Writing for the YouTube Generation

The attention span of our YouTube Generation – 30 seconds or less.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

In today’s world of mass media consumption, how do I make my writing stand out?
—Nelly Bridget, Waltham, Pa. 

If you plan to get your reader for the next thirty minutes, get them in the first thirty seconds.

Why?

You’re dealing with internetizens that, on average, don’t watch a YouTube video for longer than 30 seconds. People watch slow, and they read slower.

What’s catching them and keeping them?

Short paragraphs.

Enticing lead-ins — “Advanced healing and regenerative procedures offered to disabled veterans. The cost? Mandatory reenlistment, first in line for combat.”

Narrow questions — “Who consumes the most science fiction today?”

Distilled answers — “The one reason you can’t write a science fiction novel anymore.”

Unresolved solutions —

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).

Metaphorically Speaking…

Ever metaphor you didn’t like? Wait, no – but yes, maybe I did.

(That was lame.)

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

What make a good metaphor, cultural or otherwise?

—Jaime Latcheson, Franklin, Pa.

Whoa. People don’t ask such questions these days. Most just assume that can write because they can string a sentence together. Bravo.

This could make for a whole series, but I’ll pass.

Extended metaphor

This is where you “come out and say it” by not saying it, a la Moby-Dick in Moby-Dick (an extended metaphor about, the universe or something) or the Mississippi River in [anything by Mark Twain]. Like a symbol, it’s presence pervades, backdropping the story with underlying, unspoken meaning.

So make it big, but not obvious. A mural explaining the character’s history? A wall of hieroglyphics? No.

Apprehension

Metaphor is both won and lost on its audience. Good luck if you’re plying your trade in science fiction and fantasy, because only you will get the references if you’re writing about “her eyes were bluish, time-refractive orbs that shone with the steadfastness of a pulse controller,” or “Charl’s reign was a fire-coated, scorpion-tailed Wyrxshith raining down spite and misery upon the peasants.”

Make it recognizable, unless your readers are you. 

Getting too fancy

Let’s take this example (from Wikipedia, no less): “The man’s arm exploded with pain, spiderwebs of fire crawling up and down its length as the tire of a passing car crushed it.

Exploded with pain? I get that.

Spiderwebs of fire? Huh? You lost me. I don’t care if you’re aiming for shape. Even if you’re able to get a spiderweb to burn for longer than a second, I’ll be damned if you get it to crawl.

Getting creative

“Her face radiated, a rising sun of happiness working her way through her dainty features.”

“He stared ice cold into the obsidian rock of night.”

Oh. My. God. I have never before seen happiness compared to sunrise, nor cold compared to staring before! You must be a genius, an unparalleled craftsman among writers. I would never have thought to join such images. Amazing.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).

Time Travel: DOs and DON’Ts

Travel writing? Why, yes, I’m fond of the sort. Evocative, painterly, introspective, resplendent. Taking my couch-planted duff off to places I’m not spending money to travel.

Oh, you’re talking time travel? Get in line.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

Greetings Curator of Blog [designation Writing All Wrong]:

I am Citizen #306765899. You may list me as “Brent Staples.” I inquire after the state of time travel in the writings of YEAR 2012. Thank you.

—”Brent Staples,” City NA9083

Hey 306765899, perhaps I should be the one asking you about how things “are cracking” in 2086 or whenever. Is redheadedness a crime where you live? I do worry about that.

I’m going to forgo opinions and instead offer sorely-needed dos and don’ts for this round of time travel.

DON’T reinvent the wheel.

Science has proven that every writer has given at least one consideration to writing time travel fiction. And many have. You’re following in the sunken footsteps of many who’ve done this before: Wells’s The Time Machine, Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, and God’s The Bible. Don’t shoot for a better wheel. Just make a good one.

DO your research.

If you’re sending characters back in time, then you’d better give a proper picture of what it was like back in the day. I’m not falling for a wooden-toothed Washington or a dragon-less court of King Canute. Same goes for future travels. It’s not guesswork: find future editions of Popular Science or postdated tech blogs that cover the science of your target era.

DON’T delve too deep into how time travel works.

If you’re not strapping on the suspenders of disbelief, then you’re in the wrong business. It’s nice to have some working knowledge of the intricacies, sure, but I’m not reading your book to find out how the heck I can warp back to 2nd grade on my own and duck when that stupidface kid punched me. Unless you’re writing a fictional textbook. That’s an idea.

DO exaggerate.

“But you said—” I know what I said, but if I wanted a history book, I’d read that. Get the facts right (Abe Lincoln was the 16th President, Hitler was a Nazi) before you take the necessary liberties (Abe Lincoln whooped his debate opponents in fencing, Hitler had plans for a Jew-seeking missile [soon thwarted].)

