and even include a bit of sharp humor without leaning on a sense of world-weary contempt for two thousand words.This tone is epidemic in web content and is becoming as hackneyed (an ineffective) as clichés like “sickening thud” or “don’t you die on me!”
    2) Saying the same thing, or nearly the same thing, in back to back sentences and thinking the repetition adds emphasis.
    Because the author does this in nearly every single paragraph, I can simply look at this article anywhere and see it swelling:
    “Get to the point. Get to the story. Intro characters and their problem and the stakes to those problems as immediately as you are able.”
    Possible replacement: “Introduce us to the characters and the essential conflict as quickly as possible.”
    The main source of this type of shitty writing is, again, the belief that if you say something over and over again in slightly different terms it makes it more emphatic. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. If you want to create emphasis or color, say it in one sentence and make it a good one.
    3) Locker room humor: Many usually (but not always) MALE shitty writers such as the author of this article, think that the things that sound funny or colorful in their head will have that affect on their audience. While everybody has to strike out with their own brand of humor, it is vital to have some consideration of common tact and aesthetics. This doesn’t mean being prudish. Writers like Franzen, Eugenides, and Egan all employ crude humor successfully. On the other hand, when this author uses images of an itchy crotch, a man talking about his balls and a man exclaiming that he would fuck a cat in successive sentences, it comes off as juvenile rather than freewheeling or edgy.

    There are many other things wrong with the piece but the main point is not to write from a sense of intoxication with one’s own insights, but instead consider the reader and “when in doubt leave it out” — a rule better practiced than preached.

    • Ah, I see we have someone who thinks his preferences comprise actual stylistic rules.

      Here, let me help you. I’m more than happy to refund the money you paid for this content.

      *wiggles fingers as non-existent coins fall from my hands to yours*

      THERE. Our exchange is complete. The refund has been granted.

      Now, may I suggest that next time before you swing in to ironically fight arrogant condescension with arrogant condescension, you instead remember that your own preferences do not, in fact, comprise actual stylistic rules. It’s just the things you like and don’t like. They hold import with you. And not with any one else. Maybe, just maybe, this isn’t the blog for you, and next time instead of leaving a shitty comment like this one, you’ll simply surf away and go read another vital literary piece by the gift that keeps on giving, Franzen.

      Or, as Shirley Jackson once wrote to a naysayer:


      — c.

  5. whoever wrote this is bitterly trying to play “stump the professor” but you are wrong, the article is hilarious and all the points are spot on. And thank you Chuck Wendig for defending adverbs. The problem with absolutism about things like adverbs or “show don’t tell” (which would have eliminated almost all Victorian novels plus Tolstoy and Proust) is that writing is not about dogma. Also, the three sentence thing creates a rhythm that makes prose flow – Homer, aka the best writer that ever lived, did it!!!

  6. I am so glad I found this… or rather that it found me. I am not a writer by trade, I just have a vivid imagination and a story to tell. I know more about guns, computers, and even cars than I do about commas. I know when I finish my story it will need an ungodly amount of editing. Which will probably be done by more than a few people… who know a lot more about English than I do. I’m just the ideas guy, I have a world full of people in my mind, and I want to show it to you. I just suck at doing so.
    Also of note… I have no idea what to do with my story once it’s written… so there is that…
    OH, and I saw some note about an online writing group… where can I find such a thing on the frontier of the world wide web?
    Yeah, so … uh… yeah…
    If anyone wants to laugh at a poorly written rough draft, I have just the thing for you!

    • Critters.org, Critique Circle, and Absolutewrite are three reputable online writing/critique groups. Sometimes the feedback they give can be harsh, but it can also be invaluable in showing writers where they might be going wrong 🙂

  7. I see a few comments mentioning prologues. I always find myself defending prologues, because there’s nothing wrong with them if they’re interesting (and short). I know plenty of people can screw them up, but I always tell people not to be afraid of doing it if they think they can do it well. Maybe we need a prologue post to hash that out?

    • I know exactly what you’re talking about. I think the hatred of prologues comes from an issue of commonality more than anything else; people include them because it makes sense to start there, not because it is the most effective way to begin, and so when you someone reading through a bunch of drafts, it’s likely you’ll snub a prologue because it tends to be a sign of a beginner, not because it in itself is inherently bad. It’s why the people who hate prologues are people in the business, but when you ask non-writing readers they tend not to have an opinion about it one way or the other.

      In a later draft of a manuscript, I added in a prologue, for various reasons, but mostly because the book starts in a setting that is the exception to the world, not the world the reader is going to be primarily experiencing (science-fiction). I had a hell of a time with it because this was people’s reaction. “I thought you weren’t supposed to have prologues.”

