The Greatest Writing Advice You Will Ever Receive Anywhere Ever. For Serious.

A writing forum I frequent started a thread on unhelpful writing advice. Writers like these types of discussions because we have all received bad advice from time to time and now that we know that it’s bad advice, we like to point and laugh at all the silly rules. I’m starting to wonder now though if all the bad advice was really the best advice because it’s through the bad advice that we figure out that no one knows what the fuck he or she is talking about. To that end, I present to you the greatest writing advice you will ever, EVER receive:

1.  Never start a sentence with a conjunction. You should also try to avoid other little words like or, the, a, I, we, they.. in fact don’t start with a word which is less than five letters long. You should also try to stick with nouns.  Explosions is a good word to start a sentence.  See how long it is, and exciting.

2. Character names should be memorable so avoid common names like John or Mary.  But you should also avoid names which are *too* memorable like Ishmael.  If you have a character named Jasmine her friend should have a name with fewer syllables which starts with a different letter, preferably a vowel like ‘Ann.’  The same goes with Jasmine’s boyfriend who should be called ‘Oliver’ who, based on the same rules, should have a friend named ‘Victor.’  In fact you should probably plan out all these names before writing the story so you know the entire cast of characters you’ll be dealing with down to the gas station attendant Maximillian and his wife Una whose names would be unknown to the reader completely if not for your clever way of having a character read their name off the nametag silently to themselves to show how deep and introspective you they are.

3. Have a memorable signature.

4. Don’t write in first person. It’s dead.

5. Also dead: present tense, adverbs, adjectives which don’t engage the senses, disco, fishmongering, third person omniscient point of view, space elevators, second person, nice little girls who turn out to be evil, mean little girls who turn out to be nice, kids playing in a field and discovering the ancient sword of the once and future king, ebay, the internet, traditional publishing, self publishing, and sarcasm.

6. Commas are like elephants,

7. If you can’t write a decent first draft in one sitting, well, maybe writing just isn’t for you.

8. Always know the end before you write the beginning.

9. You don’t need an outline. Sometimes the best ideas come ‘organically’ from the text. Kindof like how the best coffee has the label ‘organic’ right there on the bag.

10. The opening paragraph of your story should really grab the reader. Like, imagine the reader is a person on the subway platform and your story is the psychic Starbucks barista who is about to take the train home when suddenly she has a vision and she knows anyone who gets on that train is going to die and she needs to tell that anonymous subway platform individual that he NEEDS TO TAKE THE NEXT TRAIN OR HE WILL MISS HIS SON’S BIRTHDAY PARTY FOR THE REST OF HIS LIFE.

11. The opening paragraph should also answer the questions who, what, when, where, why, how, how long, to what extent, why not, wherefore, why is this significant, who is John Galt, do you agree that, how would you classify, is that you, Bob?

12. Your characters should be so expertly drawn that they are the ones that decide what it is that they want to do and say. You should indulge them. They are your children after all.

13. “Don’t allow your character to remain inactive for more than 2 hours.” –Gareth Jones

14. Writing is writing. And also revising and rewriting. And rewriting is writing with a writer’s eye towards restitution. Editing is still editing except when it’s copy-editing which is like copy writing without caffeine.

15. Use the following formula to determine the optimal number of words you should be writing every day:

Words in WIP                     | 2x – 64 |

__________    x    _______________

Hours in Day             Words written in WIP

Where x = number of professional markets from which you have collected more than two rejections.

16. You should avoid reading as much as possible in order to avoid accusations of copyright infringement.

17. You should only read things in the genre you wish to write in so that you can become familiar with the tropes and not accidentally confuse your epic fantasy readers with a grizzled cop mourning the loss of his partner.

18. You should read outside your genre as much as possible because reading is good for you.

19. You should only read stuff which was published 50 years ago because anything old is ‘classic’ and therefore better than anything which has come out since. Don’t worry if this results in stories which emulate old fashioned ideas about sex, race, equality and other irrelevant things.  It was called the golden age for a reason, right?

20. You should make your stories as long as possible since most markets pay by the word and that means you’ll get a bigger check.

21. When a critique group says it’s too long, what they really mean is it’s too short because you haven’t spent the time to make them really care about the character and they lose interest. Thus you should get into the habit of doing the opposite of what people suggest. If they say it’s too short, make it shorter. If they say it’s too confusing, put in footnotes to all the academic articles from which you cobbled together your explanation of faster than light cloning time travel elevator technology. If they say it’s bad, they probably mean they don’t want you to submit it because you are the competition after all.

