16 writing tips from Everything I Know About Writing

John Marsden is one of my favourite writers. Here are some writing tips that spoke to me most from his book Everything I Know About Writing:

  1. Don’t use clichés or euphemisms. Come up with your own way to talk about reality. Be original.
  2. Be observant. Collect big and little stories.
  3. Include humour in a story. Is there any story that doesn’t have at least one humourous element?
  4. Stories will generally work if there is strong emotion or a change of status/battle for status.
  5. Conflict – A character can struggle with external conflict but they always need to have internal conflict.
  6. All stories come from experience. Some come from imagination as well.
  7. Imagination means to leave your mind and go into something else.
  8. Show, don’t tell – Telling is boring. The reader has nothing to do. There is nothing to be curious about. A reader will be interested if they are curious.
  9. Understate – don’t use too many strong words.
  10. Restrain the use of qualifiers – People often use qualifiers when they think their writing isn’t strong enough and they think the reader won’t understand without them. But qualifiers often weaken writing. E.g. ‘I just didn’t know what to do’ is weaker than ‘I didn’t know what to do.’
  11. Adverbs often weaken writing because they tell instead of show. They are also often tautologous. E.g. ‘Go away and don’t come back,’ he shouted angrily. Angrily isn’t required. The dialogue and the shouting already tell the reader he’s angry.
  12. Get rid of clutter. No need for long sentences and long words when short ones will do.
  13. Action – When writing gets boring, make something happen. Get the character to do something or make something happen to them.
  14. Use detail – It brings things to life. Use it for characters, settings, and to create tension.
  15. Use the senses – It also brings things to life.
  16. Voice and characterisation – Voice needs to reflect a character’s personality to bring them to life. Their voice should reflect their age, gender, race, class, occupation, etc. The words you put in a character’s mouth should tell us about them, more than they know about themselves.

What is the best writing tip you’ve come across?

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