Dragon Age lead writer David Gaider has penned a new blog post that summarizes the monumental task he had of judging four hundred works of submitted fanfiction and spells out a few "dos" and "don'ts" that he feels aspiring writers should keep in mind. Some good pointers (and hard lessons) in here:
1. DON'T start with description. This is a difficult point, as writers will have different opinions on when and where to use description some will include scads and scads, while others will include almost none at all. I fall a bit into the latter category, preferring to give readers a feel for a character or a place and leave the rest to their imagination rather than spout off a laundry list of descriptive terms. So I may be a bit biased. Regardless, of all the places you should include description, the very beginning is not that place. You have one paragraph, maybe two, to grab a reader's attention. Don't waste it.
2. DON'T pull your punches. Not every piece of writing needs to be an exercise in emotional turmoil, but if that's what your writing promises and where you see it going then don't suddenly veer away and abandon that promise. There could be many reasons to do so. Maybe the idea of such harshness made you sad, or you loved your characters too much to do something so terrible. Trust me: writing is not meant to be a pleasant endeavour, not when you do it well. Some may accuse you of sadism, but they'll love you all the more for it. and those characters of yours? If they could talk to you, they would not thank you for sparing them, for in gratifying yourself you have robbed them of immortality.
3. DO pay attention to flow. In creative writing, flow is more important than language. Some writers will abuse a thesaurus so badly you half-expect to find it wandering dazed alongside the highway, dress in tatters and lipstick smeared across its face. They laden their prose with words they fancy because they think it makes their writing more poetic. It doesn't. It makes your prose heavy, and while there might be some readers who appreciate that, it won't make you a better writer. Be sparing with your language, and realize there isn't a sentence so clever it shouldn't be cut if it doesn't assist your purpose which is telling a story. Cut out all your extra that's and but's and adjectives and adverbs (I often need this advice, myself). Slaughter your word-babies mercilessly, for that pain will put you in the habit of not over-populating your prose to begin with.
4. DO pay attention to your scope. Scope is something with which I am intimately familiar, for it is my eternal enemy in narrative design. Short stories are called that for a reason: they tell a small story, not a big one. Save your sweeping, epic sagas filled with flashbacks and multiple points of view for something larger. For now, decide what piece of a story you're going to tell. Make it small, and use only the tools absolutely needed to reach your ending. Don't introduce any more characters than you require, or even give the ones you do introduce names if those names are extraneous. If you end up writing something too large, consider starting over and cutting your scope rather than cutting cutting is important, but you run the risk of it making your story choppy rather than lean if you cut too deeply.
5. DO the unexpected. There were some entries which made some delightful twists in their tale, without that twist coming across as forced. and there were others who, sadly, wrote something pedestrian when their set-up promised so much more. A well-written tale that goes nowhere interesting is no better than a poorly-written one. If your writing feels like work, and where you end up doesn't excite you, then write something else. which is not to say that every single word should be honey-golden brilliance dripping from your pen. If you expect that, you will paralyze yourself. When you're finished, however, what you've made should be satisfying. You'll still think it sucks, because you're a writer, but at the very least you should feel confident that you stretched your boundaries. even just a little.