22. A lot of people say that writing is a job and you should treat it like one. This is untrue. Writing is more like an unpaid internship in a really non-prestigious field where you’re subjected to a hostile work environment filled with narcissists, misogynists, racists, and other people of a loud and uncouth manner. And if you don’t love every minute of it, clearly you are DOING SOMETHING WRONG.

23. You should maintain an active online presence even if it cuts into your writing time.  Everyone knows that name recognition is the single biggest factor when it comes to buying something. This is called marketing and a lot of people get paid a lot of money to do that in other fields.

24. Everyone remembers what you wore to that convention that one time. Everyone.

25. Be an asshole. Everyone respects an asshole.

26. Show, don’t tell. Except when you need to tell, don’t show. You know webcomics? Writing a novel is exactly like that, so you should go watch television and see what other facets of the visual medium you can incorporate into your art. Also, learn to draw. An illustrated version of your story is a great way to get an editor’s attention in the cover letter.

27. If you don’t know, make it up. Research is for non-fiction.

28. If someone tries to tell you that what you wrote was offensive in some way, you can ignore the criticism and win the argument instantly by claiming it’s all subjective.

29. Never ever ever ever ever ever ever under any circumstances use a word other than ‘said’ to describe dialog.

30. No word should repeat more than 5 times in a single page. Zero exceptions.

31. If it doesn’t rhyme, then it’s not a poem.

32. Rules are stupid and you shouldn’t follow any of them.

Wow, I could go on like this all day but I have an exam in the morning so I leave it to you to add your favorite bits of writerly wisdom in the comments.

Cabin in the Woods

…is excellent. You should go see it.  Really.  I want to go back just to catch all the bits of dialog I missed the first time, and maybe to see it with people who will laugh at the same things I laughed at–because I think the other people in the theatre may have thought I was a sociopath.

Anyway, Cabin in the Woods isn’t what I want to talk about right now.  What I want to talk about is why the fuck the world hates women.  It could just be synchronicity messing with my head, but lately it seems that everywhere I turn is evidence that the world *hates* women. In the past 24 hours I have been introduced to:

Project Unbreakable which features pictures of rape victims (men and women, but mostly women) holding signs of statements made by attackers.

And speaking of rape: Scott Bakker’s Neuropath is so gross I don’t even know how to process it.

Oh and reproductive rights are apparently a thing of the past now?  In Arizona you might be carrying life before you even have sex! Oh and in Kingsville, Texas you’re going to need your father’s permission before you can get rid of his rape baby.

And there’s been other stuff too but strangely it didn’t come crashing in until the previews for Cabin in the Woods.  I don’t remember how many trailers there were, but at one point I realized that I hadn’t seen a single female main character.  First was Expendables 2 which featured a bunch of aging male action stars.  Then there was some ‘chase people’ movie which did have one female: a 12 year old Asian girl who is apparently good at memorizing numbers and needs to be saved by some grizzled cop.  Finally there was Looper which DOES have Emily Blunt but as far as I can tell she’ll just be some random love interest who has to shoot a gun at some point so the movie can claim that it has a ‘powerful’ female character.

And that’s supposed to be SF… the “progressive” film genre.  Hey, you know who had power and agency?  Ellen Ripley and Newt.  Also SF.  Also TWENTY FIVE YEARS AGO.  How is it that I have to go back in time to find any character I want to identify with?

The Tor blog did a post on how movie posters tend to feature women’s asses instead of their faces and while I agree, it’d be nice if the problem was just with the poster and not the entire movie.

You know what also irritates me?  Right now I want to type a certain sentence.  You know the sentence… the apologist sentence.  The nice girl sentence.  The one that goes ‘Now I’m not against attractive women as heroines but…’ which is starting to sound an awful lot like the ‘I’m not a feminist but…’ sentence.  How weird is it that I feel this urge to define what I’m against by first proactively stating what I’m not against?  Can’t I just say it? Isn’t it OBVIOUS how Joss Whedon’s films and tv shows can only be considered feminist because there is such a TERRIFYING ABSENCE of female characters who do things OTHER than scream, take their tops off, and die?

I am against films which treat women like objects.  I am against the culture which makes people forget that women can have jobs too, and that black people can play roles other than thugs.  And why is it that black women only get nominated for academy awards when they play maids, slaves and drug addicts?