DON’T go gimmick.

Time travel is a common fascination, but an uncommon art. Before you sit down to write time traveling fiction, make sure that this is the best possible idea you have. Avoid using time travel as a novelty. It’s like a rocket. Pretty nift in and of itself, but not when you’re buckling it to the roof of a car. I know you want to “drive faster,” but there’s a better way of going about it.

DO write a good story, no matter what.

Great fiction wins. When your book’s pages meet the fire, burned in punitive pyres of creative purgation, may its mourners not say “This was a good time travel story,but “This was a good story.”

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).

On Writing Prompts

I was out shopping with the missus today, scouring cheery aisles of education supplies. To my surprise, I found an abundance of writing/literature/communication aids. Didn’t think they taught any of that, given today’s dismal educational climate.

Found boxes upon boxes of “writing prompts” in the mix. Really? We’re in that kind of shape these days, eh? Judging by the emails I’ve gotten (and ignored), it seems so. Can’t say it’s all bad. But there’s room to make them better.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

Do you know of any good writing prompts?

—Meghan Simon, Bournemouth, England

Other than “Write. Write now!” or “Why are you wasting your life?” Not really.

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t much need writing prompts. Writing is borne of the imagination; it’s the genesis of inventiveness. How proud of yourself do you feel when you take someone else’s idea and write off of that? Or when you develop seeds you expect others to plant?

Fine. I realize it’s more of a recreational gimmick. But don’t go so much planting the seeds of others when you can create them yourself. That’s half the fun right there.

But for the sake of the post, here are some writing prompts for your enlightenment, if you must:

—A zombie suffers a traumatic brain injury and loses his craving for the brains of others. Does he find love among the mindless of his own kind or among the humans who fear him because he’s “different?”

—The future version of yourself has broken into your house, left everything in shambles, set your car afire, and eaten all of your Bacon Blast™ Doritos®.

—Instagram now offers a taste of your food and drink right when you photograph them. Your protagonist is blind. She only has a flip phone.

—A clockwork android befriends the wrong person: Leonardo da Vinci.

—Technological breakthrough allows for universal translation of the barks and thoughts of dogs. Animal rights groups campaign against dog ownership after it’s discovered that the vast majority of dogs hate being owned by humans. Shep just wants a toy.

—Bullying is banned in the United States. To enforce the bullying ban, the Dept. of Education has authorized local, student-led Anti-Bullying Task Teams to use whatever force necessary to combat bullying. With that kind of authority, there’s no way bullying ever happens in America again.

—Your apartment has been robbed, cleared of everything, save for a watch, a copy of The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, and a bratwurst with a half-finished game of tic-tac-toe etched into it.

—A writer justifies his writer’s block by imagining it into a mental illness. And it’s contagious. Crap.

—A hip, young Los Angeles comedian wades through parties, afterparties, and after-afterparties chasing dreams, money, and love in a sea of affluence and popularity. JUST KILL THIS GUY ALREADY.

—A man walks a giraffe down the street.*

I actually wrote something brief from that last one. Did you have any good works come from a decent writing prompt?

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).

Less is More: Describing Characters

You’re in the business of writing to write stuff, tell stories, and do it well. You take great care (I would hope) to paint lightly, letting this thing called “imagination” fill in the rest.

And then you screw it up by slapping down all the details, leaving the reader with no work to do.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

How do I describe my characters the right way? Is there a way of doing too much? Too little? Where’s the happy of happiest mediums? 

—Ramona O’Neal, Blue Mound, Tex.

I’d like to say that there is no “right way,” only many “wrong ways.” But that sounds more amusing than it is true.

Just to make this easier, here are some of the wrong ways of going about it.

Beginning with description 

A rookie mistake. A bad writer mistake. Unless you write to dumb readers, they will figure this character out.

Using a mirror

I. Will. Not. Read. Your. Book. If. A. Mirror. Is. Used. To. Describe. Your. Character. This is the cheapest trick of cheap tricks.

Going “Whole Hog”

Including every single detail just tells your reader, “Hey, I don’t trust you to get this right. Let me do all the work. You just buy my crap, follow my posts, and eat the circus peanuts I toss you from my blog, ok?”

Using description as a plot point

That’s also a cheap trick, unless this is The Rhinoceros Man, Vol. 2 or whatever.

Character description is over-rated. Don’t underestimate your reader’s imagination. Give them something to work with, then let them take the rest.

Heck, while you’re at it: weave it into the story. Work smarter.