      They couldn’t be specific. They refused to say if it was boring or long or unrelated, they just kept repeating, “I thought you weren’t supposed to have one,” and “I’ve just never seen it done that way before,” but even after being pressed further wouldn’t explain what they meant by “that way.”

      I spent a year trying to get rid of it, but it couldn’t just be cut because it was a scene important to the plot and the setting demonstrated the story’s atmosphere and rules of the world better than where chapter one began. I mean, I WANTED to get rid of it. I would have loved to just cut it. By the end I was so frustrated that if I could have gotten rid of it, I would have. I even took the first three chapters without it to a few agents at a conference, and the majority of their comments were about world building that the draft with the prologue never got, as well as some other, non-world related suggestions the prologue already accomplished.

      I will say this, people reject prologues, and the reason almost doesn’t matter why. I don’t believe prologues are inherently evil, and the bias against them is just a method to expedite judgment, but on the other hand, I’m never putting in another one. It was my 15th book, the first prologue I ever wrote and also the last.

  8. Valuable information. It’s a shame you feel it necessary to punctuate your advice with filth. You appear to have an adequate vocabulary, so why do you feel you need to use words like motherfucker? It adds nothing useful and detracts from your helpful insights.

      • Because the way you write your blog, it makes you come off as a weenie trying WAY TOO HARD to be funny and not knowing when to stop.

        It isn’t the fact you use profanity but how you constantly do this teenager-esque shit where you make up these long winded multi-sentence long tirades about monkey genitals and Hippos shitting all over the place like it’s the funniest damned thing on the Earth when it really isn’t. It’s either gross or aggravating, and makes reading your posts tiresome.

        • And don’t get me wrong, I like your blog and your advice, and think you’re a cool guy, I don’t wanna come off as some random asshole nit-picking shit when all you wanna do is do your thing and help out jackasses like me. Just wanted to offer an opinion.

          • And yet, GO GO, you are doing exactly that — coming off as some random asshole, one who in fact is choosing to remain anonymous (which is a very good benchmark for “random asshole”).

            Your opinion is that you don’t like what I do, which is entirely fine.

            That said, do not presume why I do it — further, while it may make the posts tiresome to your eyes, my readership numbers suggest many do not share that wear and tear.

            Further, I don’t care, because I think monkey genitals and hippos shitting everywhere are funny.

            Yours with middle fingers,


    • Not everyone views colourful language as ‘filth.’ Presumably Chuck uses it because that is the way he talks. I use profanity in my own blog for the same reason. I wouldn’t censor myself so as not to offend anyone’s delicate sensibilities, and I imagine Chuck feels the same. If the information he offers is valuable – and it is – then it really shouldn’t matter how he presents it.

    • “If the information he offers is valuable – and it is – it shouldn’t matter how he presents it.”

      I agree with this under these circumstances, but not under *every* circumstances. If this argument weren’t about “foul language is FOUL because FOUL!!!” and were about language that actually hurt somebody, I’d be on the side of the hurt. The thing is… it’s NOT.

      The thing that makes arguments about Chuck’s swearing seem so silly to me is that he’s one of the most scrupulously careful bloggers I’ve ever read–obviously not about who he offends with his fairly unique relationship to the English language, but certainly about who he hurts. Like, seriously, every one of these posts is incredibly, scrupulously aware of what direction it’s punching in. For me, that constant effort at kindness and decency is what most makes up the the voice of this blog, far more than the colorfulness of the language (though I appreciate that too!)

      In short… I guess I just don’t get it. I don’t swear much myself (well, in writing I do, but not in speech), but I literally can’t grasp the problem people have with the existence of swear words in prose.

      • You’re completely right – that definitely wouldn’t apply to every circumstance. Maybe I should have made that clearer :/ I think ‘fairly unique relationship to the English language’ completely sums up Chuck and his posts – and it’s one of the main reasons I read them. They’re entertaining and laugh-out-loud funny. It’s who he is and how he talks.

        I suppose it is each to their own, but I honestly find it a bit silly when people get worked up over something like a cuss-word. As you pointed out, language can hurt people but not the way Chuck uses it. It would be far more beneficial to work towards eradicating the severe sexism, racism and general abuse that people seem to think they can perpetuate from behind the safe anonymity of a computer screen, than to get into a flap because someone said ‘motherfucker.’

      • This is a fairly good assessment of my style in terms of vulgarity and such — I don’t really care if I offend, but I do indeed care if I hurt. I brook no indifference about the former, and if I do the latter, then I attempt to make amends however I can.

