Worst writing advice I ever got? Honestly, this is a hard question because if someone is giving it as advice, it’s because that tip worked for them, or is a standard for most, if not all, writers.
For me, just like in most life situations, there is no BAD advice. There is advice that is given with bad intentions, or without all the information, or with a perspective that doesn’t work for the situation. Those can all apply to writing, too. There is also taking good advice and going way overboard.
That is what I find happens the most with writing. Taking a good rule, and being so rigid or methodical about it that you end up with bad writing or a boring story.
Here a few examples…
The rule is to try to not use adverbs because it’s “lazy” writing. That there are better verbs you can use or a better way to describe that scene.
The girl walked slowly.
The sentence gets the point across, but let’s be honest it’s pretty basic and even boring. An improvement would be to use a better verb.
The girl plodded along.
But what about this example?
Her screams abruptly cut off as her lips sealed shut.
Is the sentence boring? Does it seem poorly written? Or too beginner-ish? I don’t think so. Sure you could cut the adverb and get the point across, but personally I can hear the aburpt end to sound with it in. You could reword the sentence, but part of the impact is that the sentence is as abrupt as the action happening. If you try to reword it, you’d get something like:
Her screams cut off in an abrupt manner as her lips sealed shut.
This fix makes it awkward and rather stiff or overly formal.
Her screams cut off, the sudden silence almost jarring, as her lips sealed shut.
If the goal is to keep the sentence abrupt as well, you start losing that feel with the addition.
So yes, there are ways to remove every adverb, but they’re not always better.
Remove Every Instance of “There is” “There was” “It was”
This one I do search for and kill as many as I can. The idea is that both the noun and the verb are lazy/boring/vague. You can use a stronger noun, a stronger verb, or both. But there are (snicker because I just used those words) instances when killing it just makes for an awkward sentence. I find this is especially true if it’s related to spoken dialogue. Or even internal dialogue.
How about this one…
There was more?
Sure you could reword it. But you might lose some of the meaning or make a worse sentence.
More was to come?
Too formal in most instances.
More, there was?
Okay, I went a little Yoda there.
No way could she handle more.
Now it’s no longer an internal dialogue moment, and internal dialogue can be important. You can break up long descriptions with it, convey the characters inner turmoil with it. So cutting it just to reword a sentence seems pretty dumb.
While we’re on the topic, I’d like to point out that, one of the most famous opening lines in literature breaks this rule:
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.
Try rewording that and see if you get the same impact.
Don’t Use Verbs for Dialogue Tags
This is one I will get in a knock down/drag out with editors over, particularly with my paranormal romances. I have editors who insist you can NOT use words like moan, bark, choke, gasp, and so forth, as dialogue tags. They insist that, for example, one can not both speak and moan at the same time. That it’s physically impossible.
I disagree! Ask me demonstrate next time you see me. Lol.
It’s not that the character is physically doing both things. It’s describing how the words are coming out. Does the tag help the reader hear how those words are being uttered? I say YES!
Example my way: “Right there, John,” she moaned.
She’s moaning the word as she says it. She could be moaning in pleasure or pain. The scene would set that up. But next time you see Meg Ryan do that famous orgasm scene in When Harry Met Sally, tell me she’s not moaning some of those words.
Example without: “Right there, John.”
Sounds so emotionless, right? No oomph.
Example how editors want to fix it: “Right there, John.” She moaned.
Uh. Now she’s saying the words matter-of-factly, and then moaning after the fact. This particular fix gets even funnier with dialogue tags like “barked.”
“Drop and give me twenty,” the drill sergeant barked.
“Drop and give me twenty.” The drill sergeant barked.
Aahahahahaha. Don’t tell me that works. It makes it sound like he’s barking like a dog after he says the words. Meanwhile, changing the dialogue tag to a standard “said” is so boring. So is “ordered” IMO. But barked… you can hear that, can’t you?
My way is clearly better. 😉
My point is, rules and advice are made or given for good reasons (usually). But always remember that when you are writing, YOU own that story. Rules are there as guides, but if I feel bending or even breaking them will make my story better, damn strait I’m going to do that.