the mechanics of writing, part 2

a couple months ago, i wrote an entry that listed 10 things that i learned about writing over the years. well, i'm going to expand on that list right now, with a short list of what not to do when writing:

1) do not lie. or if you do lie, don't ever say it is the truth. what i'm talking about, is when books or movies come out and they say that they're based on a true story, when in reality there's only the slightest bit of truth amongst a sea of fiction. it's like saying every episode of law and order is a true story, when in reality all they did was take some minor associated press report in the middle of the new york times that mentioned someone go their head cut off, and turned it into an episode where most of it was made up except for maybe the crime itself. when you lie and say it's the truth when it turns out it's only the essense of truth, you risk making your audience / reader turn out to seem stupid. (i'm looking at you, james frey!)

2) do not break your own rules. i don't care how ridiculous the world is, but when you write something, and create characters that inhabit the world you've created, make sure you don't break your own rules. i don't care if it makes sense in the real world. your logic can be crazy, but if it makes sense in the world that you've created, that's all that matters. for example, in one of the friday the 13th movies, jason, the killer, gets killed by a girl who has telekinetic abilities. what? i mean, jason is this unstoppable killer that usually gets stopped in the end, and it doesn't make sense in the real world, but in the world of teenagers and serial killers that is friday the 13th, it makes complete sense. but then, all of a sudden, there's a girl that is telekinetic? it doesn't make any sense within the world that was created, so it seems ludicris (more so than usual).

3) don't use too many visual gimics. what i'm talking about is the type of gimic used in certain novels to portray a certain sense or style. for example, in irvine welsh's book, filth, where there is a character that is a tape worm, welsh uses text within text to show what the tape worm is thinking, but it not only looks hideous, it is distracting as well. it totally takes you out of the narrative. if you can't get across what you intend to through simple block prose, don't fucking bother.

4) lay off on the descriptions. descriptions are great when you're reading a fantasy novel or a sci-fi novel, or any other novel besides a contemporary one, because when you're creating make-believe worlds, you want to get across distinct visuals. but if you're writing about something that's happening right now, present day, don't bother to describe the way a chair looks in a room unless the chair itself is meant to be distinct and original or in some way important to the narrative. for example, when a character walks into a room for the first time, and there is a desk, a chair, and a lamp, just use simple discriptions. no one gives a damn how many cracks there are in the lamp. just say it's an old lamp. we get the idea. move on already.

5) when writing something that requires research, don't bother writing it if you're not going to research it all the way. for example, if you're writing in a police investigation, and you can't be bothered to research the way the police detectives would investigate a crime (e.g.: police procedure, interrogation, etc.), don't bother to write it, or at least keep it a minimalist part of the book. nobody likes it when someone is writing, let's say, a book about a trial, but clearly shows they don't know much about trials or court rooms or lawyers beyond what they see on t.v. if you're gonna do it, do it properly. that's why movies like to live and die in l.a. or lord of war are so great; the writers clearly knew a lot about their subject matter. i, myself, am a lazy writer, which is why you'll never see me write about doctors or something like that. i just can't be bothered to put in the research time. if you're going to write about stuff that needs researching but you don't want to bother, you'd better make sure you're really good at bullshiting. how do you know if you're good enough? well, if you can bullshit yourself into thinking you can write it, you're halfway there.

6) the work will end when it ends. don't try to force anything when writing. if your book ends up 100 pages, then so be it. don't try to do things where you stretch the novel or script or whatever, just so you can have more. more of what? i don't know, more pages, more sex, more violence, more... just more. when you put unnecessary things into the book, you get a situation where the reader will either a) get bored, or b) question the purpose. if either of these things happens to a reader, you're already starting to lose them and it's hard to reel them back in.

7) finally, less is definitely more. don't explain things to the audience / reader. i find that sometimes people tend to go on and on about something, just to drive the point across, and in the end, they take away any sort of joy the reader / viewer might get from discovering something. i'm not saying to be cryptic as fuck like frank kafka or david lynch; but at the same time, don't be like spielberg. assume your audience is smart. a good piece of writing should allow room for the reader to discover something that makes them think they discovered it on their own; that it's almost a discovery that belongs to the reader only, when in reality it may be something that everyone can understand easily with just a little bit of thinking. if you've written in a symbol or a plot twist into the book well enough, the reader, living within the context of your words, should be able to get it. if they don't, well, hopefuly they will understand it in the end, and if they still don't get it, well, there's not much you can do. not everything has to be a usual suspects, keyser soze-style reveal. (that movie, by the way, destroyed the thriller genre for years because of all the copycats right after).