Monday, January 19, 2009

Joss Whedon's Top 10 Writing Tips

On the other side of the pond, Danny Stack (screenwriter, script editor) had an opportunity to republish Joss Whedon's "Top 10 Writing Tips" online; check it out here.

Much of his advice is the usual good common sense, and translates well to noveling: finish the darn thing; every character has their own identity (even if they don't explicitly disclose it); listen (to your first readers, to your editor, to the guy on the bus).

I think the gem here, though, is #5: "Cut What You Love" -- I'm still puzzling over this one. There are certainly cases where I can see this being immensely useful: cutting can motivate unexpected changes in plot direction, and can tone down segments which sparkle for the author but come off as "cutesy" to the reader. Most importantly, well executed cuts can force a writer to subtly work missing information back into other scenes, instead of bludgeoning the audience over the head with their point.

Of course, I can also see this going horribly wrong: if the scene I remove is the keystone to my plot arc, I'll spend the rest of the week trying to mortar the remaining elements back together, and wind up with a ragged, slapdash structure.

The solution, at least for my writing style, is probably to cut early and cut often. If I can streamline my structure before I write anything significant, and reevaluate that structure on a regular basis, then the words I put down become less individually important, more flexible. I'll know which scenes are just there for fun, and which are critical for plot or character development. In the latter case, a well-defined outline will allow me to readily find places to re-insert missing information, and will help me see when I need to be explicit and when I can merely hint at certain elements.

Sounds good in theory. Now on to practice...

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