Writing Guide

4 Pieces of Bad Writing Advice You Should Not Listen To

I’ve been in and out of various online and offline writing communities for over a decade now. In that time, I’ve seen some great writing advice and some really bad writing advice. 

Bad writing advice is often offered with good intentions. It sounds like good writing advice, but at best it isn’t really practical advice and at worst…it’s the blind leading the blind. I want to share four pieces of bad writing advice that I wish I had never listened to. I hope they help you avoid any pitfalls! 

Only Write When You Feel The Flow

I love those moments when I feel like everything is flowing, the story is coming alive, but if I only wrote when I felt like that, I would nothing finished or published. 

I think it was Neil Gaiman who talked about how if you go back and read your writing during those moments of “flow” versus the moments you just force yourself to get it down on paper, you’re not going to see a huge difference in quality.

Another tip with this: I have had a lot of writer friends over the years who wait to feel inspired. Many of them have never finished a project. You have to work when you feel it and when you don’t. Pushing through is the only way to get to the other side of things and finish your work.

Long, Flowery Text Is Better Than Basic or Accessible Writing

It’s easy to romanticize the writers that filled their stories with flowery prose. To be honest, the flowery stuff never really appealed to me, even when most of my friends were in a phase where they would be looking through their thesaurus more than actually writing.

Think about the last book you read that you loved. Did you have to read the text multiple times to understand what they were trying to communicate? Most of the time the answer is no. 

Good writing is usually concise and accessible. Even if you use big, beautiful descriptive words in your sentences, your entire sentence shouldn’t be filled with those big words. You should contextual cues and other more accessible writing so the reader can figure out what you’re saying, without having to pull out their dictionary. 

Write What You Know 

Okay, this advice works within reason. It is way easier to write cultures you are familiar with, to write about your own experiences and such. 

But do you think George Lucas knew what it was like to fight in a revolutionary space war? No. He pulled inspiration from a variety of sources and crafted a story he wanted to tell. It’s okay to break out of the box of what you know and go beyond it. 

If you plan to write a culture or experience that is very different from your own, you just need to do your research. Study that culture and talk to people with those experiences. One thing that is important to remember, is people are going to figure it out if you write from a place that isn’t authentic. 

I grew up the mountain west and when I read books or see TV shows that portray where I grew up in a way that’s not authentic, it sticks out like a sore thumb and oftentimes ruins the experience for me. That’s something to keep in mind as you write outside your box. Figure out how to make your writing as authentic as you can.

You Aren’t A Writer Until You’ve Been Published

I was sort of lucky, when I started really pursuing writing, I had a short piece of fiction published pretty quickly. It was validating, but that did not mean I was not a writer up until that point. I’ve sort of felt like I was a writer and a storyteller most of my life. Even after that initial publication, I’ve had other contracts and “sure thing” opportunities fall through, I’ve dealt with a lot of kind and not-so-kind rejections. 

That’s sort of the nature of the beast, when you’re a writer.

You don’t need someone else to validate you. If you write, you’re a writer. 

Free Resource

Why I Love the “Save The Cat” Plotting Method

I found the “Save the Cat”  beat sheet about a year ago. I can’t remember if it was recommended at a panel I had been to or if it came up as a suggestion on another blog I read, but I fell in love immediately.

Plot structure has been something I’ve been trying to study more and more over the last few years. I had read articles and books on the Hero’s Journey and Three Act Structure, and even though I could pick the plot points from those out of movies and books, I still struggled to use those structures to outline my own stories.

For one, a lot of examples I found for the Hero’s Journey had male protagonists and some gender bias written right into them. The gender of your protagonist isn’t the most important thing about them, but a large part of my goal is to write stories where the ladies are the heroes. There are definitely more examples now (The Hunger Games, Divergent, etc). I still found that Save the Cat was easy for me to learn and apply to my own favorite films and books, without bias.

Until I read Save the Cat and Save the Cat Writes a Novel. I highly suggest getting either of those books, even after you read this blog. I’m going to talk about some of the basics that helped me and share the worksheet I use for personal reference, but the books break it down in a detailed and easy-to-understand way that can’t be substituted in a quick blog post.

I’ve also created a worksheet that I used to have an “at-a-glance” look at my plot for NaNoWriMo, here’s a preview and you can grab the link to the PDF at the bottom of this post.

The Basic Structure

One thing that majorly helped me understand how the Save the Cat structure worked was seeing it applied to one of my favorite movies. 

The Winter Soldier is by far my favorite Marvel movie. My husband and I actually regularly cosplay Captain America and Black Widow. I know the movie by heart so when I found a beat sheet for it, it was easy to see how the story elements ran along with the plot. 

You can check out the beat sheet for The Winter Soldier and a ton of other movies here. For me, once I could visual the parts and elements of the beat sheet, I could start to create my own.

Here are the basics:

Act 1 

Opening Image – This sets the tone for the book and establishes what the “ordinary world” is like. We get a taste of the main character’s problem.

Set-Up – We learn more about the “ordinary world” before the adventure begins.

Theme Stated – This is the main theme of your story, stated by someone in the story to your main character. They don’t understand the theme yet. That will come over the course of the story.

Catalyst – This is like the inciting incident, it kicks off the action and now things are starting to change for your main character.

Debate – Your character has to make a choice based on the catalyst. The main character may doubt their ability to move forward. 

Act 2

Break into Two – The main character has made their choice and it’s time to start the adventure. The world of act 2 should be an upside-down or opposite world from the “ordinary world” either literally or figuratively.

B Story – The B Story usually centers around a love interest or close friend of the main character. You can have multiple B Stories in a plot. These characters help teach the main character the theme of the story.

The Promise of the Premise – The character goes on their adventure and explores the premise that the book has set out.

Midpoint – This is the point where the main character gets what they think they want, but they realize it’s not really what they need. A lot of act two is your character trying to solve their problem the “wrong” way.

Bad Guys Close In – This one is a little self-explanatory. The bad guys take their shot, whether they are physical enemies, the main character’s insecurities, or other entities. The main character has to keep going and keep fighting.

All is Lost – This is a lot like the Catalyst, it’s a call for the main character to act against bad odds. They may have lost friends, lost their will to move forward, or realized that they’ve spent a lot of time and effort for nothing. They may even lose more in this section, to really shake their hopes and motivation.

Dark Night of the Soul – This echoes the Debate in the first act. The character has hit rock bottom and they have a choice. Give in to the darkness and give up, or try again. Try something new.

Act 3

Break into 3 – The hero rallies behind a new idea, new motivation, a new will to try. The world of the third act combines the first two acts. It synthesizes the ordinary world and the upside-down world into a new combined world for the third act. Our hero is still the person at the start of the story, but now they’ve gained skill and wisdom.

Finale – The Climax! The main character has learned the theme, they fight and they win.

Final Image – This tends to echo the opening image, but now everything is different. It highlights the change and the journey that has been taken.

Grab the worksheet here:

https://app.box.com/s/z39sujjyvxiwlyi3dpcm45qsopt5uuuj