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Creative Writing Tips from Dakota State University, Madison, South Dakota. (classic repost)

14 Jul

A Flashback! classic- Updated!

I was feeling a bit bloggy today but I lacked the proper topic. So I decided to do some googleing and after I put my pants back on I went online and searched “creative writing tips.”

Wow. There is a lot of bad advice out there. I should know, I’ve given enough of it.

So without much further ado, or fanfare, whatever, here are some actual creative writing tips (and my commentary) from actual “experts” at the Dakota State University, Madison, South Dakota.. In my humble opinion (being a humble man) this school is probably better than Kingsborough but worse than Apex Tech. At least at Apex you get to keep your tools when you graduate. At Dakota you are taught by tools.

(And I was just kidding about the pants thing. I’m wearing cargo shorts.)

Fiction writers learn to write by writing.
Thank God this isn’t true of other disciplines. Just imagine if brain surgeons learned to do brain surgery by doing brain surgery.
A compulsion to write is very useful.
A compulsion to kill, however, is not.


Readers of fiction want very much to find the writer’s work to be believable.
What, you mean that the Lord of the Rings didn’t happen? All those tears I shed for Frodo as he was possessed by the One Ring? I WANT TO BELIEVE!

The writer should write about what he or she already knows through experience or can learn about through research.
Do you know how much research J.K. Rowling did before she wrote the first Harry Potter book? Decades of mystical research at forbidden Tibetan monasteries, thousands of hours pouring over ancient voodoo manuscripts in Haiti, and untold months chanting the Panoptic Mantra to summon Nylarthotep to school her in the ways of the wizard. What? She was an unemployed single mom who wrote the book on a train from Manchester to London? Shit.

Long works like novels can have many subplots and secondary climaxes.
Insert your own dirty joke here.

Flashbacks have been overused. A story is stronger when it runs chronologically
So George Lucas was an idiot for starting Star Wars with episode four. What an EPIC FAIL. Lucas went broke soon after The Phantom Menace came out. After all, we had already seen the meaty middle of the story, who would care how it began? I’m sure no one was interested in how Luke’s father became Darth Vader.

This reminds me of a story……

Back when I was in high school, I took a creative writing class. My teacher explained that flashbacks have been overused in modern literature and that they should be avoided.

The reader should be able to identify with and care about the characters.
You do, of course, identify with Hannibal Lechter. You do? Stay away from me.

The main character should be introduced before setting, so that the setting can be introduced from the point of view of the character.
But didn’t God wait until halfway through the Bible to bring in Jesus? What a crappy writer that God is.

Weather can be an important part of setting.
“It was a dark and stormy night.” If it is good enough for Snoopy it is good enough for me.

Profanity and vulgarisms can be used where they seem appropriate. Overuse amounts to author intrusion and can interrupt the reader’s belief in the story.
This is especially true for rap. Please never curse in a rap song. It is vulgar.

However, don’t try to find too many different ways to say “said.”
“Hello,” he lied. Hmmm……

The theme of a story is often abstract and not addressed directly in the narrative.
Especially in my blogs.

Don’t mention just a tree; say what kind of tree it was.
          Master Spy Edward “Old Knickers” O’Brien had been on the trail for days. His quarry, Hans Brickface, had been meeting with several suppliers of highly illegal ammunition and O’Brien’s superiors at MI5 were concerned that the weaponry would be funneled to the IRA for terrorism against British politicians.
          Brickface had cleverly set up a meeting with his contacts in the center of Leary Park in Glasgow. More than just hiding in plain sight, it offered an unobstructed view in all directions. If he were being followed, his pursuer would have to break cover and show himself.
         Master Spy O’Brien needed to get closer in order to identify the contact. It was vital for the security of the nation. The only cover was afforded by a large tree near Brickface and his contact.
          Larches are conifers
in the genus Larix, in the family Pinaceae. They are native to much of the cooler temperate northern hemisphere, on lowlands in the far north, and high on mountains  further south. Larches are among the dominant plants in the immense boreal forest of Russia and Canada.
          They are deciduous trees,
growing from 15-50 m tall. The shoots are dimorphic, with growth divided into long shoots typically 10-50 cm long and bearing several buds and short shoots only 1-2 mm long with only a single bud. The leaves are needle-like, 2-5 cm long, slender (under 1 mm wide). They are borne singly, spirally arranged on the long shoots, and in dense clusters of 20-50 needles on the short shoots. The needles turn yellow and fall in the late autumn, leaving the trees leafless through the winter.
          Larch cones
are erect, small, 1-9 cm long, green or purple, ripening brown 5-8 months after pollination; in about half the species the bract scales are long and visible, and in the others, short and hidden between the seed scales. Those native to northern regions have small cones (1-3 cm) with short bracts, with more southerly species tending to have longer cones (3-9 cm), often with exserted bracts, with the longest cones and bracts produced by the southernmost species, in the Himalaya.
          “Good thing this isn’t a spruce,” thought O’Brien. “They afford little cover this time of year.”
          As he inched his way to the tree, the Master Spy broke a small branch underfoot and the sound alerted Brickface. The criminal whirled and faced O’Brien.
          “Ah, not so-Master Spy Edward O’Brien! Did you really believe that you could capture me by hiding behind a maple tree?”
          “It is a larch,” O’Brien cleverly riposted.

Becoming a skilled typist (on a word processor) is extremely useful to a writer.
Shakespeare learned that lesson the hard way.

Avoid starting a story with dialogue…
“What utter rubbish!” I argue. “Evocative dialogue can draw a reader into a story!”

Don’t use clichés.
But I digress.

Avoid overused words
Has “blogslinging” caught on yet? Damn, I was sure that was going to be the hot catchphrase of the summer.

Every word can be used appropriately somewhere in some story.
If there is an appropriate story for “vaginal discharge” I don’t want to read it.

Scorning the work of a writer does not make that writer a better writer.
That’s for all you playa hatas out there.

Whatever rules or tips you read about writing you will be able to find some published work that violates them. Sometimes the violation is glaring and amounts to author intrusion. Other times the violation may actually help the story. Usually the latter occurs when the writer actually is an excellent wordsmith and deliberately, with great specific purpose, violates some rule or tip.
Finally, something that applies to me!

Thank you Dakota State!

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