Grain Of Salt Writing Advice

I have to get this out of my system.

Not that I'm going to whine and complain to you, I won't do that, not really.

Today I want to talk about writing advice. First off-

It's everywhere.

You can't turn around without running into an article on the latest way to "trim your manuscript" or "write a killer first chapter". There are hundreds of books out there just on the craft of writing. Some are very excellent, some are tosh. The problem is there is so much advice out there, it's like walking through a field of land mines.

DON'T, FOR THE LOVE OF PETE, PUT AN ADVERB IN YOUR BOOK! ANYWHERE! THEY'RE THE DEVIL'S HERPES AND YOUR MANUSCRIPT WILL SHRIVEL AND PUS UNTIL IT'S NOTHING BUT A STINKING CARCASS OF WHAT MIGHT'VE ONCE BEEN A STORY!

I just picked up a traditionally published book by one of the big five that recently got optioned for film. Guess what I saw within the first page? An adverb. Yep, on the very first page. Did you see I mentioned traditionally published and optioned for film? Okay, good.

PASSIVE VOICE WILL MAKE THE READER FALL INTO AN APOCALYPTIC SLUMBER THAT OF WHICH HASN'T BEEN SEEN SINCE RIP VAN WINKLE! DO NOT USE "WAS", DO NOT USE PAST TENSE! EVERYTHING MUST BE PRESENT, FIRST PERSON!

Blech. I mentioned this in a post I did a while back, you can read it here, but it's worth saying again. Know who uses passive voice so much, "was" makes up half the manuscript? J.K. Rowling. 'Nuff said? Okay.

SHOW, DON'T TELL! THERE WILL BE NO CHARACTER FEELINGS OR INSIGHT INTO THE PLOT OTHER THAN WHAT THE CHARACTERS DO AND SAY! NO THOUGHTS! NO FEELINGS! JUST DIALOGUE AND ACTION!

Three words for you- King, Leonard, McMurtry.

My point here is this: writing advice should be taken with a grain of salt. And here's where I'm going to get all hypocritical and give you some writing advice but pa pa ta ta sh sh shhhhh, just be quiet. Let me tell you what I think is above all this other nit-picky advice:

Story and voice.

You heard me. Your story is your baseline from which everything else grows. It is the very first rung of the ladder you climb toward the roof that is publishing. Your story must have fantastic plot twists, great characters, and it must be told confidently and boldly, which brings me to voice.

Voice is how you tell the story. How you push the reader along with the words you choose. It's how you construct your sentences and describe your characters. Voice is close to style, but not quite. If style is the clothes you wear, voice is the body you keep beneath them.

Story and voice, voice and story. These two things above all else are the most important to me. I can overlook adverbs and passive writing if the story is rip-roaring and the author's voice is hypnotic. That's what I focus on the most in my own writing. Beyond that you can fix things. You can hunt adverbs down and skewer them on a delete-key lance. In the second draft you can take out "was'" that don't need to be there and speed up the pace. These things can be tinkered with.

But story and voice are your bedrock. Start there and move up.

And don't listen to every little piece of writing advice you hear.

Ah pa pa ta ta sh shhhhhh. Quiet.

;-)