Archive for the 'writing tips' Category

Nanowrimo part 2

October 19, 2007

So now that I’ve complained about how Nanowrimo steals a month of your life away and you’d have to be CRAZY to want to sign up, another perspective, excerpted from my post over at Dailywritingtips:

Kickstart Your Writing With Nanowrimo

Nanowrimo teaches important writing habits that no fiction writer can afford to ignore:

1. Discipline: …Forcing yourself to write more is like the old story of the marathon runner training with weighted shoes…

2. Ignoring the internal editor: With a quota of four pages a day, you can’t afford to be a perfectionist…

3. Losing control: Many new authors try to control the plots of their stories and novels, resulting in deus ex machina situations, wooden characters, or unbelievable twists…Nanowrimo novels often stink, but participating is a wonderful way to practice the writing habits you need every day of the year.

Go check it out.


Tuesday’s Tools: Free Character Charts for fiction writers

October 9, 2007

(This is the fifth in a weekly series about tools for writers. For the rest of the series, go here.)
For fiction writers: I love the free Eclectic Writer’s Character Chart, which has spaces to fill in everything from the color of your hero’s eyes to the person he secretly admires. An HTML version is here, but I’m addicted to the printable PDFs, which are a whopping 5 pages but are formatted beautifully. You’ve got to write small in some of these boxes (the box for “Hometown,” which should be one or two words, is the same size as the box for “Type of childhood,” which I imagine should be a short paragraph!) but for the most part these are pretty good. And you can’t beat the price.

Five ways to improve your writing with maps

October 4, 2007

flickr:retro traveler

Maps, the stylish merger of form and function, are the easiest way to impart certain types of information. Can you imagine what travel would be like if all travel directions were verbal only? Ick.

Maps can help you with your writing, too. I don’t mean outlines or “mind maps” or the like, though those work for some people as well. I’m talking about real maps.

In fiction:
Holly Lisle has a great Maps Workshop that explains how to create a world complete with natural-looking features with just a pencil, paper, and a lack of artistic ability. Non-fantasy writers can use this technique, too–characters need neighborhoods to inhabit, don’t they?

For authenticity
Sometimes you just want your characters to use a map, and you want them to use it accurately. An article from The Broadsheet’s archives reviews a book of maps and points out some surprises from history that could make great authentic story fodder. (Of note is the author of the review, too, whose prose is less refined than it is now but certainly shows much potential!)

In nonfiction:
To show where things happened
Check out this old Poynter column with its mock-up of a “Google Maps-driven news feature.” Lots of people have jumped on this concept since 2005, including Nintendo, with its Wii News Channel. Using the remote, users scroll over a map of the earth, and can click on marked locations where recent news events took place.

To show where things are
Travel, entertainment, the arts, dining–anyone who writes in any of these fields could and should be making maps, helping readers easily find venues. The blog is based almost entirely around this concept.

In any kind of writing:
Okay, okay, now it’s mind mapping time. It’s obligatory–any time the word “map” comes up we have to get all abstract and stuff. But Lifehacker’s writeup is actually a fairly decent introduction to the idea, and for people less linear than I, mind mapping might work swimmingly.

Tuesday’s tools: Roughdraft

September 18, 2007

RoughDraft(This is the second in an ongoing series about tools for writers. For the first post in the series, see Submission Tracker Roundup.)

I have to say, my love for Roughdraft borders on the irrational. There are lots of free word processors for PC users out there, starting with WordPad. Why download another piece of software?

Actually, Roughdraft is chock-full of features helpful to writers. It will format manuscripts for you in screenplay or playwright mode, as well as display text normally for novelists/essayists/anyone who needs to write a letter to anyone, ever. It will convert your work to HTML without all the bloat that comes with Microsoft Word’s similar feature. It has a spellcheck function. It will do automatic backups if you tell it to.

I hardly ever use any of these features. The only reason I downloaded Roughdraft is because it was using tabs before tabbed browsing was cool. Seriously, I’ve been using Roughdraft since 2001 or 2002, and even though tabbed browsing has technically been around since 1997, I don’t think they really caught on until much later. Tabbed windows for all your open documents plus a Windows Explorer-like browser in the sidebar make it very easy in Roughdraft to work with big, complex projects.

The sidebar contains three other tabs, two of which don’t do much for me but the third of which is the Pad. This nifty feature lets you write notes or marginalia related to the piece you’re working on; the information is saved in a plain text file linked to your open document. So simple, but works so well.

Roughdraft doesn’t do some things well. It won’t do tables, footnotes, fancy headers or footers, or page breaks. If you need those features, you’d do better with Word or OpenOffice. But Roughdraft is speedy and slim, and for most writing projects you can’t do better.

PSA from your resident grumpy writer: avoid cliches

September 17, 2007

nate archer.

Avoid cliches like the plague if you want your writing to improve. You’ve heard that before, I know, but seriously–you need another cliche-infested sentence like you need a hole in the head.

I believe it was George Orwell who said that if a phrase even rings familiar, it’s a cliche. So we’re not talking about only things like “crying over spilled milk” or “sticking out like a sore thumb”, but also the arrangement of even two or three words in a trite, too-familiar order.

How many times has a romance heroine’s hair “spilled” across a pillow? When is a book lover anything but an “avid” reader? Read 24/7 With the Cliche Expert for a startling look at just how many adjective/noun pairs are inseparable.

Q: All right. I shall give you a series of nouns, and you supply the adjective that Homerically must precede each one. Are you ready?

A: As I’ll ever be.

Q: Competition is?

A: Fierce.

Q: And any success?

A: Unqualified.

Q: Agendas, endorsements, margins, bases, sources, the future, arguments, potential, waters, efforts, and breath?

A: Hidden, key, slim (or overwhelming), continuing, knowledgeable, foreseeable, heated, full, uncharted, Herculean, and bated. Bada bing! I may not be the flavor of the month, but I’m on a roll.

Cliches are easy to use and easy to rely on because they are so familiar. The problem is that they are so boring. It’s sometimes easier (for me, at least) to spot and eradicate cliches on a grander scale–cliches of plot, of theme, of lede or kicker, of phrases like “than you can shake a stick at”–than to find the tiny, overused cliches of one or two words.

In addition to being boring, pre-fab cliches are often used incorrectly. Was that battle really epic, or might there be a better way to describe it?

Tips for weeding out cliches? I have none. I know it takes a lot of work, but Orwell has this to say about taking the easy way out and refusing to take up the responsibility of writing with accuracy:

You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. They will construct your sentences for you — even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent — and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself. —Politics and the English Language, 1946

Orwell continues with the argument that sloppy language corrupts thought–the same argument used in 1984 with Newspeak. If you have no way to express your thoughts, those thoughts eventually become impossible. This grumpy writer is less concerned with politics than with producing writing that is interesting, clear, and cliche-free. Now you, too, can aspire to the lofty goal of making the world a better place–without cliches.