Jane Friedman – How to Avoid Being Fooled By Bad Writing Advice

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Jane knows her stuff.

One of the problems I’ve run into lately is trying to figure out who’s full of BS and who isn’t.

Jane isn’t. I’ve gone to her site time and again, mainly to learn about writing craft. Her blog is chock full of good stuff. There’s a ton about story structure, publishing, self-publishing, finding an agent, you name it.

She gives great advice, too. Check out this article, originally posted on writerunboxed.com. Even though the date is, well, dated (ha!), the content is just as relevant today.

How to Avoid Being Fooled By Bad Writing Advice

January 28, 2011 By 

foolDuring my teaching this quarter, a theme that’s coming up again and again is the either/or fallacy. This fallacy occurs when we divide the world into black and white, and don’t allow for other options.

As humans, we have a crazy predilection for thinking in this way. Us versus them. New versus old. Print versus electronic. Zero-sum games.

When I speak at writing conferences, I fall prey to this thinking myself. For instance, I start to see the field in terms of writers who are resistant to marketing/promotion versus those who embrace it.

I did this just recently at the Writer’s Digest Conference. I jotted a note to myself saying: There are 2 categories of writers!

Category 1: For these writers, it’s all about the work, the writing. The reading. The art and the craft. Story is paramount. The writing speaks for itself. It’s not the job of the writer to market—that’s not what he’s good at. He writes (dammit!).

Category 2: These writers market and promote before the work is even good enough to be published. They’re focused on getting known, maybe because they’ve been told that’s what they must do. They’re after readers because it’s been hammered into them that it’s about community, relationships, connections. (Meaningful ones, dammit!)

Why would I categorize like this? Because battles erupt visibly and people take sides—in the Q&A sessions, the Twitter streams, in the hallway conversations. The conflict attracts attention.

The truth is, though, that we’re all on a spectrum. Most of us balance the two sides, or switch gears when we see that it’s necessary for progress.

But we all like to label and categorize as if there were extremes, even if that’s not an accurate reflection of how we operate.

Playing to extremes is exceptionally helpful in getting readers. Writing a great blog post or developing a successful online presence is often about knowing how to attract attention, or be bombastic in a charming way. Talking about the gray areas within an issue—parsing through all the intricacies—isn’t known for generating traffic. Boldness is.*

You’ll all pay close attention if I say: You Will Fail Instantly If You Do XYZ! But it’s a huge snoozer if I say: A Few Might Stumble By Not Considering XYZ.

When you read writing advice online—or in any medium—please keep this dynamic in mind. The people who talk about the contingencies, who make allowances for differences? Those are the ones to pay close attention to.

The black-and-white advice? Take it with a grain of salt.

* Notice that I’ve slipped in another fallacy here. Yes, there are popular bloggers and personalities who have made a name by being reasonable and rational—and discussing all those gray areas! However, it is not the predominant style or modus operandi that you frequently encounter. I also realize few of us are easily hoodwinked by extreme positions; yes, we can spot sensationalism! But it’s very easy to focus attention on the most contentious or “interesting” positions.

via How to Avoid Being Fooled by Bad Writing Advice

Tips from J. K. Rowling

 

1. WRITE IN WHATEVER TIME YOU HAVE One of J.K. Rowling’s most famous quotes is: “Sometimes you have to get your writing done in spare moments here and there.” This is crucial advice on writing a book. It’s easy for us to imagine successful writers spending all day penning beautiful paragraphs, but everybody had to […]

via Writing tips from J.K Rowling  — World of Horror

The first time I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, way back in 2001, I was hooked.

In the beginning, Harry Potter was a secret pleasure, something to keep to myself and mutter over. “We mustn’t let the filthy Muggleses ruin you, my precious…” My inner Gollum wasn’t ready to let others know what I was reading and open up myself, or this wonderful book, to potential ridicule.

There I was, a grown woman, fangirling over a children’s book.

At the time, it wasn’t cool. Thanks to J. K. Rowling, it’s no big deal now. One of the many reasons I admire her is because the popularity of her work reduced the social stigma of being an adult who doesn’t like to be stuck reading in one age range.

Because of the success of Harry Potter, it became socially acceptable to read children’s and YA fantasy in public.

No more hiding when reading what I liked. No more disguising the covers of my YA fantasy books. Being socially awkward and easily embarrassed in my 20’s, it would paralyze me when someone asked what I was reading and I got a condescending smirk as payment for my answer.