This is getting a lot more rambly than I intended… and I’m not even sure what my point is other than… go see Cabin in the Woods.  Get yourself worked up about how the world sucks and then laugh and clap as EVERYONE DIES.

</spoiler>

Oops.

There Were Going to be Poetry Posts Today…

…but I caught plague.

In the meantime, go read poetry archives like Verse Daily.  I linked to some of my quick favorites via twitter last week.

Also, I think Stone Telling has a new issue.  You should go read that too.

And hug a poet.

And don’t buy the winning Mega Millions ticket; it’s mine! Mine and my friends’! I’m not entirely sure of the grammar of possession, but you get the idea.

Plague.

Hugo

Hugo is a very pretty movie. From its opening sequence as the gears of a clock morph into the streets of Paris, to the long shot of a little boy winding through the back corridors of a train station as he cares for all the clocks therein, to the shine of the automaton’s steampunked innards–it is a very, very pretty movie.

And not much else.

I know it’s based on a beloved children’s book, and I am certain that in that form, the adult characters make a strange sort of sense. In a book, the menacing stalking of the watchman and his dog is probably a real threat. You never know when he’s going to show up, after all until suddenly he is there, between the periods. In a movie, we see him. We know where he is looking and where his next step will take him. In a book, his pratfalls may be funny as we fill in many of the details through our own imaginations. In the film, they felt oddly contrived and lethargic.

In a book, the aloofness of the adults, their callousness, their refusal to listen is part of the language of children’s lit. The POV of Hugo or the little girl adds a filter through which we interpret adults as a child would. In a film though, I don’t give you that leeway. I have to interpret facial expressions and intonation as an impartial observer. And quite frankly, the adults in this story were, in a word, cruel.

So people stopped watching your films. How tragic, how terrible. How strange that men returning from war don’t want to see rockets piercing the eye of the moon. These men who had seen their friends and brothers and classmates choke to death on gases, their intestines explode outwards, full of lead and metal, how dare they ignore these happy, fantastical films. I am so sorry for you.

Sure being ignored, forgotten is sad but it is certainly no reason to be angry–to be furious at those black, clacking heels. It is not enough to steal the notebook of a small orphan boy, to allow him to walk in shorts through the snowy streets of Paris, to give him a handkerchief full of ashes when you know, for you must know, that this was the one precious thing in this child’s life. Does he owe you a debt for stealing your toys? Absolutely. Does that give you the right to steal from him? Hell fucking no.

Not to mention the wife who, upon being asked by her goddaughter to explain why her godfather doesn’t want to speak of his work, says ‘You are too young to bear such sadness.’

Umm. Her parents are dead. How’s that?

There were snippets of beautiful observed stories, things which I’m sure were more effective in the books and would have stood out even better had the main plot been worth following.

And the terrible unsubtletly of it all! Stare into space and suddenly find yourself in a flashback! There may have even been diddly diddly diddly music and hand waving… I can’t really remember. Witness awkward exchanges between children which did so little to advance the plot(?) I can barely remember them as distinct episodes. Mysterious book giving man! Mysterious librarian who knows everything! Mysterious key given for NO REASON WHATSOEVER!

Ugh. I think my brother summed this movie up best: Martin Scorcese thinks children are stupid.

Whalefall

Editor’s Note: This story is by John. Do you know John? You should know John.  In fact, you probably already know John.  When the shadows linger on the windowsill as you make your morning breakfast, John is there.  John is in the incessant beep of your alarm clock, the slight chill of winter mornings, and he is responsible for all those missing socks from your dryer. John is there. John is everywhere.

And he might just be plotting your death.

Whalefall

by John Murphy

It sank through methane-ammonia skies and seas, dead at last and blotting out the sun. It was a whale of a thing, a continent of flesh. It had swum the seas and flown the skies for thousands of years. If other whales marked its passing, they showed no sign. If they mourned or had ceremonies for their dead, there was no indication from below.

The whale sank slowly, decomposing as it went. Its enormous swim bladders leaked their last breaths out slowly into the greater seas. Its coppery blood leaked in streams while the more daring among the scavengers leaped for it from their accustomed pressure zones.

The silvery scavengers were kilometers long, slivers of light in the darkness. They flashed reflected brilliance as they leapt, flew, and swam. The whale had consumed them by the thousands in life; in its death their payback would be swift. The bravest and strongest among them leapt first and highest. A few of them caught hold and attached to the great dead beast. Their flesh split to expose teeth like icebergs along their four-lobed jaws. They gobbled whole chunks, burrowed into its sides.

