Note: This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post. Over the coming months I will be reposting certain pieces here, on my own site, because HuffPo already gets enough traffic. My apologies if you’ve read this before, unless you didn’t know I wrote it, in which case: I did! Tell your friends.
Greetings from the offices of Bad Advice for Writers!
We here at BAW strive every day to offer you, a writer, the very best bad advice we can, in easy-to-digest lumps of excellent terribleness. Whether you’re planning a novel, a screenplay, a short story, or a letter to your mother, if it’s fiction we’re here for you!
Let’s get going!
ADVICE #1: Begin sentences with the ending of the previous sentence as a way to deliver exposition
We all hate exposition here at Bad Advice, but agree that it’s usually necessary if we want characters to have had a life of some kind prior to our writing about them. (Note: yes we do.)
Sometimes the best way to deliver exposition is to drop all of it into the story as soon as possible in large piles, just like the “previously on…” bits that open up television shows. Readers will find this incredibly convenient and not at all distracting and awkward.
For a great way to sneak it in without being too obvious, try repeating the point of the first sentence at the beginning of the next sentence, to really nail down those details in the reader’s mind. We call The Staircase of Exposition.
She went into the bathroom. The bathroom where her mother killed herself. She killed herself because of him. And he was on his way over to the house. The house where her mother killed herself. In the bathroom.
See how story leads the reader, like a small mentally challenged dog, down the staircase?
This method also creates a dramatic tension in the reader, who will read this and think “I, too, wish to kill myself.”
Advice #2: Differentiate character dialogue by giving characters different names
If you’re a male author, you may have found it difficult to write dialogue for female characters, because manhood, testosterone, blah blah something.
Good news! It’s okay if all of your dialogue sounds exactly the same as long as you tell the reader who’s speaking, all the time! Proper use of dialogue tags means one of them could be a robot! It doesn’t matter!
Also, here are two solutions to the male-female dialogue problem that have proven success:
Solution #1: Write the female characters as if they were men, and cast women actors to play the roles. Not writing a script? No problem! Do the same thing only cast them as women in your mind! This is known as The Sorkin Technique.
Solution #2: Write the female characters as if they were children who relied on the male characters for guidance and support and to tell them when they are being wrong and confused and silly. Powerful men with adoring women orbiting them is just like real life. Interestingly, this is also known as The Sorkin Technique.
Advice #3: Never say “said”
When writing dialogue tags, you absolutely don’t want to use “said,” as in the following example:
“This is the most boring thing ever,” he said.
What you want to do is direct the reader’s attention as far away as possible from the dialogue. You don’t want them to even care exactly who is saying the thing they aren’t paying attention to. They should spend all their time reading a description of how it was uttered. Make sure the reader knows how big your vocabulary is, or, how big the vocabulary of your thesaurus is!
“Nobody will care what I say here,” he excoriated.
“That probably isn’t even a legitimate dialogue tag,” she inferred.
“Whatever,” he scoffed.
Other words you can try: lambasted, glottal-stopped, inveighed.
(Note: we at Bad Advice aren’t even sure what inveigh means, but it looks awesome, doesn’t it?)
If you use this approach we guarantee nobody will notice all the problems you’re trying to hide in your dialogue or the fact that all your female characters sound like men.
Advice #4: Punch up your writing with a creative use of homophones
Homophones are words that sound the same but have different meanings and different spellings. They are a class of homonyms, which are words that sound the same and have different meanings but the same spelling. (Note: we just looked this up a minute ago.)
Creative use of homophones can spice up any text.
Nobody was sure what was going to happen when he went over their.
See how the homophone–‘their’ instead of ‘there’–turned this from a normal, boring sentence to an exciting and confusing one? Instead of simply conveying information this sentence poses a question: “over their what?” Who owns the thing this “he” fellow is going over? What is the thing? The reader will be scrambling for the next sentence to find out! And when they get there and discover their question has not been answered it will create a new mystery: did the author mean ‘there’? Now you have them really thinking!
People may complain about this approach, but as you know most readers started out as small children, and most small children learned to read by reading aloud, so what you are really saying is, reader, return to that time of innocence, when you sounded out everything and also were probably only recently potty-trained.
Here are more examples:
The ranger was mauled by a bare.
This perfume has a lovely cent.
Their is a cereal killer praying on the hole city.
Remember: writers are artists–like Picasso–and homophones are one fantastic way to express one’s artisticness! Artistry? Artistry. A fantastic way to express one’s artistry! We aren’t using the wrong words, we’re painting a third breast and a second nose! We are seizing our creative selves!
That’s all for this week’s Bad Advice for Writers! We hope you have learned a lot from our incredibly bad advice. Next time: how spellcheck makes editors irrelevant, rhyming character names, and how rules about punctuation are really just guidelines.
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