SHULTZ’S WRITING ADVICE
TIPS: A CAUTIONARY TALE”
“THE REAL DEAL
ON BITS OF WRITING ADVICE THAT ARE COMMONLY BANDIED ABOUT”
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you
really are a beginner. But that’s okay; Google it and
you’ll find an explanation. It’s great advice.
Beginners tend to “tell” too often. But darn it,
sometimes you just don’t have the time to show everything. It
takes longer to show, and you don’t need to show everything.
You need to pick and choose. And you need to tailor it to your story.
Show the important stuff. Tell the less important stuff. If
you’re writing a “chick lit” novel, show
those emotions. If you’re writing a techno-thriller a la Tom
Clancy, you might just want to tell those emotions and move on to the
important parts of the story.
Once again, Google it if you don’t know what I mean. Some
people are adamant that said-bookisms should never—or at
least very, very rarely—be used. Others don’t care
at all and use them regularly. If you page through the works of
successful, award-winning, best-selling authors, you’ll find
many of them using said-bookisms, some frequently, some moderately. In my
experience, it is other writers (read: critique groups) who get hung up
on said-bookisms. What do I do? I use them sparingly. I personally think
they sound silly after a while. For example,
“A knife works on the principle of an inclined
plane,” Bob explained.
To my eye, “explained” is
redundant. Duh. Just say “said”. And whichever camp
you fall in on this issue, let’s agree that
“said” is not one of those words that distracts
readers if it appears too often. It’s invisible. No one will
But the vast majority of readers—even well educated, widely
read readers—won’t notice the redundancy of
“explained” in the above example, either. They
So, to you
anti-said-bookism Nazis out there: get a grip. No one cares but you.
To you said-bookism
junkies: please, PLEASE, for the sake of my sanity,
don’t have characters hiss dialog with no S’s in
it, and don’t ever have them ejaculate dialog. If the story
requires something else to be… well, never mind. Writers can
have long, successful careers without ever using that word, and I'll leave it at that.
GET YOUR GRAMMAR PERFECT:
Authors who’ve published multiple novels or numerous short
stories in top markets don’t get all hung up on grammar. They
are almost never interested in grammar feedback when you critique their
work. Why not? Because they make a mistake every several thousand words (and usually what seems to be a grammar error is a typo). You
should be about as good.
This is one of those pieces of advice that beginners often toss out the
window. It’s crazy. They’ll adhere to
“show-don’t-tell” fanatically and ignore
this one. “I don’t need good grammar,”
they say. “My story is great. My characters are fantastic.
The editor will fix my grammar.”
Well, guess what? Bad grammar stinks. It’s like this.
You’re sitting in a movie theater and someone in front of you
farts. The stench is awful. You like the movie… or want to
like it, but you can’t, because you’re too
distracted by the terrible smell. It’s hard to get into a
romantic scene when you’re gagging on the fug in the air.
So now I’m reading your novel. It really draws me in;
I’m hooked. Then I see a grammar error. Then another. And
another. I’m no longer absorbed in your story.
I’m thinking about what a lazy slob you are, or at least
trying to decipher what you meant to say. Like farts in a movie
theater, I can’t enjoy the story if the environment is too
Furthermore, if you’re one of those people who claim your
story is great despite the bad grammar, guess what? There are a dozen
other writers submitting to the same editor or publisher whose stories
are just as good as yours… and their grammar is clean.
Guess whose story gets published?
I suppose you can limp along with a critique group or friend who fixes
all your grammar mistakes for you. As long as the copy you send to the
editor is pretty clean, you’re fine. But God bless your
critique group if they’re willing to put up with fixing your
grammar forever. Learn to write yourself. Let them catch the occasional
mistake that slips by. Not a thousand of them.
Some writing rules are mostly baloney. Some are mostly
true. Don’t follow any of them blindly, but don’t toss them
out the window too quickly, either.
Why story is king.