Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Gene Wolfe on Writing: a Summary

Everything I know about writing, in no particular order

web.archive.org/ web/ 20030814163044/ http:// subnet.pinder.net/ onwriting/ index.asp?name=./ References/ 19970101wolfe.htm

    The hardest worked cliche is better than the phrase that fails.

    If you can't make a section good, at least make it short and get the pain over with.

    Try to have something interesting on every page.

    Appeal to the senses. What colour was it? How did it smell, sound?

    Main characters should be striking in some way, attractive or grotesque or interesting in appearance.

    Spear-carriers should be more or less ordinary for contrast. If you can't decide which a character is, make him striking.

    Perfection is not sexy.

    Never name a character Fred.

    Vary sentence structure.

    Adopt a style suited to the viewpoint character.

    Unless a paragraph is very short, the antecedent should be given before any pronoun referring to it.

    At least every second speech should be identified: "Fred said."

    It is better to repeat a word than to use a series of far-fetched synonyms.

    Get facts right. If you wish to flout fact (for example, have argon the principle constituent of the atmosphere) provide some explanation of how the change came to about.

    If you wish to flout a widely accepted theory, such as relativity, provide an alternate theory.

    Unless there is excellent reason not to, maintain a single viewpoint throughout the story.

    If you are stuck for an idea, write down a list of ideas you don't like or feel are too slight. Eventually you will hit several you like pretty well and one you will like a lot.

    Try to combine several ideas in a single story.

    Compress your information. When you are describing a scene try to choose details which will develop your character. When you have to move your character somewhere describe the scene.

    Choose specific details.

    Examine your modifiers ruthlessly. What do they add to the story?

    Cut adjectives, adverbs, similes and metaphors which do not shed light or develop the narrative voice.

    Don't repeat yourself.

    Give the reader small surprises: moments of humour, delightful metaphors, something that jolts.

    Understand your characters. No one is a villain to him/herself. No one is clinically sane if you know them well enough.

    Resist the temptation to overdescribe. Your readers have their own imaginations.

    Resist the temptation to overexplain. Your readers are smart.

    Almost any interesting work or art comes close to saying the opposite of what it really says.

    Advice from Jack Kerouac: "When you get stuck, don't think about the words. Imagine it better and keep going."
Gene Wolfe