J. K. Rowling is one of my heroes.

I look up to her because of her courage, determination, and grace. She’s damn funny, too.

Oooh, oooh, oooh!! TBR potential!

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is Top Ten ALL TIME Favorite Books Of X Genre, and I knew I had to choose fantasy. It is the genre I read the most often, and the genre that has most consistently blown me away. 1. All […]

via Top Ten All Time Favorite Fantasy Books — 52 letters in the alphabet

My inner fantasy nerd is dancing like a fool right now. I ran across this post and saw one of my very favorite authors, Sarah J. Maas, on this list. Which means, I hope, that I will like the rest of the authors on the list.

Being an insanely voracious reader, I am always on the lookout for good reads. I can’t wait to dive in to the other authors on this list and see what I was missing!

Let me know if you have any suggestions for me to add to my to-be-read pile. I’ll add them on once I finish up my own top ten list(s) – stay tuned.

Villains are heroes in their own mirror

David Villalva’s website has this really cool infographic that got me thinking, so, of course, I have to share it.

3-ways-to-create-a-villain-infographic

I love, love, love the idea that the hero and villain are two sides of the same coin. Yes, that was a nerdy Two-Face reference. Good catch!

One of my most dearly held beliefs is that you need balance in writing, so your superhero needs a supervillain. It’s such a yin-and-yang concept that it satisfies my compulsion for symmetry in the best way.

It feels like the hero and the villain are literary mirror images, as though they are twins in the mind of the author. The difference between the two lies in the choices they make and the resulting actions.

Think of the original Star Trek series in which one storyline sets up an alternate universe. The original, or Good, crew is facing the darkest parts of themselves in the Evil crew. The classic Good vs. Evil scenario is freshened with the idea that the sides are essentially the same, although skewed in different directions morally.

Have you had success in your writing using this concept? Let me know what you think about it in the comments.

Research – Constructing A Solid Story

cathedral_finalImage from forum.fr.anno-online.com

Constructing a Solid Story

Not a lot of people know this about me, but before I studied writing in college, I was an architecture major. I’ve always been interested in design and construction, even landscaping and inte…

Source: Constructing a Solid Story

This article sparked my imagination. Staci Troilo does a splendid job of illustrating the ideas of story structure using a couple of construction analogies.

She compares the timeline of a story with the structure of a simple house, like the ones you’d see on a kindergartener’s drawing. Marsbarn Designs has the perfect example.

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Marsbarn Designs

You have the left wall, the left side of the roof, the apex, the right side of the roof, and the right wall. You need all of those things to keep the house from falling down. According to Staci, the left wall represents the introduction, the left roof line is the rising action, the apex is the climax, the right side of the roof is the falling action, and the right wall is the resolution.

Simple, but compelling. Any proud parent will tell you this basic structure is a work of art straight from the unfettered imagination of their little darling.

If you aren’t a fan of the house analogy, Staci presents an alternative – blueprints.

In this variation, the house is divided into three parts – the basement, main floor, and attic. These parts represent the Three Act Structure, so the basement is the First Act, the main floor is the Second, and so on.

Her explanation of these analogies got me thinking. My idea of structure is a little more complex. Instead of a simple A-frame, I want to build a cathedral.

cathedral_construction_plan_03

The first step, for me, is the basic plan. Seven Point Story Structure, Three Act Structure, and the classic structure described above can all be used as the blueprint to give you the broad strokes of your story.

As anyone who has worked in construction can tell you, blueprints are subject to change. The owners change their minds on wall positioning, the supplier doesn’t have the right grade of steel for the supports, etc., etc. What usually happens to me is that at a certain point the characters in my head start telling me their story, instead of the other way around. Together, we finalize construction plans.

cathedral_construction_site_03
forum.fr.anno-online.com

Using the blueprint for guidance, I begin the next and most important part – building the foundation and the support. Without a good, solid foundation, my cathedral will topple under its own weight. If the arches of my plot points aren’t properly supported, then they, too, will crumble. There is nothing more dangerous to the pillars of my story than a disbelieving reader who huffs and puffs and blows them off their shaky pedestals.

With my plan in front of me, my foundation carefully laid, my pillars and arches in place, I can apply the finishing touches. Now is the time for the decorative word work, the stained glass mood windows, the landscaping that showcases the setting, and the careful placement of all the furniture elements that give depth and richness. With a little editorial polish, my cathedral is magnificent.

cathedral_final

Exercise – A Boy and His Dog

img_0822My Jack Russell, Beanie, is styling with his winter wear.

