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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Best Known and Most Familiar Quotes about Writing

Write What You Know, Kill your Darlings, are oft-quoted sayings about writing.  But where did these quotes originate and should they actually be applied?  We've gathered up some information about them below. 

Write What You Know

These might be the most quoted, misquoted and misunderstood words ever uttered about writing. Still, Write what you know may well be the first words aspiring authors hear from teachers, friends and other writers.

Who said them first? Who knows?  Though there are similar quotes, the origin of the quote, write what you know in its purest form has been lost.  And it may be a good thing. In the words of P. J. O’Rourke, Creative writing teachers should be purged until every last instructor who has uttered the words "Write what you know" is confined to a labor camp. Please, talented scribblers, write what you don't. The blind guy with the funny little harp who composed The Iliad , how much combat do you think he saw?

In any event, write what you know has become a cliché.  It is open to many interpretations.  Some take literally-- to mean that you should not write about things you have not personally experienced.  Others interpret it to mean you should write about what you love, what you care about.  In the words of Valerie Sherwood,  Don’t write what you know—what you know may bore you, and thus bore your readers. Write about what interests you—and interests you deeply—and your readers will catch fire at your words."

Kill your Darlings

This quote is most often attributed to William Faulkner (1897-1962), though it has also been attributed to Mark Twain (1835-1919).  Probably both of them said and practiced it. So what does it mean?  Many misinterpret kill your darlings to mean one should strike out any fine passage.  Kill your darling” doesn’t mean a writer should murder the muse or throw out fine writing.  However, every writer has “darlings”, little anecdotes or bits of wisdom they would like to stuff into their current work even though they know the passage doesn’t quite fit.  If a witty phrase or observation fits, use it, if it doesn’t add to the overall purpose of the novel you are writing, then it should cast aside.  What it means in a nutshell: cut the bull.

The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.

This quote is attributed to Mary Heaton Vorse (1874-1966), though there are many variations.  Author Kingsley Amis (1922-1995) said, The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of one’s trousers to the seat of one’s chair.  Same difference.  The meaning is perfectly clear.  If a person does not go about the task of writing and do it often, the book will never get written.  (I once heard a variation of this quotation as apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair and when you get up twenty years later you’ll be a writer)  As Thomas Edison said, Genius is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.

Other Quotes that Commonly Appear in How to Write Books

 Writing is like prostitution.  First you do it for love, and then for a few close friends and then for money.

One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it.  Anton Chekov  

There are three rules for writing a novel.  Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.
William Somerset Maugham

Writing is easy. You only need to stare at a piece of blank paper until a drop of blood forms on your forehead.
Douglas Adams

Everything stinks till it's finished.
Dr. Seuss

For more writing tips, check out our book on writing:  Fiction: From Writing to Publication.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Don’t go in the Cellar—Why do Characters take Foolish Risks?

We’ve all read the passage--the heroine is home alone when she hears a strange noise coming from the depths of the house.  What could it be?  The reader holds a breath silently praying, don’t go down there.  So what does our heroine do?  Call 911?  No.  Get help? No.  She heads right for the cellar stairs and goes down, often calling out in a loud and frightened voice, “Is anyone there?”
Does the heroine expect a serial killer/burglar/monster to reply “Just me?”  What would she do if there was an answer from below?
Here are examples of some hare-brained decisions that characters often make in books and movies:
***Go down the cellar steps, or into the basement or out into an empty yard after hearing an ominous noise.
***Walking in the direction from which they just heard a suspicious gunshot.
***Keep on walking after hearing footsteps behind them, dogging their path, when they could easily get to safety.
***Take a bath after receiving a threatening phone call. 
***Find an opportunity to make love while on the run with vampires/ the police/a serial killer in close proximity.
***Keep searching for a serial killer after discovering a fresh corpse or a suspicious-looking bag of bones in a house, park, or other secluded place.
***Enter a cave or other dark place unarmed and alone when there are rumors a killer, monster or vampire is present.
In certain genres, such as suspense, gothic romance, and horror, a little foolish risk-taking is expected.  In my above example, how else is the author going to get the heroine in jeopardy? If she doesn’t go down into the cellar, if she calls the police instead, the story is dead in the water.
When faced with this dilemma, authors should try to make the protagonist’s decision as rational as possible so that a potentially dangerous situation doesn’t leave the reader in stitches.

If the writer can make the reader understand the whys of it, they will be more likely to forgive a character for making an impulsive decision. How can a writer accomplish this?  Maybe the protagonist doesn’t trust the police, maybe their fearlessness is a character flaw that often gets them into trouble. While protagonists must often venture into dark and dangerous places, their actions should be justifiable and make as much sense to the reader as possible.  

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Low Gore Halloween Movies

Low Gore Halloween Movies for the Squeamish from Ghost Stories to Teen Thrillers

Slasher movies and zombie flicks aren't for everyone. Many films can be found that keep the spirit of Halloween which are high in atmosphere and low in gore.

For those of us who can't handle high gore films such as Saw, Hostel, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, these ever popular movies have plenty of thrills while keeping the gore at a minimum.

Alfred Hitchcock Movies

Movies that have a gothic atmosphere are a good pick. The 1963 version of the Hitchcock thriller The Birds, based on a work by Daphne du Maurier, is about a California seacoast town experiencing a sudden, unexplained attack of birds of all kinds. The black and white setting creates a stark mood and air of tension. Some other Alfred Hitchcock movies to consider are:

•The Lodger
•Strangers on a Train

Ghost Stories

Ghost stories are usually high on atmosphere and low on gore. One good film to check out is the 2001 release, The Others, which stars Nicole Kidman. The film takes place just after World War 11, where a mother lives with her two young children in an isolated country house, The children suffer from a rare disease in which they are unable to be exposed to sunlight. This film has a very spooky mood and gives the watcher a sense of mounting suspense as they begin to see strange people in the house.

•The Sixth Sense
•House on Haunted Hill
•Ghost Story
•The Haunting
•The Changeling

Stephen King Thrillers

The 2007 film titled 1408, based on a Stephen King short story, refers to the number of a haunted room in a hotel. No one is allowed to stay in room 1408. However Michael Enslin, an author of books about haunted locations, decides to spend the night. A number of frightening occurrences ensue that toy with his perception of reality and unreality, and threaten to break his mind before the night is through.

Other Stephen King Favorites:

•Salem’s Lot
•The Shining
•Silver Bullet
•Secret Window

Teen Thrillers

There are many teen thrillers that aren’t too high on the gore scale. Two remakes of Japanese films, The Ring and The Grudge, rely mostly on atmosphere for their thrills and chills. The 2002 film The Ring centers around a cursed videotape which causes the viewer to die seven days after watching it. In a similar vein, The Grudge and its sequels are about a curse that is born when a person dies in the throes of a powerful rage.

Other teen thrillers that are light on gore are:

•Jeepers Creepers
•When a Stranger Calls

These teen thrillers contain some gory scenes, but are still not as gory as slasher films.

•Scream (1,2, and 3)
•I Know What you did Last Summer

Good films with a Halloween atmosphere can be found regardless of tolerance for blood and gore.

For a similar teen read try Three to Die. THREE TO DIE only $3.99