        — c.

  9. “Porn is amazing,” Darrell ejaculated orgasmically. You made me look up ejaculate to make sure it was a dialogue verb. Puts face in hands.

    Oh how much editing I need to do now. Thank you for pointing out that I have a long way to go even though I am within a few thousand words of finishing my first book. Good thing I already consider my book too long as I can see it quickly shrinking.

  10. I love all of the points listed, but I’m going to admit that my biggest pet peeve is an author having WAY to many characters enter the story all at once. It’s disconcerting, and makes it hard for me to keep track of who’s who. This is something that I see “advanced” authors do too- and it makes it much, MUCH harder for me to read the book in question. 😛

  11. What do people think about the idea of cutting 33% of your story? I’m also not a writer by trade; I’m an academic and my professional writing experience has taught me to streamline my language and get to the point bc academic journals have strict page limits. My problem is the opposite of going on too long! As a result, I have a completed draft of a novel that’s only 45,000 words and I realize I have to double it before I can even THINK about publication. And in fact, I could probably cut some adverbs here and there.

    Even if you flesh out description a bit more, how can you produce 300 MS word pages without a little rambling?

    Anybody else struggling with being TOO concise?

    • 45,000 is either a short Novel or a Novella in length. Depending on what type and genre the story is 45,000 words may be fine. Does it tell the story and leave the reader happy by reading it is the most important part. I would only add to the story if it actually helps flush something out better such as a character or part of the plot.

      I run the other side with trying to have the story include too much and need to figure out how to cut it back so that I don’t give too much detail and too much side story. Right now I am looking at my story being around 120,000 words and while my test readers enjoy it, I can see where others might find it too much detail similar to why some people don’t like the Lord of the Rings trilogy. (which is actually 6 books)

      • I hate to break it to you, but Lord of the Rings is 1 book. Published in 3 volumes. Each of which have 2 parts that JRR Tolkien decided to arbitrarily call “books.” If you read his foreword, it explains this explicitly. (It also explains, equally explicitly, that any allegory people find in the book is their own baggage, not Tolkien’s.)

    • Yes, I’m the same way. I keep aiming for the 80k general advice says is a decent novel, but I don’t think I’ll get there, even with all the subplots I’ve added. Maybe if I’m lucky I’ll reach 70k, which will have to do. At least nobody will be able to accuse us of going on random tangents or confusing the plot, right?

    • The first draft of my WIP was about 65K. In my case, that turned out to be way too short for the story I was telling: I got feedback saying none of the events had enough emotional impact, so I learned to add sequels to the scenes — to add reaction and decision moments, spell out character emotions better, and so forth. The rewrite of the same events with more reaction moments brought it to 135K(!?), which I’ve since pared down to 125K (still really long), which is out with beta readers now, so I’m waiting to hear how close it is to finished.

      On the question of length… I think it really depends. Some stories are complete when they’re quite short. Other times, a short word count may mean there aren’t enough try-fail cycles before the climax, or the idea you’re exploring would be more complete with a subplot or a significant twist, or, as in my case, the plot is “event event event event” with no time to let the character react and process between scenes.

      Getting feedback from readers may be the best way to figure out whether your story is the length it’s meant to be or whether it’s missing something. (Or has too much of something, which may still be the case with mine.)

  12. Thanks Tim, I’m just focusing on getting the story done well, and then, if it’s still too short, I’ll have to revise. everything i’ve read online tells me that 45K is far too short to be taken seriously by a publisher.

    i feel like cutting down a story is a question of 2 things, either its verbiage, in which case, thats actually easier to cut, or is it plot, i.e. too many subplots, too many extraneous things that aren’t relevant to the core issues. its hard to kill your darlings !

  13. Thank you Chuck, between this post and your excellent Kick-Ass Writer book, I certainly feel put on notice. I know I won’t be able to avoid all mistakes, but hopefully I’ll find some decent critical beta-readers who will dig up any mistakes I missed.

  14. I read this out loud to my partner. In our local pizza joint. On a Friday night.

    I’m fairly certain the ladies in the neighboring booth didn’t appreciate the fucking cat punching, but we sure did.

    Fantastic post. Thank you!

  15. Regarding dialogue tags and adverbs, I read a Dale Brown military thriller this year, because I felt like finding out how bad you can be as a writer and still get published. I found this unthinkable stinker among the dross:

    “Can we please get on with this?” Stacy Anne Barbeau suddenly blurted perturbedly.

