I love good books. Don’t we all? I’ve read enough books in my life that now, I have pretty strong opinions about what exactly ‘good writing’ is. ‘Good writing’ is a pretty controversial term, though, because our opinion of books is based on… well, our opinion.
But I’ve figured out some of the things that never sit right with me, and I’ve learned a lot about good writing from good reading. And now, I’ve compiled some of my favorite advice and things I’ve discovered about writing to share with you.
The Most Relevant Writing Advice (to me)
This is my number 1 pet peeve of bad writing. Just because the character is struggling to make the right decision doesn’t make it a deep moment. If done wrong, it makes the character seem indecisive and wishy-washy. Make sure to base your emotional significance in grounded situations.
I need someone to give me this advice every time I approach one of those pretty much obligatory death scenes. If I know ahead of time who is going to die (and who doesn’t), I tend to make them less significant. That way, when they’re gone, it doesn’t affect the Protagonist too much.
BUT THAT’S THE POINT. It’s supposed to affect the protagonist too much. It’s supposed to mess everything up. Which leads me to my next point…
I learned this from Now You See Me. I racked my brains for days, boggled by how they could create a story so unexpected. Then I realized- it’s UNEXPECTED. Take what’s expected, and do the opposite.
Except when it comes to death. Sure, it’s kind of expected for them to actually be dead, but no one is shocked when they come back to life. So be careful with that card.
Yes, I know they are doing something that no one else in the world can do, but a) they probably still cry when they stub their toe too hard, and b) they probably have a favorite flavor of ice cream.
They’re not cardboard cut-outs. If you want people to relate to your characters, they have to be relatable, and none of us are cardboard cutouts so how can we relate to that?
Speaking of being relatable:
I AM ALL ABOUT THAT HUMANITY. That’s the only word I’ve been able to find that sums up what I’m addressing in my book. It’s not about superpowers, it’s not about scientists experimenting on humans. It’s about the inner workings. It’s about how these kids respond to being endowed with special abilities. How does that actually affect them?
I guess I could say “my book is about the political repercussions of experimenting on teenagers and bringing supernatural abilities into the world and the emotional responses of young adults when they are stripped away from their surroundings and experimented upon.”
But it’s easier to say “It’s about the humanity of these kids when they get superpowers.”
This really bugs me. When a villain is SO EVIL, and they can’t win or else EVERYTHING WILL BE AWFUL.
But you don’t really understand what they’re doing?? Why are they sending their armies out to destroy places?? Why are they evil? What exactly will happen if they DO win? Will everyone fall down dead? Will taxes shoot sky-high?
However, although I do want to know why they’re evil, I don’t want to pity them too much. They are supposed to be evil, after all. If they’re only evil because they’re avenging their dead mother and had a lonely childhood, then they’re not actually evil- just misguided. Evil has to be selfish, too. It has to be blind, to some extent. Even blind by choice. You know the phrase blissfully ignorant?
Yes, I know Bob was given the responsibility of saving the world, but Bob is 16 years old and in love with that girl in high school that never notices him, so why doesn’t the Inciting Character choose someone who’s a little more capable?
Oh wait- Bob and the girl are going to do it anyway and end up saving the world together?? LET’S RETURN TO DOING THE UNEXPECTED, SHALL WE?
Disclaimer: In writing my own book, there have been a few times where my protagonist turns to the other character and says, “Why me?” And I sit there for a second with my pencil in mid-air, thinking, “Why him?” So I have to think up a reason. I’m disobeying my own advice. I’m working on it, people.
Sometimes people cry at things that aren’t DEATH or DESTRUCTION or PURE EVIL. Sometimes your life has just been really crappy for the last few days, and when you drop your plate of spaghetti, it’s just the last straw and you start crying. Sometimes the batteries on the remote die and the hot water runs out during your shower and you get your socks wet because your shoes have holes in them. And you cry.
But sometimes, you see a dead cat on the side of the road and you shrug and keep going. Sometimes you hear about an acquaintance who died and you don’t cry. Sometimes you’re not in the right place emotionally to start sobbing.
Neither are your characters. Unless your characters are the Perfect and Primed For Each Situation Counterparts of Real Humans.
Don’t stop writing just because you’re writing something really lame. After all, Suzanne Collins and J.R.R. Tolkien wrote these:
Authors can come from anywhere.
I’ve made all these fabulous pieces of advice into super-pinnable quote cards. But be careful that if you pin these guys, don’t be sucked into all those character inspiration boards. As fun as they are, they don’t actually count as writing.
Don’t stop writing. Don’t stop improving.