Recently I was goofing off on the internet and found a writing prompt that stoked my imaginative fires. The directions called for a story outline, but Lucas started telling me his story and insisted I write the whole thing.

The original prompt is here:

http://www.ridethepen.com/shakespeare-macbeth-plot/

A kid with some talent for handicrafts buys a board, paints it red, and by attaching four wheels from an old office chair to the bottom, builds a skateboard out of it. He skates out of his village and over a country road into the woods. Under his arm, he has his family puppy so the little guy can go for a walk without the labor of actually having to walk… It’s a rough ride, and the skateboard gets caught in some roots and crashes hard. The puppy is hurt badly. The kid quickly wattles a makeshift basket out of some branches and carries his puppy back to the village vet.

Through the Woods – Part 1

I was plastered to the display window, my breath fogging up the glass. There it was. The coolest skateboard ever made. It had the specially modified wheels, the fiberglass, the super-shocks, and the deluxe paint job with the gory, blood-dripping skull right on the top. I had been eyeing this masterpiece for the last couple of weeks. I was dead broke and the neighbors had all run out of stuff for me to fix.

I planned feverishly. I would have to swing by the dump, then check behind the lone office building, then find the red paint that Gerald (not Dad, never Dad) had used to hide the patch job on the door. Maybe I could borrow a few of his tools and stuff.

Giblet pulled against his leash, bored, snapping me out of my lust-induced fog.

“Getting antsy, boy? Come on, time to go.”

He trotted beside me, tongue hanging out, his short legs moving so fast they blurred. He looked happy with his fat little puppy belly jiggling, his nose occasionally twitching, and his eyes half shut with contentment.

We walked the four blocks back to our crappy apartment building. It was the only one in our rural village, its ugly three stories partially hidden behind a screen of scraggly pines and a crumbling brick wall.

When we turned down Pear Street, I kept a lookout for Tony. The last time I saw him, he pitched an empty can right at Giblet’s head. I’d hate to have to fight him. I got my ass handed to me the last time. Two inches and twenty pounds makes a bigger difference than I thought.

I turned into the Paradise Valley apartment entrance and saw a group sitting on one of the cracked stoops. Giblet wagged his tail so hard he almost turned himself sideways.

“That dog looks more ratchet every time I see him,” Jake called out. His face stretched into a cheeky grin.

Giblet started yapping his “hi, hi, hi!” bark and tugged me towards our best friend in the building.

Jake tossed some cards at a pile in the center of the circle of boys, nodded sharply at his second-in-command, murmured something, and headed our way. His boys broke up the game and took lookout positions.

We bro-hugged and Jake crouched down to ruffle Gib’s fur.

“You going in?” Jake’s face was tight.

“Gotta scrounge.” Talking to Gib was easy. People, even Jake, not so much. My voice was caught in that place of conflict between squeaky doors and bass rumbles.

“The man’s home.” Jake looked away, fidgeted with the knife he kept in his pocket.

“Yeah.” I ducked my head. I hated going in that dank garbage hole even when he wasn’t in it.

“You want some backup?”

“Nah. It’s early enough. He’s still sleeping off last night.”

Jake’s face relaxed and his knife hand emerged, empty. “Good. Here, I found this. Want it?”

He reached down and grabbed a brown bundle from behind him. He unwrapped a dog-eared Handyman magazine.

My hands reached out before I knew what I was doing. I caught myself, squinted up at Jake, and asked, “For what?”

He knew the rules. No gifts.

Jake’s lips twisted. “There’s a leaky faucet in 3B. Or you could find me another one of those skin mags.”

I nodded, grabbed the Handyman, and stuffed it under my shirt. “Thanks, jefe.”

“S’alright, Luc. Sure you don’t need backup?”

I cut him a look that said not this badass.

Jake’s quiet chuckle followed me as I walked away.

I led Giblet to the back of the building. He sniffed the corner and squatted, marking his territory. I felt my face flowing into a smile and a giggle bubbled through me. He looked so funny with his butt dragging the ground.

I tied Giblet up by the dumpster and squirreled up the fire escape. I put my ear against the window, closed my eyes, and held my breath. Gerald was snoring. The real kind of snore, not the fake growly ones he tried to fool me with. My breath escaped in a relieved sigh.

