Saturday, January 22, 2011

N00b advice you never knew you needed

Going through some writing and crits today, I just realized how much I've changed in my one year of critting. When I first started this business, I was a rebel, claiming that I'm all about the plot line. If you have a good plot, I'll read and love and worship your book. Boy, am I eating my words now (they kinda taste like cookies).

N00b tip #1 -Form over content.

Your content is smashing! I see your idea in there and I love it - I want to fondle it and give it cake. But I can't. Because reading over texts without proper punctuation, paragraphing and grammar is exhausting. Critting them is even more exhausting. That's why I personally try to proof my own writing. If a story flows well, it's much easier for me to focus on the content. So take the time to purge your work and then let your ideas shine.

N00b tip #2 - Commas, people!

Oh, yes. I forget the odd one, like everyone else. Plus, I have different comma rules in my language (no comma after and like EVA!) But I'm getting the hang of it. I even got the title of Comma Queen from my good critting friend, The Regulator.
The thing is, I know, it's a small dotty thing, but it can make all the difference in the world.

 Example: (no comma) She snapped her neck creaking in protest.
(comma) She snapped, her neck creaking in protest.
 I tried to go for an extreme example which makes no sense just to show you the big difference between comma and no comma - if you don't give her the comma, the poor woman snaps her neck (OUCH!).

N00b tip #3 - Comma two

There is the word 'but' - you all know it. I know you type it butt, have a giggle and then delete the second t (actually, I do that with assess - I love to leave the last s out)
80% of times, there should be a comma before but. The rest of 10%, there shouldn't.

Example (when but needs a comma): She rushed towards the wall, but changed her mind before she got there. Hitting her head would hurt like hell.
(no comma needed by the but) She couldn't help but think about it. Hitting her head would really hurt.

Now, notice that in the first example, you could kinda replace the but with a yet - when that happens, it needs a comma. And with that I rest my case.

N00b tip #4 - Para, para, param-pam

Ever noticed how distracting it is to have a huge paragraph to read? (I should know, my textbooks are full of them) You just look at it, groan and refuse to read it if you don't really have to. So, yeah - unless you really have to, try to keep your paragraphs the length you stand to read.
Ever noticed how distracting little snippets of text are - having more than 2 one line paragraphs in the row will kill me. I can't take anything choppy seriously - you either have something to say or you're sending me a telegram. Fill it up with...something! If the idea is not important enough to warrant a few sentences, maybe it's not important enough. (Remember that I'm referring to too many short paras in row - a couple are just fine)

N00b tip #5 - He did this, she did that

I won't get into repetitive sentence structure here, because that's a pretty tough one. It takes a while and practice to learn how to balance your short and long sentences and their beginnings. Though I'll give an example.

Example 1: He picked up the knife and put it on the table. He took the glass and placed it in the sink. He then whipped around and walked out of the room. - What's wrong with this you may ask? He did this and that, he did this and that, then he did this and that -> same structure gets the drool running.

Example 2: He dropped the knife on the table and the glass in the sink before walking out of the room. - look, I made it a whole sentence (which is not much better), but I got rid of the repetitive structure.

Example 3: He picked up the knife and placed it on the table with shaking hands. He reached out for the glass and, trying not to smash it, put it in the sink. Whipping around, he left the room. -> putting more detail would distract readers from repetitive structures.

N00b tip #6 - The lone word syndrome

Okay, I just made this one up - What I mean is when we start consecutive sentences and paragraph with the same word. That's usually a big no-no in the wizarding writing world.

Example (excerpt from Sapphire): [He turned on the flashlight and knocked on the floorboards until he found the ones that sounded as if there was nothing under them. He took them out and pulled out a large backpack. He then put the floorboards back, turned off the flashlight, put it back at the foot of the bed and crawled out from under the bed. He put the backpack on his desk and opened it up. He started getting stuff out of it: guns, gas bombs, binoculars, goggles, ammo and other such things. He finally settled on a radar-looking thing and started pressing the buttons on it.]

This is totally unedited (yes, I still have unedited texts), but it's a great example. He, he, he, he - terrible - very distracting. Same thing with the start of paragraphs. 

N00b tip #7 - The forbidden words

One thing I'm still trying to break myself from (but it will take a while, since I need a lot of editing time for that) is using POV verbs when in close POV.
POV verbs such as:  felt, saw, noticed, realized, smelled, hoped, considered.
Example: She felt a freezing wind chill her skin. - this could very well be: Freezing wind chilled her skin. - and I cut back on some words too - I really must work on this. 
I guess this one tip is actually a bit more advanced.

This is all I could think of, off the top of my head. Everyone is welcomed to join in and complete the list. Material for N00b tips chapter 2. 


  1. Love it. My favorite example of comma usage is:

    Let's eat Grandma!

    Let's eat, Grandma!

    Punctuation can save lives.

  2. Just remember, the one rule that's absolute is that no rule is absolute. You never want to get so hung up on them that you'll follow them off a cliff.


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