Don't Write Strangers as Strangers
Advice to Writers | Writing Advice Blog
by Jon Winokur
23h ago
One assignment I give my beginning fiction students is to read James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room. There are so many things to learn from that novel. I ask them to write one page to try to imitate Baldwin. Sometimes students realize how hard it is to write just one page of good writing. In Giovanni’s Room, Baldwin has one passage about taking a train ride. I point out to my students that he describes all the strangers as intimate friends. And he describes an intimate lover as a stranger. I think that’s what you want to learn from Baldwin. You don’t write strangers as strangers; you write str ..read more
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Sequential Causality
Advice to Writers | Writing Advice Blog
by Jon Winokur
2d ago
Sequential causality is generally considered to be very important in plotting. It is often thought to be the difference between a simple story, which just presents events as arranged in their time sequence, and a true plot, in which one scene prepares for and leads into and causes the scene that comes after it. RUST HILLS ..read more
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Thous Shalt Not Mix Thy Metaphors
Advice to Writers | Writing Advice Blog
by Jon Winokur
3d ago
Thou shalt see what thou writest; and therefore thou shalt not mix thy metaphors. For a mixed metaphor is proof that the image therein contained has not been seen with the inner eye, and therefore such a metaphor is not a true metaphor, created by the active eye of imagination, but stale jargon idly drawn up from the stagnant sump of commonplace. HUGH TREVOR-ROPER ..read more
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There's a Sureness to Good Writing
Advice to Writers | Writing Advice Blog
by Jon Winokur
4d ago
There's a sureness to good writing even when what's being written about doesn't make all that much sense. It's the sureness of the so-called seat of an accomplished horseback rider or a sailor coming about in a strong wind. The words have both muscle and grace, familiarity and surprise. If forced to choose one writer of the 20th century who has these qualities most abundantly, I would name Vladimir Nabokov, who makes me want to take back everything I said about adjectives, except that each of his is chosen as carefully as an engagement ring: "On her brown shoulder, a raised purple-pink swellin ..read more
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The Best Characters Are the Most Frightening to Write
Advice to Writers | Writing Advice Blog
by Jon Winokur
5d ago
To write what you know needn’t mean a fictional rehashing of your own circumstances: it sometimes means taking a single strand from your own life – a small incident, an inexplicably resonant encounter, an unnamed feeling – and giving it to another, a fictional creation with whom you share not race or gender or history, but something both less defining and yet also more profound. A writer cannot make only characters who resemble her; she must allow herself a literary transgression, even if she is not certain she can pull it off – the best characters ..read more
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Some Books Refuse to Be Written
Advice to Writers | Writing Advice Blog
by Jon Winokur
6d ago
There are some books that refuse to be written. They stand their ground year after year and will not be persuaded. It isn't because the book is not there and worth being written—it is only because the right form of the story does not present itself. There is only one right form for a story and if you fail to find that form the story will not tell itself. MARK TWAIN ..read more
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The Shopping List
Advice to Writers | Writing Advice Blog
by Jon Winokur
1w ago
Simply this: you sit down and make a list of the ten things that have to happen in your novel—the character actions or physical events without which your story simply cannot occur. Then, when you’re sure you’ve got pretty much the ten major “event beats” or character issues nailed down, you break each of those ten things into its own section and list the ten things that have to happen surrounding that event or supporting that character action. You take your time over this work, because this is the skeleton of the body of your work to come—the physical / emoti ..read more
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Flannery O'Connor's 10 Rules
Advice to Writers | Writing Advice Blog
by Jon Winokur
1w ago
1. The writer should never be ashamed of staring. There is nothing that does not require his attention. 2. Art never responds to the wish to make it democratic; it is not for everybody; it is only for those who are willing to undergo the effort needed to understand it. 3. If there is no possibility for change in a character, we have no interest in him. 4. Fiction is about everything human and we are made out of dust, and if you scorn getting yourself dusty, then you shouldn't try to write fiction. It's not a grand enough job for you. 5. The beginning of human knowledge is through the senses, a ..read more
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The Secret Is Not to Panic
Advice to Writers | Writing Advice Blog
by Jon Winokur
1w ago
The only thing I've got better at as the years have gone by is I've grown more resigned to the fact that it comes hard. You realize that hesitation and frustration and waiting are part of the process, and you don't panic. I get a lot better at not panicking. I get up every morning early if it's a writing day and I will do nothing else but write that day. But the secret is not to panic if it doesn't come. CLIVE JAMES ..read more
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Don't Take Yourself Too Seriously
Advice to Writers | Writing Advice Blog
by Jon Winokur
1w ago
Don't take yourself too seriously. Take the work seriously, take the time to do it everyday, but don't get all bent out of shape about being a struggling artist. If the pleasure doesn't outweigh the pain then stop, for goodness sake. Life is too short. Oh, and disconnect from the Internet; that bugger will distract the living daylights out of you. SONYA SONES ..read more
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