Tag Archives: writing tips

10 Things New Science Fiction Writers Should Know

Being a science fiction creator is the most amazing adventure — you get to invent whole new worlds, brand new futures, and fantastic technologies, and you get to tell the most incredible stories about them. But it’s also a tough and heartbreaking career path, whether you’re in books, comics, movies or television. Here are 10 things that every brand new science fiction creator ought to know at the start.

Top image: guitfiddle on Deviant Art.

1) You’re still just telling personal stories

This is kind of a big one — no matter who you are or what kind of work you’re doing, you’re still telling a story that’s personally meaningful to you. Because science fiction is so idea-focused and so often driven by technologies or world-changing discoveries, it’s easy to lose sight of that. But not finding the personal story inside your huge alien-invasion narrative is the easiest way to fail. The only way to stand out, and the only way to tell stories that are going to move others, is to figure out what you’re personally connecting to in your work, no matter how clever or widescreen your premise.

2) The things everybody remembers about their favorite stories are never why those stories work

We see this all the time nowadays — once a movie or book becomes a classic, people fixate on that one cool moment or that one clever line of dialogue. (Or sometimes, they fixate on something totally random, that just became a meme for some reason.) But no matter what, that one cool moment is not why people love that story — they love it for everything that sets up the cool moment, and everything else that makes it a great story. And this is why nostalgia is so deadly — because nostalgia tends to focus on the tip of the iceberg rather than the huge frozen juggernaut beneath. So if you spend a lot of time trying to recreate the coolest moment from your favorite TV episode, you’ll miss the stuff that mostly goes unnoticed, which made people care in the first place. Nostalgia always cheats, and the only answer is to try and create your own thing.

10 Things That Every Brand New Creator of Science Fiction Should Know

Image via JadrienC/Deviant Art.

3) Science fiction is always about the time when it was created

4) Ideas aren’t stories

Basically, you need to understand the difference between a premise and a plot. (This took me years to master, and I’m still not always great at telling the difference.) A premise is “in the future, everybody has a brain chip that regulates emotion.” A plot is “one person’s brain chip malfunctions,” or “someone invents a second brain chip that allows technology, but people who have both chips go insane.” A story that just lays out a basic premise isn’t really a story at all — it’s a pitch, at best. The hard part is often turning the idea into an actual story, and see point #1 above — you need to find what’s speaking to you personally about this premise.

5) Even if you perfectly imitated your heroes, you’d still fail.

Let’s say you manage to write a book that Ursula K. Le Guin could have written, or you figure out how to direct a movie exactly like James Cameron. Leaving aside the impossibility of fully capturing the style of one of the genre’s great originals, you’ll still be kind of screwed. For one thing, even if people may say they’re looking for the next James Cameron, they don’t mean they’re looking for a carbon copy of James Cameron. It’ll just fall flat. For another, the field is constantly changing, and if you copy your heroes too much, you risk coming up with a perfect rendition of what everybody was looking for 20 years ago. Pay homage to Le Guin all you want — but you also have to work to develop your own style, that’s something new and fresh.

6) Cool story ideas are dime a dozen.

People get paranoid about having their ideas stolen, or being accused of stealing someone else’s idea, or “wasting” an idea, or whatever. But ideas really are as common as dirt, and it’s easy to come up with more. Even cool ideas. Just spend half an hour reading New Scientist, or scanning the front page of the newspaper, or watching people in a public place — story ideas come from everywhere. And they’re mostly worthless. Even if you come up with a clever story idea that would make a Hollywood producer’s ears prick up, it’s still worthless unless you can turn it into something. And that, in turn, requires coming up with a protagonist who’s fascinating and belongs in the middle of that cool idea. Ideas are easy, but stories are freakishly hard.

7) Resist the urge to give up on your characters

If your characters aren’t clicking, or if you can’t figure out how to make them go in the direction your plot needs them to go in, that usually means you need to take a step back and think about what they’re really going through and what they would really feel in that situation. It’s tempting to push them into a pat resolution that satisfies your plot needs but doesn’t actually make that much sense for the characters. It’s also tempting to fall into a bleak, “existential” ending where your characters fail, just because you’re annoyed with them and can’t figure out what else to do with them. (And there’s nothing worse than a bleak ending that hasn’t been earned.) The end of your story is not a finish line, and this isn’t a race. Sometimes you need to go back and figure out where you went wrong.

8) Trends are at least half over by the time you know about them

Seriously. Everybody who’s been around for a while has a sob story in which they (or a friend) tried to jump on that hot vampire romance trend, or that super-popular “dystopian teen fiction” trend, and then realized that the trend was already on its last legs. You shouldn’t chase trends anyway, because that’s probably not going to result in work that you’re going to feel as good about in the end. But even if trend-chasing was a good idea, bear in mind there’s a long pipeline for books and an even longer one for movies or TV — the things you see coming out right now represent the trends that are already ending.

10 Things That Every Brand New Creator of Science Fiction Should KnowSExpand

Image: Ben Wootten via Concept Ships

9) Doing your homework is half the battle

Research is a huge part of writing really good science fiction, especially if you’re speculating about future developments. Learn how to talk to scientists about their work — if you seem smart and interested in telling good stories about science, they’ll often be willing to talk toyou. Also, learn how to read scientific papers and do research. And learn how to do research about other cultures and other times, too — even if you’re not writing about them, it’ll make your worldbuilding way stronger.

10) You’re the worst judge of your own work

This never really stops being true, for a lot of us. Especially when you’ve just finished something, you often can’t see what’s working. There’s no substitute at all for getting feedback from others, and running your work past professionals as much as you possibly can. Join a critique group or take classes, just to get more feedback on your work. When you wonder why your favorite writer or director has gone downhill since they became a megastar, it’s usually because they stopped getting feedback on their work. But especially when you’re starting out, you need constant abuse to get better at your craft.


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Psychology in Writing

In my past life, one of my positions was CFO for the Department of Health Services.  I had a number of awesome discussions with our Chief of Psychiatry, Amy Schwartz.  As with most knowledge, it can filter down in strange ways.  In this post, I want to share how it has helped me as an author.

1.  Everyone is the hero of their own novel.  Amy taught me that it is nearly impossible to find someone who does not view themselves as the focal point and hero of their life novel.  No matter the evidence they may be evil, petty or a failure, they never view themselves as a villain or as a background character.  For that reason, I try to write villains that believe they are heroes.  Why do they do what they do?  How do they rationalize their goals and their behavior?

2.  No one views themselves as a side-kick.  At the salon the other day, two ladies were working side by side and called themselves a team.  I asked them, which is the hero and which is the side-kick?  What followed was a pause of silence for a full two minutes.  They both think they are the hero and the other the side-kick, but would never say it.  Whether you have a dominant hero or villain, there are no henchmen, side-kicks or blindly loyal people.  They can be robots, zombies, mind-controlled, crazed cult followers, etc.  However, no one even partly normal will view themselves as your side kick.

They might be the unappreciated reason the hero wins, because of all their work.  They may be waiting to learn from the mentor before coming the master.  They may follow the crime lord out of fear, profit, or wait their chance to betray or move-up the ranks.

Henchmen - What do they think of themselves?

Henchmen – What do they think of themselves?

