A Book and A Dream: An author’s adventure in writing, reading, and being an epic fangirl

Top Five Pieces of (Contradictory) Writing Advice

August 24, 2020 Megan O'Russell Season 1 Episode 40
A Book and A Dream: An author’s adventure in writing, reading, and being an epic fangirl
Top Five Pieces of (Contradictory) Writing Advice
A Book and A Dream: An author’s adventure in writing, reading, and being an epic fangirl
Top Five Pieces of (Contradictory) Writing Advice
Aug 24, 2020 Season 1 Episode 40
Megan O'Russell

What's worse than too many cooks in the kitchen? Too much advice for the author. 

Here are a few of Megan's favorite (contradictory) pieces of advice she's heard again and again.

Be sure to check out the Girl of Glass audiogram by visiting the following link: https://youtu.be/SRj8L1vYcDs

Show Notes Transcript

What's worse than too many cooks in the kitchen? Too much advice for the author. 

Here are a few of Megan's favorite (contradictory) pieces of advice she's heard again and again.

Be sure to check out the Girl of Glass audiogram by visiting the following link: https://youtu.be/SRj8L1vYcDs

Megan: [00:00:01] You're going to have to have two different sets of social media accounts and newsletters, and you should have two different pen names if they're going to be that different, because you don't want some mom giving them the dirty book to the little kid, like...


Announcement: [00:00:16] Welcome to A Book and a Dream with Megan O'Russell: an author's adventure in writing, reading, and being an epic fangirl.


Megan: [00:00:28] Hello, my name is Megan O'Russell, and welcome to Episode 40 of A Book and a Dream. Now, today, I wanted to talk to you about some of the biggest pieces of contradictory writing advice that I hear over and over again.


Megan: [00:00:43] And, you know, sometimes they come from amazing, wonderful, epic resources, but the other side of the aisle is just as amazing and epic and successful.


Megan: [00:00:53] So it gets really confusing and the advice gets overwhelming. Let's start with something simple.


Megan: [00:00:58] The most simple, probably one of the most controversial, using the word "said" when you write like, you know, "she said," "he said," "I said," depending on what tense you're writing in, that seems easy.


Megan: [00:01:13] And a lot of the advice that I've gotten is just always stick to "said." Never put in "murmured, whispered, shouted..." No, don't do it. Just "said," because the theory is that our brain sort of just starts glossing over this. And I get that it totally works. You stop really saying it with your eyes, you just see like the name and you move on with your life. Then the other side of that comes in with, "Well, cut every 'said' you possibly can. No saidisms." So basically you're adding an action to most lines of dialogue. There's some times where you can skip having either because it's a conversation between two people and it's like real clear which one is which.


Megan: [00:01:49] And I get that too, because then you're getting more dynamic in the scene. You're adding movement. You're not just having, like, weird talking heads having dialogue and like ten pages later, you realize like, oh, they're in a kitchen and she's been chopping things this whole time. Like, that's weird and awkward and it gets a little boring.


Megan: [00:02:07] The problem with that, though, is that you... Then it's like bad acting where it's like, "I'm going to move my arms when I say the line." And that's really frustrating to now to cycle back around to what I said is sometimes not a good idea either.


Megan: [00:02:21] It gets real weird in audiobooks. If everyone said then there's like these little dialogue tags, that drop in the middle of everything, which, to a point, you kind of have to do. But then do you go with the action tags instead? Because then you're breaking up everything everyone's saying.


Megan: [00:02:36] My method for dealing with this, take it for what you will, is to use "said" if you're just trying to drop in real quickly, get it in and get it out, establishes they're dropping the nugget, keep moving, use action, whenever you can.


Megan: [00:02:51] So if they are actively doing something, if there is something happening and you can cut out the dialogue tag and have an action without like, you know, "and then she chopped another carrot, then do that. But if it's going to make it worse to try and take out the said, leave the said. If you can improve it by removing the "said," do that. But yeah, you kind of have to blend the two, or things get really weird.


Megan: [00:03:16] My second piece of advice that I love getting from both sides of the aisle because it's hysterical and people get so vehement about it. Imaginary words. There are some people who say, like, unless you are a linguist, you should not make up words, which, to a point, I get.


Megan: [00:03:32] But then there's the other side that's like, "in order to do fantasy, you have to do deep worldbuilding."


Megan: [00:03:39] And sometimes you hear them from the same people, so they want deep world building in a fantasy world you've created, but with only real words.


Megan: [00:03:49] Yeah, let that one sink in for a minute, like.


Megan: [00:03:53] Narnia. Muggle.


Megan: [00:03:57] Everything Tolkien ever wrote.


Megan: [00:04:00] But there comes a point where you're going to have to make something up. A city, or I make up a lot of swear words, because I'm a sweary person, and you're not supposed to write those things. And so I just make up new ones because that's more socially acceptable. But there is a balance. Like, maybe don't try like creating Dothraki or Klingon if you're not a linguist. But if you need to, like, make up a slang term for your fantasy world, don't let them shame you out of it.


Megan: [00:04:28] No, you need it.


Megan: [00:04:30] But yeah, there are like linguists if you want a whole whole language. And if you're going to do like "I'm going to do roots of words" for things. Like in The Tethering series, if you look at the spells, they're all like Latin-based. Unless you're a centaur, in which case they're Gaelic, but if you're going to do something like that, choose it and write down where you got the roots from. Just keep yourself some notes and make sure that you stick to the same root language unless, you know, there's like a species difference, like in The Tethering and then switch it over. That's totally fine. But keep notes and yet you don't have to be a linguist.


Megan: [00:05:04] My third pet peeve is people saying, write what you know, but then people also saying explore humanity. Now, this one is, I think, people not really realizing what they're saying. And there are some battles that you sort of have to pick and choose as an author with the whole write what you know. There is a really good reason. I do not write historical fiction. I will never write historical fiction because I don't want to spend three years researching what kind of chamber pots are period specific. No, I don't want to do that. I am much happier playing in my fantasy worlds. And yes, I do a lot of research for my fantasy worlds, like how to make weapons and how fast horses can go and like how much technology is actually involved in a clock, all of those things. But I do not want to know what kind of bustle was appropriate in 1863.


Megan: [00:05:56] So yes, there is some of that. Like if you're going to go for a niche and you're going to say, like, I'm getting these things right, like science or spies or how to lock someone in the trunk of a car or break out of the trunk of a car like. Yeah, write what you know, and if you don't know it because you're not a copper, hopefully you're not a kidnapper. But if you're not someone who has experience with people being locked in a trunk, then, yeah, you should research that before you put it in your book.


Megan: [00:06:21] But some people take that advice a little bit literally, and they're like, I should write about anyone who's not like me.


Megan: [00:06:28] Yes, there are some stories that should be told by "own voices," there are some very deep, damaging things that have happened to some of our fellow humans, and it really needs to be told from that specific perspective so that we make sure we're getting it right. And the daring people who do go into that realm with the "own voices" authors are hopefully getting a lot of sensitivity readers and doing a lot a lot a lot of research to make sure they're doing it right. However, in the middle of the spectrum where we, like, live in fantasy and cozy murder mystery and things that aren't about like, you know, figuring out that you're transgender or race or things that are like big and deep and bad and well, not bad, but you know what I mean, heavy and important. And we have to get it right.


Megan: [00:07:14] If you're writing about a murder mystery and there's cats, your protagonist does not need to be like you. It's it's not it's not worldchanging literature that is expanding our emotional concept. However, we do want to embrace more of humanity in our books.


Megan: [00:07:32] So that means that you can write characters who aren't like you, who aren't going through tragic things you don't understand. So just because I'm a little white lady who has problems saying the words mountain, yeah, I know I say it wrong. I have to concentrate on it. Mountain. That would be a boring book. People just trying to say that word. Right. So it's OK to have people who aren't like me. It is OK to write people who have come from completely different walks of life or places where, you know, there's magic or vampires or whatever. Not all of your protagonists need to look like you.


Megan: [00:08:08] They don't need to have the same abilities as you, the same intellect, the same anything. They can be gay, they can be straight, they can be trans, they can be whatever. They don't need to be you. Now, if you are going for one of those things that is a very sensitive topic, do your research, but you don't have to have every protagonist you write have blonde hair because you have blonde hair. You don't have to do it. It's boring. Embrace more of humanity. There is an entire palette of people out there. Choose, choose wisely, but choose, go outside your palette. It's OK. You don't have to only write people who grew up in your hometown. That would get boring real fast. We need to expand.


Megan: [00:08:49] Four: the people who are so into never, ever write a trope, tropes are bad, be original versus the people who are like write to market. Because let me tell you, children, you cannot write to market and avoid tropes. Now, for those of you who aren't, you know, necessarily writers, a trope is something that is a known storytelling concept. So love triangle, friends to lovers. Umm...Alcoholic detective who comes in to save the day like there are lots of them, they are just these known little stereotypes that we sprinkle throughout books. And in some ways, they're really good because they give the reader clues, especially in side characters. If you can be like, oh, hey, here is this thing that I'm handing you. This is the motherly type who wants to feed you. Then we can establish who that person is very quickly and move on with the main plot.


Megan: [00:09:45] There are also some tropes that people just love. People want to be swept away by romance. And there are some people who only want love triangles. There are also some people who never want love triangles. There are people who only want bully romance. That one I don't really understand. But, you know, whatever. I'm not going to yuck your yum. Cool, if that makes you happy. But there is a reason that those things are popular. It's because it's a story that we recognize and we can easily dive into.


Megan: [00:10:12] That's what writing to market is: it's finding a niche where people are really hungry for those tropes to be in a story and going with it. And then there are the people who are like, but then you're not original. To a point, yes. However, I'm a big believer in the theory that basically every story has already been told. All we can do is put our unique perspective on it. So, no, we don't all want to go out and regurgitate Nora Roberts. That's no fun for anybody. However, can you have, like, the small town girl who's suddenly thrust into the spotlight and has to save the day because there is a mining corporation coming? Sure. It sounds like a Lifetime original movie, but if you do it well, it is definitely a worthwhile venture.


Megan: [00:10:56] So choose. Don't fill your books with only tropes. Have some originality, but it's OK if you toss up tropes in there, and anyone who tells you not to is, I don't know, way fancier than I ever strive to be.


Megan: [00:11:10] And they can have fun smoking cigars and their literary circle.


Megan: [00:11:15] But you know what? An occasional love triangle is super fun, and I'm totally fine with it.


Megan: [00:11:21] Number five, and this is my final one for you today. Don't cross genres. Now, I totally understand. There are a lot of people who say that as an author, you need to pick a niche, stay in that niche, and that's where you go. And it makes sense because you have loyal readers then. So if I were to only ever write serpent shifter books, so every book I write is about the serpent and he's a shifter, and when he comes on land, he's good looking and he seduces people. This book probably exists. I don't know if it does. I haven't actually looked it up. But if I wrote that and then I wrote another serpent shifter series, and then all of a sudden I was like, I'm going to write a cosy romance.


Megan: [00:12:02] And I had people who only who always preordered all of my books, then they'd be like, "There's no tentacles in this. I don't want to read it." So it can confuse your readers. And I get that. And anyone who's like, I am sticking to my niche and I shall not leave it, if that is how you want to live your writing life, I support you. Go for it. You do you. If you can make tentacles that exciting for 20 books, like, wow, that is some imagination and I am impressed with you. And best of luck.


Megan: [00:12:31] However, if you are a new writer and you are trying to figure out your place in the world, it is OK to experiment.


Megan: [00:12:42] You know, I write all YA, but I have dystopian, I have urban fantasy, I have fantasy. And some people have told me that I shift to genres too much even though I'm staying all in YA. Granted, there is a huge vibe difference between How I Magically Messed Up My Life in Four Freakin' Days and Inker and Crown. Very different.


Megan: [00:13:00] And I try to give my readers as many cues as I can, mostly through blurbing cover, like you read Bryant Adams' blurb and not know that it's nothing like Inker.


Megan: [00:13:10] It's it's very clear. I try to make it as clear as possible. I'll give you all kinds of signposts, which you should absolutely do for your readers. It's going to get you better reviews and happier readers in the long run, even if you get a few fewer sales because you're weeding out the people who don't really want to be there.


Megan: [00:13:24] However, if you really want to write middle grade zombies and that brings you joy, and then you really want to write naughty books and that brings you a different kind of joy, then totally do it.


Megan: [00:13:42] You're going to have to have two different sets of social media accounts and newsletters, and you should have two different pen names if they're going to be that different, because you don't want some mom giving them the dirty book to the little kid, like...erm...


Megan: [00:13:54] But it's OK to branch out. Will it take you a little bit longer to build your platform because you're doing two? Yeah. Will you make money as quickly? Probably not. But if that's what makes you happy, if that's what brings you joy and keeps you willingly going back to your keyboard every day, then do it. And don't let them tell you no. Just do what makes you happy when you're writing, because I have seen way too many people burn out because they're trying to just write serpent shifters, follow your heart, write what you love. And that's really the biggest piece of advice that I want you to get out of all of this. Is...


Megan: [00:14:32] Yes, there is amazing advice, there are super smart people who will tell you amazing things and they have so much love to give and so much advice to give, and they're excellent. But at the end of the day, you have to pick through all of the contradictory advice that is going to hit you in the face every day and figure out what works best for you, for your characters, for your books, for your series, for your career.


Megan: [00:14:55] So don't be afraid to combine the advice to pick and choose the advice, because you're going to hear something different tomorrow. So do whatever works for you. So what is your favorite piece of contradictory writing advice? I would love to know. I should make a coffee table book that would be fun with just little pictures. It'll be adorable. But let me put it in the comments. Don't forget to, like, follow, subscribe whatever it is on your preferred platform.


Megan: [00:15:26] And don't forget, you can check out the audiogram for Girl of Glass, which is now available in audio. I'll make sure that the link is right here. And I will see you next time. Bye bye.