I slipped back down to Giblet, who was alternately licking his paws and his balls. I thought about how he liked to lick my face and scrunched my nose.

“Definitely going to brush your teeth later, buddy.”

He gazed up at me, tongue lolling in a goofy puppy grin. I undid the knot tied around the slat of the dumpster fence. I looked around, saw no one, and picked Gib up for a quick squeeze and an ear scratch. Some of the neighbor kids made fun of him because he was a mutt, but he was mine. I took care of my own.

I set Gib down and we crept into the building, heading toward the back stairs to avoid the manager. One of his favorite past-times was lurking in the halls, ready to pounce on the unwary. He had the rent shake-down nailed. I didn’t feel like dealing with his crap today. He could brave the wrath of Gerald if he wanted money that bad.

Up the stairs we went. I picked up Giblet since his legs were still too short to get up the stairs with any kind of grace. His little body was stiff, his tension mirroring my own. He whined a little, but not loud enough to matter.

The stair rail was greasy with the oil of hundreds of hands, left after years of neglect. I don’t think it had been cleaned, or even wiped, since Clinton was president. The stairwell was full of mixed odors. My nose caught a divine, buttery gold aroma. Jana, the resident good time girl, was making grilled cheese sandwiches. I loved that smell. It cancelled out some of the pee and smoke. Sometimes Jana would leave a sandwich out for me and Gib. I hoped she had made enough money last night to make her generous.

I stepped off of the landing and onto the poop-brown material that masqueraded as carpet on the floor of the dim hall. I heard the Carmichael baby wailing and cringed. I squeezed my eyes shut and sent out a plea to the universe.

“Don’t wake up, don’t wake up, don’t wake up!”

When his mama cooed, his strident cries changed to unhappy hiccups. My body, poised for flight, relaxed.

I walked up to the door that was the angry color of danger, of screaming matches, of whimpers in the night. I put my ear beside the rough surface of the patch. Still nothing but snoring. I tested the knob, ready to run. Gerald had been in a horrible mood since he was laughed out of his last job interview.

The door was unlocked. I eased it open a couple of inches. I didn’t hear any beer cans toppling, which was Gerald’s favorite way to rig the door so he’d know when I came home. So far, so good. Giblet sat at my feet, panting and trembling.

My nose was assaulted by the smell of rotten food and unwashed butt. We snuck in, Giblet padding quietly behind me. We waded through dirty clothes, discarded wrappers, old pizza boxes, empty cans, and roaches. Gib put his nose down and sniffed furiously. He made little chomping noises.

I carefully lifted Giblet and put him in the milk crate that served as his bed. As good as Gib was, he was way too awkward to let him trail after me. The last thing I needed was him tripping over his ears and knocking into something.

I scavenged around, careful to keep the noise level down. It looked like Gerald had finished off the last of the peanut butter. The fridge was bare. A sad, fuzzy grape-raisin, a few old stains, and a nearly empty bottle of ketchup were all that was left. I rifled through the trash on the counter and the sink, hopeful that Gerald had stashed something and forgotten.

No luck. It looked like I had to add dumpster diving at the Shop ’N’ Save to my to-do list.

I settled for borrowing a few tools and some odds and ends. I wrapped them in an old sheet I liberated from the lost-and-found in the basement laundry. I figured that would be enough to keep everything from knocking together. I slipped the bundle into a backpack I had found in a trashcan. I grabbed Gib’s bowls and stuffed them in the bag, too. I didn’t know how long we would be gone. Lastly, I grabbed Gerald’s old threadbare duffel and dropped in some plastic containers I had found behind the hardware store.

I set all my loot outside the door, careful not to bang into anything. As I headed back to get Gib, my eyes were drawn to a wondrous sight. Gerald’s wallet. I couldn’t believe my luck. It was sitting on a battered end-table, half covered with a scribbled note.

I snatched the wallet and opened it. There was a mix of fives and ones. I glanced at the note, curious.

“Kid – take a cupel dollers. Git food.”

I was shocked by the message. For Gerald, it was downright friendly. He’d never been able to spell, the result of having been kicked in the head by mule when he was a kid. Although he recovered, everyone who knew him said his personality took a turn for the worse. Sometimes I wished the mule had missed, sometimes I wished it had hit him a little harder.

Today, I wished it missed. Maybe then the old man wouldn’t get so mad and could keep a job. Maybe he wouldn’t drink so much. Maybe there would be more than twenty dollars to get us through the week.