As the whale descended it hit the first pressure boundary, a phase change, and its descent slowed. Its surface writhed and flashed with silvery snakes that whipped their tails as they burrowed tunnels into the mountain of decaying flesh. Though they feasted for ages, their ravenous hunger still left the enormous whale nearly whole.

The snakes’ burrows provided escape to the gases building within the beast. Its last meal fermented, feeding generation upon generation of microbe. The warm gases within blew out of the holes in the carcass, great rank blasts that boiled the cold liquid methane. As the whale sank and the pressure grew, the fat silvery snakes abandoned the body to began their search for new dinners, for live whales beginning to slow and stink of death.

Down deep where the light got dim, carbonaceous cysts attached themselves to the whale’s flapping skin where the snakes had torn it open. They settled into torn green flesh and took root. The soft creatures inside put out their violet tongues to feed on the warm fluids still seeping out, and they multiplied. They drew calcium from the ocean, copper from the blood, and iron from the skin. They constructed hard shells like bubbles, constructed scaffolding like threads. Descendants built on the remains of their ancestors, painting stripes as their pigmentation changed over generations. Layers of blood green and bone brown and fang white fanned out from those first few cells.

The torn flesh mineralized and became hard. The blue skin became pale shingles. The colonizing cysts grew like frost crystals across its surface. Food and waste filtered down from above, settling on the corpse like snow. It weighed the beast down to where the pressure wrung it out, and the great body grew dense.

The whale continued to sink, but slowed. Even encrusted with calcium and iron, carbon and copper, even armored like a machine of war, it eventually came to a rest at an equilibrium depth. There was black frigid sea above, and blacker sea below. The body was warm still. Colonies of microbes burned through centuries of energy stored in the whale’s cells, and this furnace produced warm methane, butane, and acetylene. To the denizens of the middle deep, sensitive to infrared or more sluggardly wavelengths still, the whale shone like a sun.

On this shining warm thing landed stranger things still, ancient spores among whose descendants numbered the whale itself. These silicate-encrusted cells found purchase in the warm soft bed that had grown over the corals that had grown over the whale’s blue skin, and after a time they began to hatch.

These new cells basked in the warmth and the flow of nutrients. They divided again and again. They began as their descendants had long ago to cluster together for protection or structure. They called upon distant genetic memories to once again grow whip tails and oars like hairs. They rooted themselves to their home flesh, or they grew limbs and made themselves motile. They became as numerous and varied as the stars, and they spread across the surface of their new home on the flesh of their long-lost cousin.

The whale was not motionless, despite its buoyancy. It turned and twisted so that cold methane washed over its extremities. The creatures calling the whale home adapted, or died. They partook of the flesh or the nutrient snow, or they partook of each other. They became big or they became small. They became dangerous or they became numerous.
Some of them became clever. Not many of them, but in a furrow in the whale’s ruined flank arose a small colony of creatures that became aware of their surroundings and of themselves. They saw each other in the dim glow of the whale’s putrefaction. They learned to start chemical reactions to warm themselves. The learned to armor themselves when they swam high and could be seen by hungry things. They disturbed the icy methane and in the pressure waves they named themselves. They spoke the names together, telling each other stories about themselves.

They worked together, these creatures, when they did not work against each other. They slew the big, the small, the dangerous, and the numerous, until they considered themselves safe. They spread across the whale, learned to eat new things, and to speak of new things. They spent less of their time staying alive and more of their time exploring the contours of their great dead home. They explored their thoughts and told each other stories about being alive.

They learned that their surroundings offered things of permanence: below the soft mat of dead things were the calcium and copper shells of the corals that had suffocated long ago. They learned to chip this hard stuff to build tools and homes and empires. They fought over the choicest bits. The losers went away only to find choicer bits still. Some stayed and were content a little while. Some returned for revenge. They told each other stories about revenge and victory and justice.

They dug beneath the corals. They found flesh and eventually bone. They found cavernous ruins of powerful muscle cut ragged by the silvery snakes, and smooth veins and wide open buoyancy bladders full of bizarre creatures, descendants of microbes from higher altitudes and of the survivors of the whale’s last meal. They told each other stories of discoveries and riches and brave explorers.

The clever creatures mapped their world and began to see symmetries, analogies between the whale and themselves. They began to look away into the great dark ocean and to wonder whether there were other whales out there, infested with clever creatures like themselves. They told each other stories about those creatures.

