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Lessons Learned from Authors

2410-153219Written by
Paul Briggs

Most of what I know about writing I learned from other writers. Sometimes they were literal teachers — my creative writing instructor at Washington College was a novelist named Robert Day — but usually I learned from reading their works and seeing what they did right or wrong.

One lesson came from a writer at alternatehistory.com: Never put the same tragedy in the backstories of two different characters, or it will turn into a running joke. (The writers of Avatar: The Legend of Korra could have profited from this.)

From Orson Scott Card (yes, really): This is something Card learned from a teacher named Francois Camoin: “When you have a word embodied in a story, the word itself should never appear.” Card applied this to his short story “Eumenides in the Fourth Floor Lavatory.” To pick an example everyone’s likely to be more familiar with, read The Runaway Bunny and notice how the word “love” isn’t in it.

From Harlan Ellison: That thing you think is too controversial to write about? Go ahead and write about it. Ellison once wrote a short story, “Croatoan,” about aborted fetuses surviving and growing in the New York City sewers. It got pretty much the reception you’d expect. He survived.

From H.P. Lovecraft: Know your strengths and weaknesses. Lovecraft couldn’t write dialogue that sounded like people talking, so he seldom wrote dialogue at all.

From Arthur Machen: Never write a paragraph so long it doesn’t fit on the page. When I tried to read those extra-long paragraphs of his, it felt like my eyeballs were holding their breath, if that makes any sense.

From Vladimir Nabokov: If you use a word the reader isn’t likely to know, make sure they can guess it from context, or at least find it in the dictionary. I’m still a little irritated over that phrase “lithophanic eternities” in a crucial passage ofLolita. My best guess is that a lithophanic eternity is supposed to be better than a non-lithophanic one.

From Naomi Novik: The rule “show, don’t tell” doesn’t apply to everything — just the things that matter. Carefully violating it can be a good way to draw a distinction between the details of a scene that are actually important and that the reader should remember, and those that are just there to make the scene feel complete. I learned this from reading a paragraph in which Novik described a conversation in terms of social dynamics without once quoting anybody or saying what they were talking about. Try reading Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death,” and notice how detailed he is in describing the suite of rooms, and how vague in describing the revelers.

From Terry Pratchett: A humorous tone throughout most of a novel doesn’t take away from its ability to handle serious matters — in fact, it can make the serious moments all the more poignant.

From Harry Turtledove: It’s better to create one complex and interesting character than a hundred that are barely sketched out. (Turtledove has done both.)

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Introducing: The YAAR Blog!

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Greetings, fellow bookaholics!

Allow me to introduce ourselves. We are the Young Adult Author Rendezvous, a stalwart group of authors, writers and fanatics from all over the globe. Though most of us write in the Young Adult genre, quite a few of us write for younger audiences as well, from Middle Grade all the way down to picture books for preschoolers.

We have banded together as a group because we all have stories to tell, and, if I may be so bold, we are darn good at it. Our library of books is extensive, and we hold that you will browse our selection of books that are guaranteed to entertain readers of any age.

But more than that: we want to give you all the benefit of our experiences and our vast array of knowledge. Though we come from all walks of life, we are united by our love of books. Because you can’t be a writer without that, and, I think you’ll agree, there is a lot of ground to cover.

Starting immediately, people who visit our site regularly will be treated to blog entries from many of our members, with a new entry scheduled for every other day (usually the odd-numbered days, though we may fill in a few even-numbered days if there is a demand for it).

This is going to be SO MUCH FUN!

@YAARendezvous #YAAR #fiction

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