In Which I Give You Bad Advice About Writing

(Warning: Shameless self-promotion and overall cockiness below.)

So readers, you know how I’m The Best Writer Who Ever Lived™ and everyone keeps asking me for writing advice?

Well, today I’m going to take the most frequently asked questions about writing and answer them to the best of my abilities. Remember to take my advice with one or two thousand grains of salt, because it’s sure to help you along the way.

“What should I write about?”

Write the story you’d love to read. And you should make sure to include zombies. Or unicorns. Preferably both.

“How do I create memorable characters?”

The main thing is for them to have contradictory characteristics. Real people are filled with contradictions, but only the good fictional characters are. Take Omar Little from The Wire—a gay stick-up man who robs drug dealers for a living, and unlike every drug dealer on the show, he never swears. He’s basically Robin Hood: a drug stealing Robin Hood who kills people. There’s so many contradictions within his character, and that’s what makes him one of the most memorable characters in the history of TV.

It also helps if these characteristics actually stay consistent and don’t change when the plot depends on it. The characters should control the plot, not the other way around.

“How do I choose good names for characters?”

1: Make sure the name isn’t hard to pronounce. (I didn’t realize I was badly mispronouncing Hermione’s name until I did a class presentation of the book and everyone laughed at me.) 2: Make sure the name fits the time period, along with the person’s background. You’ll rarely see a guy born in in 15th century China named Jake, and 3: Don’t give the same name to characters in the same book. Stephen King did this in It and it (teehee) annoyed the hell out of me.

Also, read this. 

“Should I outline my story or just make it up as I go along?”

I prefer to go with a little of both. Know all the major plot points, but have a little fun getting to them.

“How do I write good female characters?”

(95% of the people asking this will probably be male. 4% will be aliens, and the last percent will be divided between dogs, cats, frogs and sharks. Animals can write too, you know.)

Well, they’re a lot like male characters, with some anatomical differences. Oh, and they tend to get all uncomfortable every time I ask one of them to the prom. Not sure why.

No, but seriously: give them strengths and flaws and quirks and hobbies and contradictions and all those things regular people have, regardless of gender. The same is true for all minorities some writers shy away from writing.

And remember that making her a Mary Sue is just as bad as making her a boring damsel-in-distress, so don’t do it.

“Hey Matt, why is your hair so magnificent?”

I use conditioner before shampoo, which does wonders for your hair, as it turns out.

“How do I get past writer’s block?”

Lower your expectations, and try again. You could also switch to another project for a bit, or you could read a book.. Reading’s fun. You could also try to get yourself into a situation where you’re trapped in a house with Annie Wilkes and you’re forced to write the book or else she’ll kill you (or worse). You could also try experimenting in recreational drugs, but I doubt it’ll be successful.

“How do I become a better writer?”

First you must write a lot and read a lot. But you can’t just read any old book to be a better writer; no, you have to read quality content. By which I mean: my blog. The only way to truly improve is to read all of my posts at least three time over. Then comment on each post (remember to make it at least two paragraphs long) about how smart and clever I am. That’s how Rainbow Rowell became famous, you know.

“How Do I Write Great Antagonists?”

S/he needs to 1) Be a real threat, not some pathetically incompetent screw-up,* 2) have an actual motive besides being one dimensionally evil, and 3) Consider themselves the hero of their own story. People, no matter how evil, rarely ever think of themselves as an actual villain.

Other tips you should follow:

  • Don’t bother reading writing-advice articles (except this one). They all say the same things, just worded differently.
  • Don’t spend paragraphs describing every detail of a person’s appearance. Only write about the physical characteristics that make them unique. Don’t bother with the character’s “average-length eyelashes” unless they end up being important to the plot.
  • Add dragons. Every story could be improved with a couple dragons thrown into it.
  • Endlessly bleak stories are boring. Bring in a little bit of humor to brighten the mood.
  • Include a dog in your story.
  • Include me in your story.
  • Do footstands to build your stamina. They’re like handstands, but on your feet.

That is all. I hope I’ve helped brighten everyone’s future, by writing this post.

*However, this could work if you’re writing a comedy.

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19 Replies to “In Which I Give You Bad Advice About Writing”

  1. Some intelligent points here. I feel we should all remember that dragons and zombies can kill a story or bring it to life. I love including dogs. They do the craziest things. I also have a library of fantastic books about ‘the craft of writing’ and I know that it’s well worth collecting, reading and learning from others, (that’s if you really want to learn the trade and become really good.) The most important thing is to believe in your abilities as a writer. I’m not saying, be cocky but be bold and spruce up your ego with positivity! Creating something from scratch is the most amazing creation there is. 🙂

      1. Fist Bump?!

        The book, then I later watched the movie. Misery is one of my favorites from Stephen King. I happen to like Needful Things and Desperation a lot more though.

      2. So on a scale of one to seventeen, what would you rate them?

        The Gunslinger is probably the weirdest Stephen King book I’ve read yet, and I mean that in the best way possible. Though the next two books in the series (haven’t read the last four yet) easily surpass it in terms of strangeness.

      3. Needful Things a 15 and Desperation a 17. I really REALLY enjoyed them, I even went on an annotating roll as I read them… (for fun!! :O)

        Hmmm…. I’ve always had the urge to read them, but them being a part of a series just..it’s enough for me to not pick them up. The urge gets stronger though all the time. How do you rate them?

  2. You can tell when you actually write stories when you know how to pick out the actual good advice in this advice post. No, I’m kidding it’s all great advice. (I’m not just saying that to collectively lower the competition 🙂 )

    1. Completely agree about Game of Thrones. The characters’ contradictions allow them to make choices than manage to be completely consistent with their character and yet surprising at the same time.

      Omar’s the best. I’ve only watched the first eight episodes so far, but he’s already my favorite character.

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