Ira Glass on Storytelling


Two main building blocks

  1. Sequence of actions – anecdote – that creates suspense and raises questions along the way (and readers expect those questions to be answered)
  2. Moment(s) of reflection on the suspense and questions raised

Can have great facts, but boring execution of above; can have boring facts and excellent execution of above.

Difficult to find a real story. What about for fiction? Looking within? Is there a tipping point of personal memories that create a story?

Every story isn’t going to be great or usable. Need to learn to abandon crap. Don’t want to be making mediocre stuff. Like golf – looking for that one great shot that keeps you going until the next time.

When starting a creative career, your taste may be killer, but your ability is below what you like. You know that your work is crappy – need to get past this phase!

Common pitfalls

  • Trying to imitate something you’ve seen. Just talk like a normal human being – this could go for writing, too. Go with your own flow.
  • Not showing your personality interacting with other human beings. Can’t have too much “you” or too much of the other characters.

William Safire’s Rules for Writers

Remember to never split an infinitive.
The passive voice should never be used.
Do not put statements in the negative form.
Verbs have to agree with their subjects.
Proofread carefully to see if you words out.
If you reread your work, you can find on rereading a great deal of repetition can be by rereading and editing.
A writer must not shift your point of view.
And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction. (Remember, too, a preposition is a terrible word to end a sentence with.)
Don’t overuse exclamation marks!!
Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of 10 or more words, to their antecedents.
Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.
If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors.
Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing.
Always pick on the correct idiom.
The adverb always follows the verb.
Last but not least, avoid cliches like the plague; seek viable alternatives.

Tips For Editing Anything

From Clusterflock:

Understand the history of the medium you are working in.

Understand the best work that has been produced in that medium.

Balance your work against that understanding.

Balance your work against the best of your work.

Continually revise that understanding.

Writing Tips

Never open a book with the weather.
Avoid prologues.
Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said.”
Keep your exclamation points under control!
Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
Same for places and things.
Leave out the parts readers tend to skip.

Source unknown.

Bukowski on Writing

so you want to be a writer?
by Charles Bukowski

if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.
if you’re trying to write like somebody
forget about it.
if you have to wait for it to roar out of
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.
if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.
don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.
when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.
there is no other way.
and there never was.