They took great pieces of bone and coral and built great structures. They captured the warmth and the nutrients streaming from the body of the whale through apertures old and new, and they put these things to use making themselves strong and happy and rich. They told each other stories of their accomplishments, and that drove them to accomplish greater things still. They wrote down their stories and thought about their stories and wondered what other stories were told inside the stories, about the tellers themselves.

Generations passed. The clever creatures came to understand that there was more to see than what they could see. They learned what light was, and learned to see what they could not. They looked up and saw dimly through the sea and sky, a sun. They looked down over the edge of the whale and saw nothing. They looked hard, but still saw nothing except faint flashes of light. They told each other stories about those flashes. It did not escape their attention that falling things fell down.

Some of the clever creatures built cages of copper and calcium and iron and plastic, and they stocked their cages with nutrients and they swam from their home. The creatures that did that saw wonderful views of their home, but they either came home after finding nothing, or did not come home at all. The cages became comfortable and the excitement gave way to amusement, and they never seemed to go as far anymore.

The nutrients in the whale could not last forever. Thousands of thousands of generations had lived and died in its belly since its death, feeding upon the whale and each other. What streamed out through the holes that the silver snakes made and the holes that the clever creatures made, went out into the cold methane sea for other creatures to consume. The whale’s body began to cool.

As the whale cooled it lost buoyancy, and began again to sink. The clever creatures sank with it, and they understood that they sank. Their little bodies were not suited to too much cold or too much pressure. They became frustrated with their situation and with each other. And they disagreed what to do about it.

Some of them saw hope in the little bone cages. They built cages larger than ever before, learned to make them not just buoyant, but learned to heat them or to evacuate cavities and make them float. Many of the clever creatures died learning to do this, because their bodies were not suited to too much heat or too little pressure. They reinforced the little bone cages, separated the cavities. They built bigger and bigger, built cities that floated up to where the whale had been. They hewed great chunks of the flesh of their home and brought it along. Some of the creatures — they argued themselves whether these among them were clever or not — built enormous cages the span of the whale’s sharp teeth. They stocked their cages with flesh and coral and reminders of home, and they went off and away.

The clever creatures that remained tried many things. The whale sank slowly, after all, and truly clever creatures could adapt. They made themselves warm and protected themselves with their tools, or they played with their genes so they would enjoy the cold and withstand the pressure. Some of them dug down into the flesh where it was warmer. They too adapted. Over the generations, some of them changed their minds and tried one idea or another. Some refused to believe that the whale — their whale — was sinking, that it had ever been anywhere other than where it was just then. Life became hard for the clever creatures. Some of them left in even fancier cages than the earlier travelers made, and wondered whether they might meet up again. They told each other stories about dying, and what comes after.

Generations passed among the clever creatures, and the whale still sank. The pressure slowly grew, the temperature slowly fell. The clever creatures would not have been recognized by their ancestors, but they had good lives by their own reckoning, and sometimes found meaning in their lives and their passing. Eventually, there were no more of the clever creatures at all.

The pressure grew and cracked the coral plates. The whale’s flesh froze. All of the cities the clever creatures built crumbled and washed away as the whale’s great body turned and twisted. New things came to nibble at it, armored things, like the cages made by the clever creatures. They had eyes as wide as flippers. They made light in bursts and flashes and saw the reflections. With each flash they tore a tiny piece from the whale, tore away flesh and coral and the detritus and monuments of the long-dead clever creatures.

The whale’s pitted bones were exposed to the ocean and began to dissolve. With a great shuddering, the body twisted in a powerful current. Its spines broke and its body was rent in two. The exposed flesh and bone flowered in the dark. New things took root in the receding flesh, things of magnificent hidden beauty and horror.

At long last, the whale came to rest on the floor of the sea. It was eaten by and became home to new things, old things that long had lived in the basement of the world, undreamed of by whale or snake or clever creature, things with claws and tongues and pinching teeth. Some of these things were in their own way clever as well.

The mountainous body of the whale grew over with living things. It lay among similar mounds at the Stygian depths of a planet-wide methane sea. It sighed out the last of its warmth, and never moved again.

At the top of the world, where the seas turned to skies, a whale made its last leap of joy and became still. After a time, it began to sink.

Originally published in After Ever After

John Murphy is the nom de plume of a swarm of small fast robots. They are completely and utterly harmless — nothing to worry about at all.