Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Advice for writers

Over at "The Outfit" the writer Barbara D'Amato offers some short but sweet advice for would be novelists.

A sample of what she's encountered in some rough-but-hopeful manuscripts:
Too many adjectives, and especially too many double adjectives. Example: “The hot, amber sun rose over the wide, green lawn on that last, long day of my vacation.” The reader feels like he’s wading through a swamp. A good exercise is to take any three pages of the manuscript and go through with a red pen, asking, “Is this adjective necessary?” Also, see if you can show the same info by action, or by the reaction of characters in the story.
Click here (the post is dated Monday, August 14) for more helpful advice.

Incidentally, this "rule" about too many adjectives may apply to other kinds of writing. This passage from a movie review by David Edelstein is stuck in my memory:
My first professional movie reviews were written in 1982 at the weekly Boston Phoenix under the tutelage of Stephen Schiff, then a magisterial film critic as well as an exacting editor. Presented with a sentence containing two adjectives in succession ("Jason Tiddlywinks gives a funky, severe performance"), Schiff would say, "Choose one." "Well, gee, I dunno, the performance is funky but also kinda severe so you kinda need both." "Choose one," he would repeat. Squirming, I would direct him to eliminate an adjective and then Schiff, after a respectful beat, would strike the other. Where adjectives are concerned, there's no substitute for tough love.
Looking for more advice from a successful writer? Click here for the master's "Ten Rules of Writing."

Writing a screenplay instead of a novel? Here's a tidbit that yours truly--someone who has written over 30,000 pages of screenplays and thrown away over 29,000 pages of them--offers: try to avoid voiceovers and flashbacks. Yes, some great films use both devices; and, yes, certain scripts demand them; and, yes, I've used them in one of my scripts. Voiceovers and flashbacks are too often a crutch to bad writing and lame storytelling: maybe your script will be better if you write it without these tricks.

--Marshal Zeringue