This Quill Keeps On
I recently encountered what I believe to be a new low in the realm of epithet use. In a certain small fandom, some of the most prolific authors are prone to using "the smaller/larger man" for characters who are a gODDAMNED TREE AND A RACOON! THEY ARE NOT MEN. WHY.




Oh, good God. STOP DOING THIS. If you’re writing your scene with basic clarity and structure, it will be evident which person is doing the talking or is the subject of whatever action you’re depicting. It’s fine to use pronouns. You do not need to come up with increasingly complicated and inadvertently fucking hilarious ways to avoid saying “he” or “she” or “they” or  ”[character’s name].” Don’t do this with characters who are not human. Don’t do this with characters who are human. Do not do this with a fox. Do not do this with a box. If you feel the need to refer to a character as “the [tall/short/blonde/brunette/older/younger/larger/smaller] whatever,” then ask yourself why you want to do this. If it’s because you think your reader won’t understand who you’re referring to without the descriptive epithet, then consider rewriting the scene so that it’s clearer instead.* 

I know the internet is rife with those maddening lists of words you “should” be using in place of more common words, but I have a master’s degree in creative writing and I am telling you very clearly to ignore those lists—or at least to make bloody sure you know the actual meaning, implications, and connotations of the word you choose to use.

Back on Livejournal there was a particularly egregious example of thesaurus misuse directed toward people who were writing stories about horses. The list of words they suggested instead of “legs” included “pistons.” I’ll leave you with that mental image.


*as with all writing rules, there are exceptions to this. If you’re using an epithet because you actually need to, instead of because you’re sick of using pronouns or afraid your reader won’t follow who’s talking, then rock on with your bad Homeric self. 

Thank you for this!
One question for clarification, though: if I’m writing an action scene between two women, where I need to keep making it clear who’s doing what at what time to whom, am I stuck just repeating their names over and over? And is that actually as noticeable and annoying to readers as it is to me as I write it or am I ok? Thanks.

I would suggest that the names are likely to be much less noticeable and annoying than “the [whatever] woman” or similar. Do you have an example of the kind of scene you’re referring to? If you know of scenes in other books where two women are interacting, check to see how the author made it clear who was doing what—you can often pick up tips and tricks by close reading of other people’s work. 

hey writer buds!

if you’re looking for a good book about writing, The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner is so far by far the best resource I have ever encountered. It’s by an editor with lots of advice for writers about both writing and publishing, and only two chapters in she already has a good conversational voice that I’m very much enjoying.

Hey, uh, I'm writing a story for the first time, and i was wondering if you had any tips/links to posts with tips/that one post that went around a while back with the blank "character sheet" of questions to ask about your character to get a fully developed person out of them?

Well, my darling, I reblog tips and tricks all the time, but I am terrible at tagging, so I can’t dig them up for you, unfortunately. However, there are a multitude of writing blogs and writing tip blogs all over tumblr; try searching some tags and they’ll pop up. :)

If you want tips from me personally…phew.

- don’t overthink the plot if you’re not the type who does well with that kind of intensive thinking. some people can. i can’t, personally; i go by a loose outline with plenty of wiggle room.

- dressup games are pretty invaluable for me to get to know new characters. not only does it help me figure out what they look like, but especially in something whacky like a mermaid creator or something, I have to ask myself why a character would look this specific way and choose this specific accessory. It’s small-fry stuff but if you can figure out the little things like that, the big stuff comes easier. taking personality quizzes as a character is another good way to get in their brains.

- you just gotta jump in and write, babydoll. best way to get to know your world, your characters, your plot? jumping in and interacting with them. if you get stuck, approach the problem from another angle. if you just get bored, spice it up!

I’m actually the worst person to ask about writing tips, but these are tried-and-true for me. I would recommend playing around with what helps you most. If you’re one of those people who needs to nail down every detail before you start, more power to you, man, go for it. If you’re more the loosey-goosey type, right on, dude. Or, more appropriately, write on. There’s a story inside you that only you can tell, and I wish you the best of luck, because getting it out of you can be one of the hardest things in the world. You’ve just gotta keep trying. Good luck! <3

What if all you have is a plot? This is where I am going to deviate from practically anyone you have ever heard from, and tell you this: try writing fanfiction.

For those of you who don’t know what fanfiction is, it’s pretty simple, and I would bet that you have vaguely thought about doing something like it without ever realizing it. It goes like this: you see a movie or read a book or even play a game, something you really love, but when you’re done the first thing that pops into your head is “But what if they had done—-” or “And then what happened?” or “Gee if there had been a character like this—-“

Fanfiction is taking an existing world, and possibly even some of the characters, and writing your own stories in it. And it is a lot less intimidating than making everything else up for yourself (especially when you’re talking about fantasy, science fiction, or horror). Now I am not advocating that you do this with the idea of selling the thing, because that’s called plagiarism and it’s illegal. And there are writers and publishing companies that don’t allow fanfiction to be published in any form, even on the web, so you have to be very careful about that.

But for purposes of practice? It’s fun, it’s going to give you a giant kick-start, and you would be surprised at how many professionals started out that way (and still do it!). Well just as an example, go have a look at all the Star Trek, Star Wars, and game-based books there are out there. If you reduce things to principles, most of those are fanfiction—-fanfiction commissioned by and given the blessing of the publisher, and produced by professionals, yes, but still fanfiction.

And there are those of us professionals that still write fanfiction for fun (although I doubt there are very few who will be as up-front about it as I am). Sometimes it’s because someone else’s creation got us by the throat and our storytelling demon won’t let us go until we get our version down on paper or in pixels. Sometimes it’s because it’s not the genre we make our bread and butter at. (…)

Now get out there and conquer that blank page!
Mercedes Lackey (via writingadvice)