3.  Even given uniforms and strict appearance rules, people will stand out.  You cannot contain individuality.  Everyone has it.  Whether it be a more confident walk, a gleam to their eye, a sigh before they do something, even in the most homogenous situations, everyone can tell characteristics about the others.  Your story cannot have redshirts or mindless thugs that all look and act the same and be reasonable.  Even a casual observer’s brain will pick up some non-uniformity to classify people.  Tall, short, build, eyes, hair, gait, speech, lack of speech, eye contact, hand positions, skin, clothing condition, something.  I was in the military where they try to make you all the same.  The more they do outwardly, the more you learned everything about the person inside.


4.  People who are positive or negative tend to stay that way.  Even if your hero or villain wins, they will be negative about it if they are negative people.  If they lose, they won’t give up if positive.  Outlook is mostly interior and psychological and not tied to someone’s outward fortunes.

5.  People question authority, gossip and bitch.  Wherever you have a group of people, they will talk about each other, form cliques and complain.  If everyone gets along in your story and supports each other, there should be some supernatural intervention or it won’t ring true.

6.  People do not change with history.  People in Rome wrote graffiti, cheated each other, committed adultery, thievery and made fun of each other just like now.  The more we find about any ancient people, the more we see humans have changed very little in their quests for love, sex, power, conflict, wealth, travel, gossip, etc.  Writing about people 10,000 years in the past or future might not be that different.

7. Group identity causes conflict and confidence.  Our group is awesome.  Your group sucks and might be dangerous.  It’s the basis for nationalism, families, tribes, prejudice, racism, etc.  In any group, one group will cling together against another.  Common friends and common foes.  It might be something nice like which sports team you prefer, or something bad like we want the fresh water from the river and need to kill you to get it.

8.  Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  You can look this one up.  Basically, we are hard wired to get what we need.  A person dying of thirst, hunger or being tortured to death will do things beyond the pale.  Yes, starving people will be cannibals, murderers and eat trash.  Even if they were normal people two months ago.  Never underestimate the drive of instinct in dire circumstances.  People do not retain ‘civilized’ rules when civilization breaks down.

9.  In a crisis, the most dangerous threat is other humans beings.  If people need things to survive and there are not enough to go around, the math is done very quickly.  Things may go ok for awhile, but the stronger the instinctual need to survive, the longer without needs met, the more dangerous it gets.  Even good people will rationalize their actions.  Remember number 1.

10.  There is no random speech.  All you know is that person told you something at that moment for some reason.  They may have lied, told the truth or been mistaken.  But why did they open their mouth and tell you that?  To make you love them, respect them, fear them?  To fill in a silence?  To test you, because they were nervous, to throw you off the trail?  You can do so much with this in your writing and your life.  Why did that person say this to me, in this place and time, in that tone of voice?  What trail of events or conversation evoked that statement and why?

I hope these help you as well.

Michael Bradley

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Guest Post on Writing – By Brian M. Hayden

Want to guest post on mbtimetraveler.com?  Just send me an email with your post, pictures and what not to eiverness@cox.net.  Put “Guest Column” in the message box.  Remember, no copyrighted stuff, be original, be PG-13 or cleaner, and I’ll see if I can put you up for a post.  Enjoy!

Brian M. Hayden

Brian M. Hayden

Writer Motivation – Take One


Brian M. Hayden

Have you ever said, “I’ll try to get that done by the end of the day, or week…?” Pick a time frame.  Are you the kind of person that tries hard, but at the end of the day, none of your projects are completed? Well, if you are always trying to do things and constantly falling short of actually accomplishing anything, take comfort in these next few words.


For years I hear people say, “I’m trying”, or “I’ll try my best”. Don’t you believe it. I’ve run companies for many years. Most with more than 100 employees.  Assigning tasks was part of it. When I assign a job, and the person tells me, “alright Mr. Hayden. I’ll try”. My ass begins to twitch. I know for certain that when the word “try” is used, I am getting set-up for a disappointing outcome.

Let me explain. I’d like to walk you through this simple exercise. Ready? Good. Now, find an object near you. Any object. A pen, or perhaps a cup. Anything. Now comes the hard part.

Try to pick it up.

Did you do it? I will assume that you answered “yes”. You just failed that simple test. I asked you to “try” to pick it up. I did not ask you to pick up the object.  Are you following me here?

I have thought about this since 1992, and I still don’t know what “try” means.

According to the “Free Online Dictionary” –  v. tried (tr d), try·ing, tries (tr z). v.tr. 1. To make an effort to do or accomplish (something); attempt: tried to ski. 2. To taste, sample, or otherwise test in order to … 

I believe that the word “try” is the root cause of almost all problems. Don’t believe me? Read that definition again. It affords us the opportunity to make an effort with no expectation for success.. We, (our society) is soft. Our willingness to accept a “good try” lets people off the hook for jobs left unaccomplished.

Do not fret though, for I have devised a solution to this dilemma. Here are the steps.

  • Stop using the word “try”
  • If you say you are going to do something -DO IT!
  • Commit to the philosophy: Do your best to complete the task at hand.

I can deal with someone who says, “I’ll do my best to complete this job”. If that person falls short, I’ll figure out why and help him/her to do better.

But many of you reading this blog are writers, authors, editors and other professionals.  Your inner dialog is saying: How can this new philosophy apply to my life? Allow me to respond with a question. How often have you read someone’s facebook note that reads, “I am trying to write 5000 words today”?  Facebook has many sites, most of which have people saying they are going to try to do this…or that.

Stop doing that.

Do you have writer’s block? Are you working on character development, but “try” as you may, cannot reconcile the characters? In our profession we come across myriad situations which challenge our abilities. Here is a secret.  Come closer.

Don’t try so hard. 

Say this out loud.  “I am not going to try anymore. If I am going to do something, I am going to do it.” 

One final thought: If you find yourself with writer’s block, character block, or any other impedance to a successful outcome, pick up a book and read. Reading relaxes you, frees your mind and ignites those creative juices. If that doesn’t work, give yourself a kick in the derriere, and try to do better tomorrow.


Need something to read? Pick up one of my books.



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Some Novel Writing Tips

Here are some tips I have learned in my own novel writing.  I hope they help you as well:

1)  Each Chapter should have a specific purpose.  If you have ten things going on in a chapter, the reader has no idea what is important and what is not.  Focus your narrative on important things.  Use more descriptors for items that matter, fewer for areas the narrative just passes through never to return.  Get one part of your character or story arc done in each chapter.  If you have a movie you have to fit into 90 minutes you cut the scenes that are nice but not necessary.  A novel fits into roughly 40 chapters at 2,500 words each.  If you weave 3 major story lines and/or characters, you have just 12 to 14 chapters for each one.  Introduce, development, twists, double backs, near finale, the final climax, the anti-climax, all have to get done in that time.  A novel seems long, but  you only have so many “scenes” to tell your story, don’t waste any.

writing 1

2) Start your chapter with a reminder, end it with a tease.  Many people read like I do – they finish a chapter and go to sleep.  The next time they pick up the book might be awhile.  Just like TV series will show you scenes of what happened the last episode, then end with teasers for the next week, you need to do that in your chapters.  Start the chapter with a sentence or two reminding them where you left it the chapter before.  Don’t make them read a few pages to remember.  At the end you don’t have to leave some obvious hook like the old TV serials where the hero appears to be blown up, only to see that he magically escaped.  However, give the reader some reason to want to pick up your book again.  Your story should have enough interesting questions and story arcs to keep the reader wanting to know what happens next.  A chapter that ends flat might mean even more time before they read the next one.

