New Writing Tips Catalogue
So, I thought I would give some tips to writing stories and reviews. I hardly think I'm the best writer here, but in all the writing I've done I've come up with a few ideas, tricks, and practicalities that I want to share with this beautiful crowd of readers and writers.
I will start with reviewing, because that's something everyone complains about not being good at.
The first thing to understand about reviewing is the relationship between the writer and the reviewer. It's very tricky. The writer needs reviewers, for many reasons. Let's think up some of them:
-Reviews are like FP money
-Reviews make the writer feel good
-Reviews let the writer know what's good and not good in their writing
-Reviews let the writer know they are being heard
That last one is big. Most of us know about Emily Dickinson, the poet who spent her whole life in her house and wrote a ton of poems nobody knew about until she died, but the vast majority of people need an audience. We need to know that people are reading what we are writing, or it is very hard to write. Of course, I write this now partly out of my own experience, but I observe this going on with a lot of people.
And why do reviewers need writers? Well, because they want to read something interesting. That's an easy one.
If a writer pushes away criticism, they will shrink and wither to nothing. Or, best case scenario, they simply don't grow as writers.
If a reviewer punishes writers, they will find that they aren't appreciated by the writers, and they may cause the writers to stop writing entirely.
So, it is clear to me, a positive relationship between writer and reviewer is necessary for beautiful writing, if not all the time then most of the time. What does that look like?
A writer needs space to do what they need to do. A lot of times what looks like a crazy decision turns out to be the best decision. I think all of us readers have experienced moments like this – what? You're doing that – turning into – that was amazing! Do it again!
Art is all about doing it wrong in order to get it right. If we don't give a writer the room to be comfortable, make mistakes, do silly things, act as if there was no audience. Because it is when the writer is most comfortable in their own skin, and totally forgets, for the moment, that they are being watched (read), that's when we get the best gems. Is that not so?
So reviewers, we have to give them that space, and not try to undercut them. "That's a mistake", "That's bad", "You've ruined it". These aren't phrases that are ever going to help someone. Making a writer self-conscious is only going to make them awkward, stilted, and contrived.
"But what if a writer has made a mistake," you ask. "What if they killed my favourite character, and there is a villain when I don't think it makes sense to have anyone be the bad guy, and this thing they just said contradicts that thing they said ten chapters ago?"
Yes! Writers do make mistakes, and create problems, and it is our job as reviewers to tell them. How I think of it is that every writer makes a series of choices, and we can't know whether it's a right choice or a wrong choice right away. Is it a mistake every time a character is killed? I can think of plenty of times that it was just the perfect thing. And there are villains that do work in stories, and there are plot contradictions that… well, usually plot contradictions aren't good for anything.
So we see it as a decision, and we look at the effect of the decision. We can say something like this: "You killed Danny. But now there is no funny, cool character, and the conversations are much less interesting. Is this part of your plan?"
Because maybe it is a part of the plan – but if it isn't, the writer needs to be aware. Do you notice how I mentioned the effect, that it made the conversations less interesting? Because a writer is always weighing the pros and cons of every decision. If you just said, "It sucked when you killed Danny," maybe they would go, "Well, you gotta crack a few eggs to make an omelet." But if they know in which way the story is different because of that decision, they can make an informed decision.
The difference between this kind of awareness and the self-consciousness I mentioned earlier is the difference between "There is something going on in this story that maybe I should change", and "I made a mistake. I can't make any more mistakes." The first is about the story, begins and ends inside the story; the second is about the writer themselves, and that is only going to stop the writer from writing well.
The more that you review, the easier this style gets. If you learn to understand why stories work the way they do, you can come up with better ways of explaining why this or that thing rubs you the right way or the wrong way.
So this is the ideal relationship between the reviewer and the writer – the reviewer is supportive and collaborative. The reviewer always thinks, we are in this together.
Sometimes a writer will just not accept criticism, and in that case, we just have to back off. We can't make someone listen.
I suppose there are a lot of other things I could talk about, but I think that is the most important thing right there. Once the reviewer and the writer are working in collaboration, the rest is just a bunch of tricks, which aren't hard to figure out yourself.
Next chapter, on writing stories!