The following are the five best pieces of advice to do with writing that I have come across. Obviously there are many excellent tips out there and how useful they are depends on the kind of writer you wish to be, but these are the ones that made a big difference to me and seemed to make the most sense.
1. “What does a character want? What happens when they don’t get it?” - David Mamet
I had a tendency to have characters sit about shooting the breeze when I first started writing. The idea I could write Tarantinoesque dialogue was very beguiling, but it never seemed to go anywhere. It was only after I put the focus on what the characters wanted and put those things out of reach, that things started working. It made a big difference. Really big. There are still times when I work in a bit of banter, but now it’s very much the last thing I think of, not the first.
2. Action reveals character.
I’m not sure who said this originally, probably a lot of people. You could even say it was The Bible (By their deeds, you shall know them). I heard it in a talk by a Star Trek writer (DS9 if you were wondering). He explained that no matter what the problem in an episode, shooting aliens or fixing the warp drive, each character behaved in a them-specific way that showed the viewer what kind of person they were. For the writers that was the only purpose of creating the problem in the first place.
3. Always finish the draft.
This piece of advice was given to me by a screenwriter, although you can find it pretty much everywhere, so I don’t think he came up with it. I like to blast through quickly and do numerous drafts, some people prefer to fiddle as they go along and have it pretty polished by the end of draft number one, but how you get to the finish line isn't the issue, just that you get there. While it’s often suggested a writer is someone who writes, I would suggest a writer is someone who writes all the way to the end. Yes, it’s often difficult and obvious that you’re writing crap. Doesn’t matter. Complete crap you can work with. Incomplete crap is worthless.
4. Writing Is Rewriting
Occasionally, I come across an aspiring writer who loves writing... the first draft. After that they lose interest. They resist making changes, they may even resent you suggesting any, and they’re very quick to assume you just don’t appreciate their genre/style/genius. Personally, having worked on pieces over months and sometimes even years, and seen both the change on the page and the change in the faces of the people I’ve shown both before and after versions, anyone who doesn’t revel in the revision process, and hunger for people to criticise their work and criticise it hard, well, I have no idea what those people are doing. Wasting time?
5. Easily the finest—both in its meaning and its execution—most succinct and self-evident piece of advice I’ve ever read, courtesy of Gary Provost:
This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.
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