With that bitter thought, I took most of the money, leaving enough for Gerald to get another bottle of cheap liquor. He was easier to handle when he was drunk. He knew my code, knew I wouldn’t spend it on anything for myself.

I lifted Gib out of the crate. He licked my face and squirmed, happy just to be with me. I pushed my face into the shaggy ruff at his neck.

Shifting Gib to my hip, I checked the peephole and saw the manager, a scruffy, pimpled man that the tenants called Ratface. He was prowling the hall, checking door handles. I reached over and locked the door. A few seconds later, it rattled. I waited, one beat, two beats, three beats, and checked again. Ratface’s head bobbed as he took the stairs down.

Gerald snorted and I jumped two feet into the air. My heartbeat thundered in my ears. I slipped out through the door, locking it behind me. I heaved the bags over my shoulder and ran, full speed, down the stairs and out into the evening.

Stay tuned for Part 2!

You have to start before you can go on.

starting line

Photo credit: tableatny via VisualHunt / CC BY

I made a discovery.

Jane Friedman’s blog (janefriedman.com) is magical to me. There is so much information on there that fascinates me. This article, in particular, caught my eye today.

Your Novel’s First Scene: How to Start Right

https://janefriedman.com/your-first-scene/

Reading through it, I felt that thrill. You know what I mean. The thrill of finding the missing piece. The joy of an epiphany.

It isn’t what you think.

The article starts with clear examples of what to do. I found myself vibrating with anticipation. Yay! THIS will be the article that keeps me from screwing up from the get-go.

I read through the examples and nodded, smug about the secrets I was learning. Yes, that makes sense. Absolutely, Paula. Preach it!

I read Paula’s superstar advice about editing. What she wrote makes absolute and total sense – one of those pieces of advice that suddenly puts the world back into alignment. Oh, that’s genius. Totally going to do that.

I got up and looked for the tools I would need to follow her advice, then it hit me.

I CAN’T EDIT WHAT I HAVEN’T WRITTEN.

The thought smacked me upside the head so heard it made me dizzy. I haven’t actually written anything to edit in over a year. I have a piece of a novel, part of a short story, and a few writing prompts saved in a folder on my computer that hasn’t been accessed since 2015.

I am so afraid of failure that I haven’t even started.

Instead, I’ve been spending tons of money on e-courses, self-help books, copywriting classes, even a subscription to a site that will let you design your own book cover.

I’ve read thousands of pages of advice and instruction. I’ll start writing when I finish my e-courses. Or when I finish reading this how-to book. I still don’t know enough. Maybe I’ll start after this article. Or that awesome blog.

From what I’ve read, this phenomenon is common.

Analysis paralysis.

I have done everything except start writing. I made a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a Tumblr, and started this blog. I’ve designed headers and logos and created my brand.

I signed up for a course on writing, one on deconstructing popular bestsellers, one on grammar, yadda yadda, ad infinitum.

I’ve lost count of the email lists I belong to.

All of it is a distraction. A way to avoid doing what I’m most insecure about.

Writing.

It stops today.

Story Structure Case Study of “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” — Colleen Chesebro ~ Fairy Whisperer

I love these case studies where they break down the plotting points in books we all know and love. A great way to learn the technique. Check this out!❤ In this post, I will show you the Seven Point Story Structure in a case study of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, written by […]

via Story Structure Case Study of ”Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” — Colleen Chesebro ~ Fairy Whisperer

The beginning of my writing journey

I’m so excited, y’all.

I’m really doing it! 

“You can fix anything but a blank page.”
― Nora Roberts

Books have been a part of my life from the beginning. Some of my earliest memories are of Mama reading to us kids. My family had a set of the 1977 version of Walt Disney Parade Favorites.images She would let me and my brother take turns choosing the story.

I liked to hop around and hear a new one every night, but my brother only wanted to hear the one about the bird saving her babies from the mill wheel.

We learned to read from a stack of stories from The Little Golden Book series and from those Disney volumes.

I used to lie awake at night and write stories in my head about my favorite characters. I was usually the brave heroine who saved the day. When I was a little older, I would tell myself about the adventures of characters I saw on TV. As an adult, I would rewrite my day at work and make it turn out much better. There were usually dragons and chomping involved. I’ve always kept those stories to myself, whether from insecurity or jealousy, I really don’t know. Maybe both.

Now, though, I am ready to share those stories.

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”
― Lao Tzu