3)  Don’t include all that cool narrative unless it is necessary to the story.  This is the hardest for me because I do so much research on my novels.  So, you are writing about a World War 1 story and you have so many things you want to talk about with trench warfare, the home front, cool historical factoids you want to share…  The problem is, your book is not a historical reference, but a fiction.  The story is the characters, not the setting.  You should strip out any narrative that does not surround the characters and their slice of it.  You might want to break into elegant narrative about the past four hundred years of history of the spot your character sets his foot, but the character, and the reader, only care about it if it influences the story.   So much I want to tell about the setting, about history, about cool things, but it does not help the story.  It hurts to leave it all out, knowing I will never revisit that spot in that point of history in other stories.  Still, you have to leave it out.

writing 2

4)  There is nothing cooler than having readers know your characters.  Going to book clubs, signings and events where people have read my stories and comment on them is a rush.  It surprises me that these readers know my characters as well as I do.  They know what they would do under different circumstances, their weaknesses, their strengths, what they look like, their aspirations.  I always wonder what I evoke in a reader with my prose.  When they tell you exactly what you wanted to convey, it is awesome.  The magic of the written word is transmitting a fictional character from your mind to theirs in simple words.  To do this, your characters needs to be complicated and real.  Try to avoid having anyone in your story that you don’t have a full character build-up behind them.  Gather characters in your daily life from friends, enemies, barristas, store clerks, fellow elevator passengers, anyone you meet.

5)  Don’t describe anything with a common view and over-describe new concepts.  If you say, “they walk into a sports bar.”  Every reader has an image that comes up.  It does not matter if their sports bar is the one you have in mind, it only matters that they see a sports bar in their mind.  I no longer describe the lay-out, the tables, or virtually anything.  They already have a mental picture and further description is distracting.  However, I have an airship in The Travelers’ Club – Fire and Ash that features prominently in several chapters.  In test reading groups, no one knew what it looked like, how big it was, or the layout.  Despite the fact that I had described it.  They simply had no pre-set mental image for the insides of an imaginary private airship yacht.  I had to add an entire chapter with one of the characters taking another on a tour of their ship as it was being readied for flight.  It turned into a fun chapter for me and solved the problem.  So, as an author, ask yourself – Does the reader have a mental image of the item or setting?  If yes, don’t describe it.  If no, over describe it.

kindle fa

6)  Focus on the core of your novel.  Is your character dealing with internal issues, like over-coming cowardice, finding love, a life of rejection, scars of abuse?  Are they dealing with action issues, like running from hitmen, the police, fighting in a war, putting out fires?  If the story is internal and emotional,  focus your writing on the internal dialogue and personal challenges.  Don’t dilute an emotional story with a lot of useless setting and spatial descriptions.  The action that the reader will care about is the emotional journey.  If you have a physical action story, build the narrative around that.  Is the character hurt, tired, hungry, thirsty, desperate for shelter?  Build on the action, don’t just describe it quickly.  Let the reader dwell on the excitement and the challenge of the physical environment.  I think we writers sometimes try to make all parts of our story detailed and lose track of what the reader is focused on.  Try to avoid red herrings to the reader that lead them away from the crux of the story and the main conflicts facing the characters.

Those are just a few of the things I have personally learned to include in my writing.  We are all different, so maybe they will help you and maybe they won’t.  At the very least, hopefully they will give you some additional ideas on how to approach writing your next story.



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Writing Realistic Injuries (warning: graphic images)

Don’t you hate seeing people in action movies always hit in the arm or the leg and they just soldier on and kill the bad guys?  Who among us can take a slug to the arm and leg and not react? Writing realistic injuries is very important to me.  I have a guy hit in the arm in one of my novels.  He gets infected and barely survives after an emergency amputation.  Real people, no matter how heroic, succumb to blood loss and shattered bones with shock or at least limited ability to function.

The so-called flesh wound is no fun at all.  If it hit bone or an organ, you will die right away, or slowly from infection and gangrene.  If it just hits flesh, you have a terrible jagged tear, full of bacteria, blood loss and pain.  Just think about the last time you had surgery, or even had a tooth filling.  Without any pain medicine or treatment would you just laugh that off?  I think not.  As an author, I have to be true to the scene.  Sometimes that means a favorite character loses a limb, an eye, has months to recuperate, or even gets vaporized.  It is not fun to realize your story needs carnage to those you have grown to love, but it is worse to have them miraculously survive.

Later I can talk about the .38 snub nose shooting someone off a ten story roof, or the machine gun firing 100 rounds at point blank and missing the hero…

There is a very helpful link below, but first, two pictures, a bit grisly, of real gunshot “flesh wounds” to demonstrate you might want to make them a bit more serious in your stories:

Shoulder Flesh Wound

Shoulder Flesh Wound

Forearm Flesh Wound

Forearm Flesh Wound


Here is a great link to very detailed analysis of properly writing realistic injuries:


Writing Realistic Injuries
By Leia Fee, with additions by Susannah Shepherd

Quick Contents

General remarks
What’s  normal?
Reactions to injury – including emotional reactions, fainting and shock.
Minor injuries – such as bruises, grazes and sprains
Head injuries – from  black eyes to severe concussions
Broken bones
Dislocated joints
Cutting and Piercing – for various locations, including blood loss symptoms and figures.
Blunt trauma – getting hit, internal injuries.
Burns – including electrical burns
Hostile environments – such as extreme cold and heat, oxygen deprivation and exposure to vacuum.
References – useful websites.


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Alternative Words for Overused Ones

Thanks to Lara Eakins at larae.net for compiling this list.  They are good alternatives for simple, or often overused words.  Tired of using the same words?  Try these for some basic choices.  Not meant to replace your thesaurus, but those can be dangerous anyway if you don’t know the nuance or meaning of the word you choose.  This was collected by Lara Eakins from various teachers.



Amazing– incredible, unbelievable, improbable, fabulous, wonderful, fantastic, astonishing, astounding, extraordinary

Anger– enrage, infuriate, arouse, nettle, exasperate, inflame, madden

Angry– mad, furious, enraged, excited, wrathful, indignant, exasperated, aroused, inflamed

Answer– reply, respond, retort, acknowledge

Ask– question, inquire of, seek information from, put a question to, demand, request, expect, inquire, query, interrogate, examine, quiz

Awful– dreadful, terrible, abominable, bad, poor, unpleasant

Bad– evil, immoral, wicked, corrupt, sinful, depraved, rotten, contaminated, spoiled, tainted, harmful, injurious, unfavorable, defective, inferior, imperfect, substandard, faulty, improper, inappropriate, unsuitable, disagreeable, unpleasant, cross, nasty, unfriendly, irascible, horrible, atrocious, outrageous, scandalous, infamous, wrong, noxious, sinister, putrid, snide, deplorable, dismal, gross, heinous, nefarious, base, obnoxious, detestable, despicable, contemptible, foul, rank, ghastly, execrable

Beautiful – pretty, lovely, handsome, attractive, gorgeous, dazzling, splendid, magnificent, comely, fair, ravishing, graceful, elegant, fine, exquisite, aesthetic, pleasing, shapely, delicate, stunning, glorious, heavenly, resplendent, radiant, glowing, blooming, sparkling

Begin – start, open, launch, initiate, commence, inaugurate, originate

Big – enormous, huge, immense, gigantic, vast, colossal, gargantuan, large, sizable, grand, great, tall, substantial, mammoth, astronomical, ample, broad, expansive, spacious, stout, tremendous, titanic, mountainous

Brave – courageous, fearless, dauntless, intrepid, plucky, daring, heroic, valorous, audacious, bold, gallant, valiant, doughty, mettlesome

Break – fracture, rupture, shatter, smash, wreck, crash, demolish, atomize

Bright – shining, shiny, gleaming, brilliant, sparkling, shimmering, radiant, vivid, colorful, lustrous, luminous, incandescent, intelligent, knowing, quick-witted, smart, intellectual

Calm – quiet, peaceful, still, tranquil, mild, serene, smooth, composed, collected, unruffled, level-headed, unexcited, detached, aloof

Come – approach, advance, near, arrive, reach

Cool – chilly, cold, frosty, wintry, icy, frigid

Crooked – bent, twisted, curved, hooked, zigzag

Cry – shout, yell, yowl, scream, roar, bellow, weep, wail, sob, bawl

Cut – gash, slash, prick, nick, sever, slice, carve, cleave, slit, chop, crop, lop, reduce

Dangerous – perilous, hazardous, risky, uncertain, unsafe

Dark – shadowy, unlit, murky, gloomy, dim, dusky, shaded, sunless, black, dismal, sad

Decide – determine, settle, choose, resolve

Definite – certain, sure, positive, determined, clear, distinct, obvious

Delicious – savory, delectable, appetizing, luscious, scrumptious, palatable, delightful, enjoyable, toothsome, exquisite

Describe – portray, characterize, picture, narrate, relate, recount, represent, report, record

Destroy – ruin, demolish, raze, waste, kill, slay, end, extinguish

Difference – disagreement, inequity, contrast, dissimilarity, incompatibility

Do – execute, enact, carry out, finish, conclude, effect, accomplish, achieve, attain

Dull – boring, tiring,, tiresome, uninteresting, slow, dumb, stupid, unimaginative, lifeless, dead, insensible, tedious, wearisome, listless, expressionless, plain, monotonous, humdrum, dreary

Eager – keen, fervent, enthusiastic, involved, interested, alive to

End – stop, finish, terminate, conclude, close, halt, cessation, discontinuance

Enjoy – appreciate, delight in, be pleased, indulge in, luxuriate in, bask in, relish, devour, savor, like

Explain – elaborate, clarify, define, interpret, justify, account for

Fair – just, impartial, unbiased, objective, unprejudiced, honest

Fall – drop, descend, plunge, topple, tumble

False – fake, fraudulent, counterfeit, spurious, untrue, unfounded, erroneous, deceptive, groundless, fallacious

Famous – well-known, renowned, celebrated, famed, eminent, illustrious, distinguished, noted, notorious

Fast – quick, rapid, speedy, fleet, hasty, snappy, mercurial, swiftly, rapidly, quickly, snappily, speedily, lickety-split, posthaste, hastily, expeditiously, like a flash

Fat – stout, corpulent, fleshy, beefy, paunchy, plump, full, rotund, tubby, pudgy, chubby, chunky, burly, bulky, elephantine

Fear – fright, dread, terror, alarm, dismay, anxiety, scare, awe, horror, panic, apprehension

Fly – soar, hover, flit, wing, flee, waft, glide, coast, skim, sail, cruise

Funny – humorous, amusing, droll, comic, comical, laughable, silly

Get – acquire, obtain, secure, procure, gain, fetch, find, score, accumulate, win, earn, rep, catch, net, bag, derive, collect, gather, glean, pick up, accept, come by, regain, salvage

Go – recede, depart, fade, disappear, move, travel, proceed

Good – excellent, fine, superior, wonderful, marvelous, qualified, suited, suitable, apt, proper, capable, generous, kindly, friendly, gracious, obliging, pleasant, agreeable, pleasurable, satisfactory, well-behaved, obedient, honorable, reliable, trustworthy, safe, favorable, profitable, advantageous, righteous, expedient, helpful, valid, genuine, ample, salubrious, estimable, beneficial, splendid, great, noble, worthy, first-rate, top-notch, grand, sterling, superb, respectable, edifying

Great – noteworthy, worthy, distinguished, remarkable, grand, considerable, powerful, much, mighty

Gross – improper, rude, coarse, indecent, crude, vulgar, outrageous, extreme, grievous, shameful, uncouth, obscene, low

Happy – pleased, contented, satisfied, delighted, elated, joyful, cheerful, ecstatic, jubilant, gay, tickled, gratified, glad, blissful, overjoyed

Hate – despise, loathe, detest, abhor, disfavor, dislike, disapprove, abominate

Have – hold, possess, own, contain, acquire, gain, maintain, believe, bear, beget, occupy, absorb, fill, enjoy

Help – aid, assist, support, encourage, back, wait on, attend, serve, relieve, succor, benefit, befriend, abet

Hide – conceal, cover, mask, cloak, camouflage, screen, shroud, veil

Hurry – rush, run, speed, race, hasten, urge, accelerate, bustle

Hurt – damage, harm, injure, wound, distress, afflict, pain

Idea – thought, concept, conception, notion, understanding, opinion, plan, view, belief

Important – necessary, vital, critical, indispensable, valuable, essential, significant, primary, principal, considerable, famous, distinguished, notable, well-known

Interesting – fascinating, engaging, sharp, keen, bright, intelligent, animated, spirited, attractive, inviting, intriguing, provocative, though-provoking, challenging, inspiring, involving, moving, titillating, tantalizing, exciting, entertaining, piquant, lively, racy, spicy, engrossing, absorbing, consuming, gripping, arresting, enthralling, spellbinding, curious, captivating, enchanting, bewitching, appealing

Keep – hold, retain, withhold, preserve, maintain, sustain, support

Kill – slay, execute, assassinate, murder, destroy, cancel, abolish

Lazy – indolent, slothful, idle, inactive, sluggish


Little – tiny, small, diminutive, shrimp, runt, miniature, puny, exiguous, dinky, cramped, limited, itsy-bitsy, microscopic, slight, petite, minute

Look – gaze, see, glance, watch, survey, study, seek, search for, peek, peep, glimpse, stare, contemplate, examine, gape, ogle, scrutinize, inspect, leer, behold, observe, view, witness, perceive, spy, sight, discover, notice, recognize, peer, eye, gawk, peruse, explore

Love – like, admire, esteem, fancy, care for, cherish, adore, treasure, worship, appreciate, savor

Make – create, originate, invent, beget, form, construct, design, fabricate, manufacture, produce, build, develop, do, effect, execute, compose, perform, accomplish, earn, gain, obtain, acquire, get

Mark – label, tag, price, ticket, impress, effect, trace, imprint, stamp, brand, sign, note, heed, notice, designate

Mischievous – prankish, playful, naughty, roguish, waggish, impish, sportive

Move – plod, go, creep, crawl, inch, poke, drag, toddle, shuffle, trot, dawdle, walk, traipse, mosey, jog, plug, trudge, slump, lumber, trail, lag, run, sprint, trip, bound, hotfoot, high-tail, streak, stride, tear, breeze, whisk, rush, dash, dart, bolt, fling, scamper, scurry, skedaddle, scoot, scuttle, scramble, race, chase, hasten, hurry, hump, gallop, lope, accelerate, stir, budge, travel, wander, roam, journey, trek, ride, spin, slip, glide, slide, slither, coast, flow, sail, saunter, hobble, amble, stagger, paddle, slouch, prance, straggle, meander, perambulate, waddle, wobble, pace, swagger, promenade, lunge

Moody – temperamental, changeable, short-tempered, glum, morose, sullen, mopish, irritable, testy, peevish, fretful, spiteful, sulky, touchy

Neat – clean, orderly, tidy, trim, dapper, natty, smart, elegant, well-organized, super, desirable, spruce, shipshape, well-kept, shapely

New – fresh, unique, original, unusual, novel, modern, current, recent

Old – feeble, frail, ancient, weak, aged, used, worn, dilapidated, ragged, faded, broken-down, former, old-fashioned, outmoded, passe, veteran, mature, venerable, primitive, traditional, archaic, conventional, customary, stale, musty, obsolete, extinct

Part – portion, share, piece, allotment, section, fraction, fragment

Place – space, area, spot, plot, region, location, situation, position, residence, dwelling, set, site, station, status, state

Plan – plot, scheme, design, draw, map, diagram, procedure, arrangement, intention, device, contrivance, method, way, blueprint

Popular – well-liked, approved, accepted, favorite, celebrated, common, current

Predicament – quandary, dilemma, pickle, problem, plight, spot, scrape, jam

Put – place, set, attach, establish, assign, keep, save, set aside, effect, achieve, do, build

Quiet – silent, still, soundless, mute, tranquil, peaceful, calm, restful

Right – correct, accurate, factual, true, good, just, honest, upright, lawful, moral, proper, suitable, apt, legal, fair

Run – race, speed, hurry, hasten, sprint, dash, rush, escape, elope, flee

Say/Tell – inform, notify, advise, relate, recount, narrate, explain, reveal, disclose, divulge, declare, command, order, bid, enlighten, instruct, insist, teach, train, direct, issue, remark, converse, speak, affirm, suppose, utter, negate, express, verbalize, voice, articulate, pronounce, deliver, convey, impart, assert, state, allege, mutter, mumble, whisper, sigh, exclaim, yell, sing, yelp, snarl, hiss, grunt, snort, roar, bellow, thunder, boom, scream, shriek, screech, squawk, whine, philosophize, stammer, stutter, lisp, drawl, jabber, protest, announce, swear, vow, content, assure, deny, dispute

Scared – afraid, frightened, alarmed, terrified, panicked, fearful, unnerved, insecure, timid, shy, skittish, jumpy, disquieted, worried, vexed, troubled, disturbed, horrified, terrorized, shocked, petrified, haunted, timorous, shrinking, tremulous, stupefied, paralyzed, stunned, apprehensive

Show – display, exhibit, present, note, point to, indicate, explain, reveal, prove, demonstrate, expose

Slow – unhurried, gradual, leisurely, late, behind, tedious, slack

Stop – cease, halt, stay, pause, discontinue, conclude, end, finish, quit

Story – tale, myth, legend, fable, yarn, account, narrative, chronicle, epic, sage, anecdote, record, memoir

Strange – odd, peculiar, unusual, unfamiliar, uncommon, queer, weird, outlandish, curious, unique, exclusive, irregular

Take – hold, catch, seize, grasp, win, capture, acquire, pick, choose, select, prefer, remove, steal, lift, rob, engage, bewitch, purchase, buy, retract, recall, assume, occupy, consume

Tell – disclose, reveal, show, expose, uncover, relate, narrate, inform, advise, explain, divulge, declare, command, order, bid, recount, repeat

Think – judge, deem, assume, believe, consider, contemplate, reflect, mediate

Trouble – distress, anguish, anxiety, worry, wretchedness, pain, danger, peril, disaster, grief, misfortune, difficulty, concern, pains, inconvenience, exertion, effort

True – accurate, right, proper, precise, exact, valid, genuine, real, actual, trusty, steady, loyal, dependable, sincere, staunch

Ugly – hideous, frightful, frightening, shocking, horrible, unpleasant, monstrous, terrifying, gross, grisly, ghastly, horrid, unsightly, plain, homely, evil, repulsive, repugnant, gruesome

Unhappy – miserable, uncomfortable, wretched, heart-broken, unfortunate, poor, downhearted, sorrowful, depressed, dejected, melancholy, glum, gloomy, dismal, discouraged, sad

Use – employ, utilize, exhaust, spend, expend, consume, exercise

Wrong – incorrect, inaccurate, mistaken, erroneous, improper, unsuitable


Filed under Writing

101 Tips from Famous Authors

Words of Wisdom: 101 Tips from the World’s Most Famous Authors

re-posted from Collegeonline.com via StumbleUpon link.

If you’ve ever wanted to sit down with your favorite writer and ask advice, then you should take a look at these tips from some of the most famous authors in the world. These valuable bits of information provide guidance on strengthening your writing skills, becoming a better fiction writer or poet, learning to tap into your creativity, advice on education and school, and even a few suggestions on success and living a meaningful life. Of course, another excellent way of improving your writing is through traditional or online master’s degrees in creative writing.

General Writing Tips

Improve any type of writing you do with these solid tips from successful writers themselves.

  1. Ernest Hemingway. Use short sentences and short first paragraphs. These rules were two of four given to Hemingway in his early days as a reporter–and words he lived by.
  2. Mark Twain. Substitute “damn” every time you want to use the word “very.” Twain’s thought was that your editor would delete the “damn,” and leave the writing as it should be. The short version: eliminate using the word “very.”
  3. Oscar Wilde. Be unpredictable. Wilde suggested that “consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.”
  4. Anton Chekhov. Show, don’t tell. This advice comes out of most every writing class taught. Chekhov said it most clearly when he said, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
  5. EB White. Just write. The author of Charlotte’s Web, one of the most beloved of children’s books, said that “I admire anybody who has the guts to write anything at all.”
  6. Samuel Johnson. Keep your writing interesting. “The two most engaging powers of an author are to make new things familiar and familiar things new.”
  7. Ray Bradbury. Learn to take criticism well and discount empty praise, or as Bradbury put it, “to accept rejection and reject acceptance.”
  8. Toni Morrison. Remember that writing is always about communication. “Everything I’ve ever done, in the writing world, has been to expand articulation, rather than to close it.”
  9. George Orwell. Orwell offered twelve solid tips on creating strong writing, including an active voice rather than a passive one and eliminating longer words when shorter ones will work just as well.
  10. F. Scott Fitzgerald. “Cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own joke.”
  11. Anais Nin. “The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say.”
  12. Truman Capote. Editing is as important as the writing. “I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.”
  13. Maurice Sendak. Keep revising. “I never spent less than two years on the text of one of my picture books, even though each of them is approximately 380 words long. Only when the text is finished … do I begin the pictures.”

Tips for Beginning Writers

If you are thinking about a career in writing, whether you have a bachelor degree or a master’s degree, or are just starting to write seriously, then use these tips for great suggestions.

  1. Stephen King. “Read a lot and write a lot.” Reading and understanding different styles is integral to finding your own style.
  2. Margaret Mahy. Be persistent. This popular New Zealand author suggests that being persistent will pay off when facing adversity while writing or trying to get your writing published.
  3. John Grisham. Keep your day job. Grisham suggests finding your career outside of writing. Experience life, suffering, and love to be able to write effectively.
  4. John Steinbeck. “I’ve always tried out material on my dogs first.” Make sure that above all, you are happy with your work…and see if the dogs stay awake.
  5. Flannery O’Connor. Sometimes you need to stir the emotions to be heard. “I am not afraid that the book will be controversial, I’m afraid it will not be controversial.”
  6. Isaac Asimov. Use humor effectively.” Jokes of the proper kind, properly told, can do more to enlighten questions of politics, philosophy, and literature than any number of dull arguments.”
  7. Lillian Hellman. Trust your instincts. “If I had to give young writers advice, I would say don’t listen to writers talking about writing or themselves.”
  8. Doris Lessing. “I don’t know much about creative writing programs. But they’re not telling the truth if they don’t teach, one, that writing is hard work, and, two, that you have to give up a great deal of life, your personal life, to be a writer.”
  9. Jessamyn West. “Talent is helpful in writing, but guts are absolutely necessary.”
  10. William Faulkner. “A writer needs three things, experience, observation, and imagination, any two of which, at times any one of which, can supply the lack of the others.”
  11. Margaret Atwood. Don’t be afraid of failure. “A ratio of failures is built into the process of writing. The wastebasket has evolved for a reason.”
  12. Richard Bach. Never stop trying. “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”
  13. Isabel Allende. Follow your passion, despite the obstacles. “I couldn’t write a novel sitting in a car but I could write short stories. The advantage to this is because with a short story you write fragments. In a couple of weeks you have a story and then you do some more. If you really want to do something you do it in the most awkward circumstances, of course.”

Fiction Tips

These tips are specifically for writing fiction, but many are good tips for writing in general. In addition, students can improve their overall writing skills through online degrees in writing.

  1. Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut offers eight rules of writing a short story, including tips such as “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water” and “Every sentence must do one of two things–reveal character or advance the action.”
  2. Roald Dahl. From one of the most magical of storytellers: “And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”
  3. Louis L’Amour. “A plot is nothing but a normal human situation that keeps arising again and again….normal human emotions–envy, ambition, rivalry, love, hate, greed, and so on.”
  4. John Irving. Know the story. Irving suggests knowing the basic outline of the entire story before you begin writing the first paragraph.
  5. Jack Kerouac. Although Kerouac set down 30 tips, the gist of most of them is to know yourself and write for yourself with abandonment.
  6. Scott Turow. Drawing from his experience as a trial lawyer, Turow discovered that what makes attorneys successful is what would make him successful as a writer: Tell a good story.
  7. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Write about what you know. “If a man writes a book, let him set down only what he knows. I have guesses enough of my own.”
  8. Leo Tolstoy. “Drama, instead of telling us the whole of a man’s life, must place him in such a situation, tie such a knot, that when it is untied, the whole man is visible.”
  9. Katherine Anne Porter. “If I didn’t know the ending of a story, I wouldn’t begin. I always write my last line, my last paragraph, my last page first.
  10. Robert Louis Stevenson. “The difficulty of literature is not to write, but to write what you mean.”
  11. W. Somerset Maugham. Make your own rules. “There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”
  12. Vladimir Nabokov. The careful construction of details can make all the difference in your writing. “Caress the detail, the divine detail.”
  13. EL Doctorow. “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”


Poets can find many helpful tips from writers who have come before them here. In addition, students can sharpen their overall poetry skills in online English literature programs.

  1. Robert Frost. Poetry offers many levels for readers. Capitalize on all you can. “A poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom.”
  2. Salman Rushdie. “A poet`s work is to name the unnamable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep.”
  3. WH Auden. Anticipate and recognize ideas. “All works of art are commissioned in the sense that no artist can create one by a simple act of will but must wait until what he believes to be a good idea for a work comes to him.”
  4. TS Eliot. Seek life experience. “Any poet, if he is to survive beyond his 25th year, must alter; he must seek new literary influences; he will have different emotions to express.”
  5. Henry David Thoreau. Understand the power of each word. “A written word is the choicest of relics. It is something at once more intimate with us and more universal than any other work of art.”
  6. Paul Valery. Keep revising. “A poem is never finished, only abandoned.”
  7. Percy Bysshe Shelley. Think about the obvious in new ways. “Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar.”
  8. Plato. Don’t just rely on the beauty of the words: make a statement. “Poetry comes nearer to vital truth than history.”
  9. Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Remember the importance of each word used in each poem. “I wish our clever young poets would remember my homely definitions of prose and poetry; that is, prose = words in their best order; –poetry = the best words in the best order.”
  10. Robert Graves. Write poetry because you want to, not because you expect to earn a living. “There’s no money in poetry, but then there’s no poetry in money either.”

Tips for Creativity

Whether you are facing writer’s block, just want to add a little more pizzazz to your work, or are writing something to complete your undergraduate degree or master’s degree program, use these tips to find more creativity.

  1. Annie Dillard. “Writing sentences is difficult whatever their subject. It is no less difficult to write sentences in a recipe than sentences in Moby Dick. So you might as well write Moby Dick.” No matter what, write.
  2. William Wordsworth. Write with passion. Wordsworth advocated, “Fill your paper with with the breathings of your heart.”
  3. Alice Walker. Walker recommends meditation for writing, as well as life. She credits meditation for helping her write her books.
  4. James Patterson. “I’m always pretending that I’m sitting across from somebody. I’m telling them a story, and I don’t want them to get up until it’s finished.”
  5. John Cheever. Looking inwards and learning from yourself provides great material for writing. “The need to write comes from the need to make sense of one’s life and discover one’s usefulness.”
  6. Agatha Christie. Let your mind go while keeping your hands busy. “The best time for planning a book is when you’re doing the dishes.”
  7. Francis Bacon. Always carry something to write on. “A man would do well to carry a pencil in his pocket and write down the thoughts of the moment. Those that come unsought are commonly the most valuable and should be secured, they seldom return.”
  8. Jack London. “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” Sometimes you need to actively seek your sources of inspiration.
  9. Maya Angelou. Follow your instincts and do what you feel you must. “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.
  10. Virginia Woolf. “Arrange whatever pieces come your way.” Sometimes you have to recognize what you have and make the best of it.
  11. Charles Dickens. Play with your ideas, talk with them, and coax them into a fully-formed creation. “An idea, like a ghost, must be spoken to a little before it will explain itself.”

School and Education

Find out what famous writers have to say about school and getting an education, whether it be traditional oronline.

  1. Ralph Waldo Emerson. Recognize what students can give to teachers as well as what teachers can impart. “Of course you will insist on modesty in the children, and respect to their teachers, but if the boy stops you in your speech, cries out that you are wrong and sets you right, hug him!”
  2. Barbara Kingsolver. “Libraries are the one American institution you shouldn’t rip off.”
  3. Martin Luther King, Jr. Use education to build character. “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically… Intelligence plus character–that is the goal of true education.”
  4. Robert M Hutchins. Keep in mind what school provides for the long run. “The object of education is to prepare the young to educate themselves throughout their lives.”
  5. Norman Cousins. “The purpose of education is to enable us to develop to the fullest that which is inside us.”
  6. Nelson Mandela. Use your knowledge to make a difference. “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
  7. John Dewey. “Education is a social process; education is growth; education is not a preparation for life but is life itself.
  8. BF Skinner. Appreciate knowledge and the rest will come. “We shouldn’t teach great books; we should teach a love of reading.”
  9. Aristippus. Use your education to cultivate what you already have. “Native ability without education is like a tree without fruit.”
  10. Robert Frost. Learn to separate emotion from knowledge. “Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.”
  11. Charlotte Bronte. Embrace the opportunity to see beyond your known world. “Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilized by education; they grow there, firm as weeds among stones.”

Lifelong Learning

Learning should go far beyond college and even graduate school, and these writers agree. Find out what they suggest to keep the quest for knowledge alive.

  1. Aristotle. Learn to analyze what you are being told. “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
  2. Robert Frost. Don’t ever stop learning. “Education is hanging around until you’ve caught on.”
  3. Albert Einstein. Don’t ever stop questioning. “The important thing is not to stop questioning.”
  4. WB Yeats. Discover what lights your fire. “Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire.”
  5. CS Lewis. Learn by doing. “Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.”
  6. Friedrich Nietzche. Learn the basics first. “He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance, one cannot fly into flying.”
  7. Socrates. Learning is ultimately your own responsibility. “I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.”
  8. Aldous Huxley. Don’t become complacent. “A child-like man is not a man whose development has been arrested; on the contrary, he is a man who has given himself a chance of continuing to develop long after most adults have muffled themselves in the cocoon of middle-aged habit and convention.”
  9. Willa Cather. Embrace every opportunity to learn. “There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.”
  10. Confucius. Education should be much more than memorizing facts. “Learning without thought is labor lost; thought without learning is perilous.”


No matter what career you pursue after college, success is likely a goal. Discover what tips these authors have to share about achieving success in life.

  1. Isak Dinesen. “When you have a great and difficult task, something perhaps almost impossible, if you only work a little at a time, every day a little, suddenly the work will finish itself.”
  2. Margaret Atwood. Speak your mind and stand up for what you believe. “A voice is a human gift; it should be cherished and used, to utter fully human speech as possible. Powerlessness and silence go together.”
  3. Malcolm S. Forbes. “Failure is success if we learn from it.”
  4. Helen Keller. Find the joy in small accomplishments. “I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.”
  5. Dr. Seuss. Be responsible for your own success. “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. You are the guy who’ll decide where to go.”
  6. Kahlil Gibran. Stay the course, even when it feels like you aren’t making progress. “One may not reach the dawn save by the path of the night.”
  7. Ralph Waldo Emerson. Believe in yourself. “Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.”
  8. Paul Coelho. “Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience.”
  9. Tennessee Williams. Let success happen in its own time. “Success is blocked by concentrating on it and planning for it… Success is shy – it won’t come out while you’re watching.”

On Living

These last few tips all include good, solid advice on living life to your best potential.

  1. Alexander Pope. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Pope is the author of one of the most famous quotes on allowing yourself to make a mistake with his famous, “To err is human, to forgive divine.”
  2. Benjamin Franklin. “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”
  3. JK Rowling. “If you want to see the true measure of a man, watch how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.”
  4. Barbara Kingsolver. “The truth needs so little rehearsal.”
  5. Maya Angelou. “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
  6. Umberto Eco. Sometimes things are just as they seem. “But now I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.”
  7. John Ruskin. “There is no wealth but life.”
  8. George Bernard Shaw. Appreciate the good and the bad–it is all a part of life. “Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.”
  9. Arthur Miller. “Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets.”
  10. Charles M. Schulz. “Life is like a ten speed bicycle. Most of us have gears we never use.”
  11. John Burroughs. Realize what is important to you. “I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see.”

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Joss Whedon’s Top 10 Writing Tips

Joss Whedon’s Top 10 Writing Tips

reposted from:

Joss Whedon Top 10 Writing Tips

Film critic Catherine Bray interviewed Joss Whedon in 2006 for UK movie magazine Hotdog to find out his top ten screenwriting tips. Photo: Joss Whedon at San Diego Comic Con – courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

Joss Whedon is most famous for creating Buffy the Vampire Slayer, its spin-off Angel and the short-lived but much-loved Firefly series. But the writer and director has also worked unseen as a script doctor on movies ranging from Speed to Toy Story. Here, he shares his tips on the art of screenwriting.

Actually finishing it is what I’m gonna put in as step one. You may laugh at this, but it’s true. I have so many friends who have written two-thirds of a screenplay, and then re-written it for about three years. Finishing a screenplay is first of all truly difficult, and secondly really liberating. Even if it’s not perfect, even if you know you’re gonna have to go back into it, type to the end. You have to have a little closure.

Structure means knowing where you’re going; making sure you don’t meander about. Some great films have been made by meandering people, like Terrence Malick and Robert Altman, but it’s not as well done today and I don’t recommend it. I’m a structure nut. I actually make charts. Where are the jokes? The thrills? The romance? Who knows what, and when? You need these things to happen at the right times, and that’s what you build your structure around: the way you want your audience to feel. Charts, graphs, coloured pens, anything that means you don’t go in blind is useful.

This really should be number one. Even if you’re writing a Die Hard rip-off, have something to say about Die Hard rip-offs. The number of movies that are not about what they purport to be about is staggering. It’s rare, especially in genres, to find a movie with an idea and not just, ‘This’ll lead to many fine set-pieces’. The Island evolves into a car-chase movie, and the moments of joy are when they have clone moments and you say, ‘What does it feel like to be those guys?’

Everybody has a perspective. Everybody in your scene, including the thug flanking your bad guy, has a reason. They have their own voice, their own identity, their own history. If anyone speaks in such a way that they’re just setting up the next person’s lines, then you don’t get dialogue: you get soundbites. Not everybody has to be funny; not everybody has to be cute; not everybody has to be delightful, and not everybody has to speak, but if you don’t know who everybody is and why they’re there, why they’re feeling what they’re feeling and why they’re doing what they’re doing, then you’re in trouble.

Here’s one trick that I learned early on. If something isn’t working, if you have a story that you’ve built and it’s blocked and you can’t figure it out, take your favourite scene, or your very best idea or set-piece, and cut it. It’s brutal, but sometimes inevitable. That thing may find its way back in, but cutting it is usually an enormously freeing exercise.

When I’ve been hired as a script doctor, it’s usually because someone else can’t get it through to the next level. It’s true that writers are replaced when executives don’t know what else to do, and that’s terrible, but the fact of the matter is that for most of the screenplays I’ve worked on, I’ve been needed, whether or not I’ve been allowed to do anything good. Often someone’s just got locked, they’ve ossified, they’re so stuck in their heads that they can’t see the people around them. It’s very important to know when to stick to your guns, but it’s also very important to listen to absolutely everybody. The stupidest person in the room might have the best idea.

You have one goal: to connect with your audience. Therefore, you must track what your audience is feeling at all times. One of the biggest problems I face when watching other people’s movies is I’ll say, ‘This part confuses me’, or whatever, and they’ll say, ‘What I’m intending to say is this’, and they’ll go on about their intentions. None of this has anything to do with my experience as an audience member. Think in terms of what audiences think. They go to the theatre, and they either notice that their butts are numb, or they don’t. If you’re doing your job right, they don’t. People think of studio test screenings as terrible, and that’s because a lot of studios are pretty stupid about it. They panic and re-shoot, or they go, ‘Gee, Brazil can’t have an unhappy ending,’ and that’s the horror story. But it can make a lot of sense.

Write the movie as much as you can. If something is lush and extensive, you can describe it glowingly; if something isn’t that important, just get past it tersely. Let the read feel like the movie; it does a lot of the work for you, for the director, and for the executives who go, ‘What will this be like when we put it on its feet?’

Having given the advice about listening, I have to give the opposite advice, because ultimately the best work comes when somebody’s fucked the system; done the unexpected and let their own personal voice into the machine that is moviemaking. Choose your battles. You wouldn’t get Paul Thomas Anderson, or Wes Anderson, or any of these guys if all moviemaking was completely cookie-cutter. But the process drives you in that direction; it’s a homogenising process, and you have to fight that a bit. There was a point while we were making Firefly when I asked the network not to pick it up: they’d started talking about a different show.

The first penny I ever earned, I saved. Then I made sure that I never had to take a job just because I needed to. I still needed jobs of course, but I was able to take ones that I loved. When I say that includes Waterworld, people scratch their heads, but it’s a wonderful idea for a movie. Anything can be good. Even Last Action Hero could’ve been good. There’s an idea somewhere in almost any movie: if you can find something that you love, then you can do it. If you can’t, it doesn’t matter how skilful you are: that’s called whoring.

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Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling

Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling

Pixar's 22 Rules of Storytelling
These rules were originally tweeted by Emma Coats, Pixar’s Story Artist.

  1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
  2. You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.
  3. Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
  4. Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
  5. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
  6. What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
  7. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
  8. Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
  9. When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
  10. Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
  11. Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
  12. Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
  13. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
  14. Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
  15. If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
  16. What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
  17. No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.
  18. You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
  19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
  20. Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
  21. You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
  22. What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

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100 Exquisite Adjectives

I saw this on Daily Writing Tips and thought you all might appreciate it.  It misses a couple of my favorites:

Obsequious – servile – subservient – slavish – menial – fawning

Volatile – 1. evaporating rapidly; passing off readily in the form of vapor:Acetone is a volatile solvent.  2. tending or threatening to break out into open violence;explosive: a volatile political situation.  3. changeable; mercurial; flighty: a volatile disposition.  4. (of prices, values, etc.) tending to fluctuate sharply andregularly: volatile market conditions.  5. fleeting; transient: volatile beauty.

Capricious – subject to, led by, or indicative of caprice  or whim; erratic

Mercurial – changeable; volatile; fickle; flighty; erratic

Beneficent – doing good or causing good to be done; conferring benefits;  kindly inaction or purpose.

I suggest as a writer, use these sparingly, as some of our reading population has grown lax on their vocabulary due to watching more TV than reading literature.

100 Exquisite Adjectives

by Mark Nichol
Adjectives — descriptive words that modify nouns — often come under fire for their cluttering quality, but often it’s quality, not quantity, that is the issue. Plenty of tired adjectives are available to spoil a good sentence, but when you find just the right word for the job, enrichment ensues. Practice precision when you select words. Here’s a list of adjectives:

Adamant: unyielding; a very hard substance
Adroit: clever, resourceful
Amatory: sexual
Animistic: quality of recurrence or reversion to earlier form
Antic: clownish, frolicsome
Arcadian: serene
Baleful: deadly, foreboding
Bellicose: quarrelsome (its synonym belligerent can also be a noun)
Bilious: unpleasant, peevish
Boorish: crude, insensitive
Calamitous: disastrous
Caustic: corrosive, sarcastic; a corrosive substance
Cerulean: sky blue
Comely: attractive
Concomitant: accompanying
Contumacious: rebellious
Corpulent: obese
Crapulous: immoderate in appetite
Defamatory: maliciously misrepresenting
Didactic: conveying information or moral instruction
Dilatory: causing delay, tardy
Dowdy: shabby, old-fashioned; an unkempt woman
Efficacious: producing a desired effect
Effulgent: brilliantly radiant
Egregious: conspicuous, flagrant
Endemic: prevalent, native, peculiar to an area
Equanimous: even, balanced
Execrable: wretched, detestable
Fastidious: meticulous, overly delicate
Feckless: weak, irresponsible
Fecund: prolific, inventive
Friable: brittle
Fulsome: abundant, overdone, effusive
Garrulous: wordy, talkative
Guileless: naive
Gustatory: having to do with taste or eating
Heuristic: learning through trial-and-error or problem solving
Histrionic: affected, theatrical
Hubristic: proud, excessively self-confident
Incendiary: inflammatory, spontaneously combustible, hot
Insidious: subtle, seductive, treacherous
Insolent: impudent, contemptuous
Intransigent: uncompromising
Inveterate: habitual, persistent
Invidious: resentful, envious, obnoxious
Irksome: annoying
Jejune: dull, puerile
Jocular: jesting, playful
Judicious: discreet
Lachrymose: tearful
Limpid: simple, transparent, serene
Loquacious: talkative
Luminous: clear, shining
Mannered: artificial, stilted
Mendacious: deceptive
Meretricious: whorish, superficially appealing, pretentious
Minatory: menacing
Mordant: biting, incisive, pungent
Munificent: lavish, generous
Nefarious: wicked
Noxious: harmful, corrupting
Obtuse: blunt, stupid
Parsimonious: frugal, restrained
Pendulous: suspended, indecisive
Pernicious: injurious, deadly
Pervasive: widespread
Petulant: rude, ill humored
Platitudinous: resembling or full of dull or banal comments
Precipitate: steep, speedy
Propitious: auspicious, advantageous, benevolent
Puckish: impish
Querulous: cranky, whining
Quiescent: inactive, untroublesome
Rebarbative: irritating, repellent
Recalcitant: resistant, obstinate
Redolent: aromatic, evocative
Rhadamanthine: harshly strict
Risible: laughable
Ruminative: contemplative
Sagacious: wise, discerning
Salubrious: healthful
Sartorial: relating to attire, especially tailored fashions
Sclerotic: hardening
Serpentine: snake-like, winding, tempting or wily
Spasmodic: having to do with or resembling a spasm, excitable, intermittent
Strident: harsh, discordant; obtrusively loud
Taciturn: closemouthed, reticent
Tenacious: persistent, cohesive,
Tremulous: nervous, trembling, timid, sensitive
Trenchant: sharp, penetrating, distinct
Turbulent: restless, tempestuous
Turgid: swollen, pompous
Ubiquitous: pervasive, widespread
Uxorious: inordinately affectionate or compliant with a wife
Verdant: green, unripe
Voluble: glib, given to speaking
Voracious: ravenous, insatiable
Wheedling: flattering
Withering: devastating
Zealous: eager, devoted

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