“He itched his pug nose.”

“She plucked a stray hair, letting the red strand fall to the sand.”

“He hiked up his frayed cargo shorts and wiped the sweat from his unibrow.”

“The punches darkened his once blue eyes into stinging maroons.”

“Her spindly hand stung from slapping his foetid jowls.”

“His paunch threatened to burst through his designer shirt as he shifted his bulk toward me. He’s more substance than style, even if he labored for the opposite.”

Swift tells. Strong brushstrokes. Strategic nuance. Get the painting started. The joy of reading is filling in some of that detail yourself. Don’t cheat your reader.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).

How Many Words Should You Write in a Day?

“Whoever writes the most words in a day, wins!”

Is this what we’ve come to?

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

How many words should I write in a day? 

—Nathan Burt, Cantonment, Fla.

What? 

This isn’t NaNoWriMo. This isn’t a contest. This is writing. Art. Do or do not. There is no word count goal in life.

So what occasions this question? Oh, I know!

Writers. 

Writers who will toot the rusty trumpet of wordcount boasts by the 500s, 1000s, 1500s, and OMG I WROTE OVER 9000 WORDS TODAY. Writers who have slit throats and slain the “good writing goats” over the profane altars of “Most Words Wins.” Writers who forgot that writing isn’t probs, probes, stats, or maths. This isn’t a numbers game.

You misspelled quality. Looks like you wrote quantity instead. That’s your problem.

Is it OK to eke out some occasional hollow boasts of word count in your Tweets, posts, and braindumps? Can’t fine or arrest you for that. We’re all guilty. But don’t make it a habit.

Don’t be guilty of surfing with the popular crowds of crows, shouting out into the nothing about the numeric dent they’ve made in their #wip. Don’t strut like an ostrich on uppers after you write xxxx number of words in xxxx amount of time. You don’t see stenographers hop up and do the Dougie in the courtroom after they wrote “FIFTEEN THOUSAND WORDS IN A DAY, YEEEAH!” 

Heck, you could write “swag swag swag” over and over again for an hour and light the jorts off of most wordcount poseurs.

Just write. Write something. Make it good. One hundred hard-earned words well-written and kept quiet win out over the thousands who write for nothing more than the inevitable wordcountbrag fodder.

It’s the words that count, not the word count that counts.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).

One Year of Writing All Wrong!

One whole year of Writing All Wrong! I’d make a celebratory cake for you all, but my baking skills range from the inept to the maladroit.

Instead, I’ll highlight some of the year’s most popular, hated, and engaging posts. Thank you very much for visiting, and I look forward to more of you picking up something here and putting it to use.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

Without further ado: This Year’s (Completely Arbitrary) Top Ten of Writing All Wrong 

Forsaking Flash Fiction 

Because it’s by far the most hated, argued, loathed, and despised post in all of Writing All Wrong. It’s been accused of “missing the point” and being “clearly flawed.” I’m fine with opinions on opinions. But if you’re a flash fiction connoisseur, this is a must-read. It’s the only post on the interweb that argues against flash fiction, daring to go where no others are brave enough to tread.

You Don’t Need to Make Your Characters “Relatable”

Because all of the hits on this post come from people who are trying to make characters relatable, and nothing more. If you’re not questioning “why” things should or shouldn’t be done in writing, then you’re doing it wrong.

8 Things to Keep Out of Your Opening Sentence

Because you cannot afford to stumble right out of the gate. A bad enough opening sentence will close the door on your book before there’s a chance to crease its spine.

Block Writer’s Block

Because writer’s block is nothing more than a pothole that you dig yourself. It’s a disease suffered only by the “aspiring, wannabe” writer.

Ten Ways to Move from “Wannabe” Writer to “Writer”

Because you’re a fake if you continue to trumpet yourself as something you aren’t – a writer. NASA Weapons Engineer, NBA 3-Point Specialist, Pope: those are things you “aspire” to be. Not with writing. Off the duff and to the desk with you!

Writing Contest? Duh, WINNING!

Because writing contests are less about writing and more about attention. That is fact. But since they’re part of the ecosystem, it’s best you know how to play the game.

Like-for-Like

Because I had fun on this post, and I think the simile is an underused tool in fiction.

Incongruous Juxtaposition – Genre Combination and the Art of Mayhem

Because it’s funny, and you need to laugh.

Writing Group Therapy

Because . . . writing groups – ugh. They’re beyond redemption.

10 Questions Writers Must Ask Themselves

Because you need to be asking more questions of yourself. Calibrate that craft, and interrogate your instincts.

Here’s to another year of Writing All Wrong. Cheers.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).