    For a start, the word “suddenly” is redundant, seeing as it’s hard to “blurt” with forethought. Secondly, if he must use “blurted”, it’s hardly requiring a further adverb to clarify how she blurted. Finally, the word “perturbedly” should be dragged out of the dictionary (if it indeed it exists) and hung from its neck until dead. Not to mention naming the character’s FULL NAME (including middle name!) even though she’s already been introduced.


  16. This sounds like things popular writers who don’t get edited anymore do. You can tell who they are because the name is bigger than the title on the cover.

  17. You would have hated my first book for grammar as much as I do. It isn’t boring though 🙂
    (I had to withdraw it from sale because of the level of revulsion I experienced with the quality of typeset and obvious errors of spelling, grammar and repeated expressions. Will re-release it one day.

  18. Thanks for a hilarious post that knocked me over the head. In my mind, I never make these mistakes, but, of course, I do. Thanks for making the criticisms so palatable with your exquisite use of language (foul and otherwise). I’m a newbie to writing fiction and am realizing it is tougher than it looks.

  19. Chuck, I want to writer-marry you, which is different from regular marriage. It’s a mind meld sort of thing where we meet telepathically and read each other the terrible things writers send us to edit/critique while eating brownies or drinking. Pick a date. It’ll be fun. You’ve said everything I tell my clients/students, only more politely. This is what I’d really like to say sometimes. Along with: do you ever freaking READ? One has to be somewhat encouraging so no one gets depressed or suicidal. I do want to truly help them. Except the person who told me her nonsensical book was inspired by Heart of Darkness. I just couldn’t be nice about that. You’ve saved many writers’ (and editors’) lives here. Thank you.

  20. First of all, English is not my first language, so I have to say sorry for the mistakes I’ll probably make.

    I want to quote a person that said this some comments before:
    “The problem with absolutism about things like adverbs or “show don’t tell” (which would have eliminated almost all Victorian novels plus Tolstoy and Proust) is that writing is not about dogma”.

    I admire your blog, Chuck. It is really interesting and worth the reading. But my style is completely different. I use to read those kind of books. Classics. Also, I live in Europe, and I think that our books nowadays are a bit less action-oriented, and still have some insight and philosophy and are kind of ‘baroque’ compared to the fast-food american ones. So that thing of cutting 33%, going to the real meat… Does that has to be an obligation? IMO, and I repeat, respect this, and obviously you know how to write and keep a person interested, the writing style nowadays is extremely fast-pieced and with a lack of depth.

    I can read Proust, or Goethe, or Nabokov, Lem, Twain… They’re different between each other but all of them have either a deep message, philosophy, social insight of the world and culture, or recreates a lot into the words aesthetics. I read people here that say they have read 200 books this year -and that comment was made in summer-. I see Book Haul videos on YouTube… And all the books I see are… well, those coloured books that fill shopping centers and so…

    What is happening? Do people really enrich their minds or is this just chill-out, scape-of-the-routine literature? I prefer a classic to 200 of those fast made books with a lot of bang bang! and so. In fact, I learn more with one of the first than 200 of the others.

    And although I see that your rules are nice and useful to follow, some part of my mind says “they’re good to adapt yourself to the market and sell”. So, am I being a better writer with all of this or only a better seller and adapting to minds that want a plain-easy thing to forget their worries for a moment?

    I know that I can seem to be snob or something. It is not my intention, though. It is just me? Or do others see and think the same?

    • It’s a meaningful question, and important to note that writing advice is just that — advice. Meaning, it is as sacred as me telling you how to get to the local Wal-Mart. You may wanna take a different highway. You may want a more scenic drive. You may know a shorter path than I do. It’s just advice. It isn’t chiseled into tablets. It’s written in crayon on Kleenex.

      These aren’t really rules — well, the dialogue stuff leans toward more proper rules, though even those can be broken by one who is truly capable and knows why those rules should be broken. It’s just things I’ve seen that I personally think could use addressing. Not universal, not bullet-proof, just a bag of random tips.

      — c.

  21. This blog is pinned to my laptop, for one reason. I am new to this, though I’ve been writing for a while. New because you’re words painted a picture of all that I am doing wrong, and I love you for it. Isn’t that insane?! Thank you for such insights, I will now go find my chainsaw and begin trimming the verge that is my masterpiece. At least in my own eyes, LOL! This explains why my poor editor reminds me of a serial killer the way she’s slashing away my manuscript. To her I said: “Make it bleed,” and indeed she has.

  22. Apparently it’s not only new writers who are capable of producing unreadable slop. Star Wars: Aftermath is almost worthy of an Executive Order than the author never be allowed to hold a pen or touch a keyboard again.

Speak Your Mind, Word-Nerds

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: