We've probably all had some advice given to us that we've laughed off or cringed over. I've had plenty.

Here's one thing that drives me nuts: Give your characters a tick, a speech impediment or a limp or some annoying habit that makes it easy for the reader to track them.

Because readers are stupid and need cheap gimmicks to just help them keep characters in line? Because you're a lazy writer and can't distinguish your characters any other way?

I remember one comment on something I'd written: "They all run and jump the same way." You know, in some jobs, there isn't room for creative flair. Evil Kev can tell you from military and firefighting training that you get taught to do certain things a certain way. Sometimes, your life depends on it. If I was writing about police, soldiers or firefighters (and I was writing about one of those groups) I'd expect them to move in a similar fashion.

I'm guessing comment #2 is another way of saying #1 - give them physical differences that separate them. (Because one being a man and the other being a woman isn't enough.) So instead of writing a believable book I should give one detective a permanent disability that will physically define them the whole way through the story?

Guess I find that rationale lazy. And when I read stuff like that it feels artificial, contrived. Drives me nuts. Anyone else been given any advice or read something in a review that they thought was ridiculous commentary?

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Good point. It infers men can never write women, that we can't step outside of anything we've had experience with. When I studied journalism we used to get speakers in weekly, to talk about their work. One freelancer I'll never forget said, "A real writer can write anything, given the facts." Absolutely true. You don't need to be a sports fan to report on sporting events. You don't need to have been in a car accident to report on one in the news. And there is that carry-over to fiction.

Of course, if you don't feel you have access to the information and can't get it right, then stick to what you're sure of, but only writing what you know is a bit lazy.
I never thought of it that way. I've heard that expression a dozen times and assumed it to be good advice. You've changed my mind.
That's very true about journalism. The proof for me was a lot of the photojournalism students I worked with. A lot of them couldn't write a decent piece to save their lives. Not writers, so even the facts couldn't save them.

These days, however, I find myself thinking much of what gets printed has more resemblance to creative writing than journalism, but that's another topic for another day. My bugbear on it is that so many people have been misquoted by the press and had bad experiences with the media, it's a wonder to me anyone trust reporters or takes anything they read on a blog/forum etc. at face value without verifying it.
You guys could open up a whole new debate on young writers. I know writers under the age of 40 who've been instructed to keep quiet about their age. I guess it's the idea that they don't have enough life experience to have anything worth contributing.
Could have to do with the changing reader demographics, particularly in crime fiction. Not sure. Just know it's true.
I completely agree with you about age and teaching. We all know the saying, "Those who can, do. Those who can't teach." Obviously, that's another gross generalization, but when asked if I'd rather teach writing or write, the answer is simple. I might teach it to pay the bills, if need be, but it certainly wouldn't be my first choice.

As to age and experience, I think it is entirely dependent on the person. For example... going with a real generalization I agree with what Jon says about the lifestyle/priorities of a lot of college students. But that certainly never applied to me. In some respects I was older at 20 than I am now. It had to do with life experience and background. Frankly, some of us have experienced more by 20 than some ever do in a lifetime, and not in the positive category.

But setting that aside, I see it having a place when people are trying to impart some insights about the meaning of life. I don't see what it has to do with most aspects of genre fiction, though. When you get down to it, there are basic emotions we can all related to - grief, rage, jealousy, etc. - and I think there are young writers who are quite skilled.

However, not all of them are, just as not all older writers are skilled. Just because you're older it doesn't mean you're definitely wiser, and just because you're young it doesn't mean you don't have insights worth sharing. That said, I think the average age on debut authors is something like 44. I've been told that anyway - I have no source on it other than others in the business (nor do I have any desire to do a survey).
Well... my background is actually in education, so I'm a very capable, qualified teacher, and I would be more passionate about teaching writing than teaching just about anything else. So it doesn't mean I couldn't do a great job, even if it isn't my first choice for how to spend my time. I think we *all* have things we'd rather be doing, given the financial liberty. Doesn't mean we necessarily do a bad job of it. Bluntly, it isn't teaching I have an issue with - it's the politics of the educational system that pisses me off, and that's why I left my last position. I was hired to work part-time (what I wanted) and ended up working the equivalent load of 1.5 staff people. I had no life outside of my 11+hour days and was burnt out.

So I'm not going to think about taking another educational role fondly with that in mind, and for a full two years after leaving people continued to ask me to go back.

In an ideal world every teacher would be completely and totally devoted to teaching, long to do nothing else and yes, damn, if they won $30 million they'd still be there tomorrow, but that isn't realistic. In the real world we've got it matters less whether or not teaching is your first choice or third for how to spend your time, and matters more whether or not you're capable of doing a damn good job. I know I'm capable of doing a damn good job, and that's all that matters if I decide to go back.
It might be instructive to speak with a number of college writing teachers, and see what they have to say about the average student. Writing well, and writing with something to say, are not as common at that age as you might think. (And yes, I know a college writing teacher who has much the same to say about her students as Jon Loomis does, that students that age really don't have, on average, enough life experience to write meaningful work.)

Note that I said 'average'. The reason it's called 'average' is that's where most people fall statistically. The really good ones are a tiny minority comparatively.

It annoyed the daylights out of me when a college writing teacher (and published author) told me that most people don't really begin to write well until they hit mid-life and have some years of experience with life under their belts. I didn't like being told I still had some growing to do, when I thought I was already grown. Looking back on what I wrote then compared with what I write now, I know that what he said is a whole lot truer than I thought back then.

Just some thoughts, on a rainy and allergy-ridden day.
Wait another ten or twenty years, and then see if what you write now is as 'meaningful' as you hope it is. At this point, we're just comparing apples and oranges trying to clarify what 'meaningful' is, because we're working from two very different points in life.
Not everybody can write meaningfully on every subject. Selecting essay topics for entrance exams is a fine art because they must be made to fit a diverse group of students. Speaking as a former English professor (Yes, Sandra, I burned out too), I never assumed that my young students could express brilliant thoughts on every topic. We generally spent class time discussing readings, some literary, before letting them develop their own ideas on paper. And even then, students should have a choice of subjects.
Let's not forget that freshman and sophomore composition classes merely teach competence, not award-winning prose.
Maybe it's because I'm re-reading Betsy Lerner's "Forest for the Trees," but I'm in the mood to carefully weigh any advice the seems too convention-bound. I know, I know. there are rules to be followed for our genre. But I've had too many conflicting pieces of advices from well-meaning peer-group critics. For example, I have a slightly wacky conversation between a pair of minor characters during the opening scene of my WIP. Their chat has nothing to do with the murder being considered by the protag. A couple of peer reviewers said, "Cut it. It slows down your action." When read by Margaret-Love Denman, co-author of "Story Matters," the response was the opposite: "Don't you dare cut these characters! I love them; they give wonderful flavor to the story."
The point: Keep the grain of salt nearby when considering advice for your writing. There comes a point when we must say "This is MY story and dammit I'm going to tell it the best way I know how."

Ok, rant over. Back to my bottle of hard apple cider..
I agree with John. Character should be revealed through actions and interactions in the plot along with narrative, and not everything has to be about the case. That gets a bit dull after a while.


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