the beginning, I do not like:
Suggestion: Don't tell me about the
past until I am worried about the present
or dialogue in a vacuum
Suggestion: In the opening paragraph
unobtrusively tell me where we are, whether
indoors or outdoors, the location of people
and important objects, particularly doorways,
windows, stairways, furniture which will
be used, important props, etc., and most
vital of all, how the scene is lit.
I can't visualize.
Suggestion: Immediately after each
character's entrance, begin telling me his
or her age, sex, social class, major mannerisms,
race, physical type, etc., feeding me everything
in little bits, not all at once. And make
sure I know, at least in a general way,
how the character is dressed.
in the present tense.
Suggestion: Though some modern writers
use it, they pay for it in obtrusiveness.
Stick to the simple past tense unless you
have a very good reason not to.
the middle, I do not like:
An inconsistent emotional tone.
Suggestion: If you have begun in a comic
mood, continue in a comic mood. If in a fearful
mood, grow more fearful; if in a tragic, remain
tragic. A touch of contrasting emotions is all
you can allow yourself, never a total change of
Suggestion: Make good on every implied promise
you have made the reader, and let the big scenes take
place on-stage, not off stage or after the story ends.
Suggestion: Determine the point of the story,
then ruthlessly cut what is not relevant.
the end I do not like:
The "Little Nemo" ending, in which it turns
out "It was all a dream".
Suggestion: The reader has been kind enough to
suspend disbelief. Don't tell him he needn't have bothered.
Paper Tiger ending in which we learn "It was all
a misunderstanding", "He wasn't really murdered"
Suggestion: Surprise me by giving me more than
I expect, not less.
Suggestion: Tell me frankly if your protagonist
wins or loses or draws, or what the solutions
are to your puzzles or mysteries, if any.
Protagonist who ends in apathy, suicide or insanity.
Suggestion: There are so many ways someone can
solve his problems there's no excuse for these arty
false surprise ending
Suggestion: Early in the story, plant enough
information so a few really alert readers may guess
the ending, and the others will kick themselves for
not guessing it.
I do not like.
A passive protagonist who is, at best, a spectator
and, a worst, a professional victim.
Suggestion: Select someone more suitable to be
a protagonist, or give your present protagonist some
who lack motivation
Suggestion: Allow no major characters who don't
want something, and struggle to get it.
who all talk alike.
Suggestion: Let dialogue reflect differences
in age, sex, social class, nationality, and background,
plus special individual turns of speech. Let vocabulary
reflect profession and educational level.
that are thin and unconvincing.
Suggestion: Make sure you are reporting most
or all of the five senses, even if you have to use a
Suggestion: Read aloud to one or more writers
or critical readers and let them help you prune these
away, but don't forget that there are rare occasions
when only a cliché will do.
of any form--too many adjectives, too many adverbs,
too many metaphors or similes, too many forms of the
verb "be", too many phrases in the passive
voice, too many proper names, too many repeated words.
Suggestion: Set a norm of simple sentences--subject,
verb and object--and use other grammatical forms and
more complex constructions to produce calculated effects,
not just for variety. Study grammar and rhetoric from
old Victorian schoolbooks and practice building sentences
the way a musician practices scales and arpeggios.
viewpoint that floats aimlessly through space from head
Suggestion: Normally, within a given scene, select
one head and stay in it, telling us nothing that cannot
be thought, seen or sensed by that person.
much unbroken narrative.
Suggestion: Write more dialogue with stage business
and less telling. Regard with suspicion any page totally
lacking in quotation marks.
Suggestion: Determine for yourself what central
theme you will use and write it out in a single sentence.
Do not include this sentence in your story, but use
it as a guide in a comprehensive rewrite in which not
one sentence remains unchanged.
antagonist who is a pushover.
Suggestion: Make your protagonist's opposition
seem, at first, overwhelming. Even at the end, I want
to feel I've watched a fair fight.
substitutes for "said"
Suggestion: Often it can be made obvious from
context who is speaking, particularly where only two
characters are on a stage. Then no "said"
forms are needed. In other cases "said" can
be baldly repeated a lot before it becomes obnoxious.
Suggestion: Through research or invention, create
a "backdrop" that is detailed, authentic,
consistent and clearly visualized, even if you must
draw a lot of maps, charts, floorplans, costume sketches,
family trees etc. and write several long essays for
your own eyes only.
Suggestion: Plan your action in a diary, datebook
or calendar, or in a dated cardfile. (Cardfiles are
more easily changed in the plotting process).
Suggestion: Make a detailed plot synopsis before
you write page one. Work out most of the "bugs"
in the planning stage, but leave yourself a little room
Suggestion: Read what others are writing in your
genre and outside it. Steal their tricks shamelessly,
and don't worry about ruining your originality. No writer
can write exactly like another writer.
Suggestion: Join a group of writers who meet
regularly to read aloud and discuss works in progress.
Write for nonpaying markets, listening to what feedback
you get. Imitate the work of some famous writer you
admire. Practice, practice, practice!