Advice -- a bit about advice, or reviews from Randy Ingermanson

Organization: Meta Advice
This month, a little advice on how to deal with advice.

Over the years, you're going to hear every possible kind of advice on your writing:

"Your pace is too slow. It puts me to sleep."

"Your pace is too fast. I can't catch my breath."

"Your main character is a wimp. Make him more manly."

Courtesy of David Castillo at

"Your main character is too macho. Rein him in."

"You have too much dialogue and not enough action."

"You have too much action and not enough interior monologue."

"You have too much interior monologue and not enough dialogue."

At a certain point, you're going to throw up your hands and ask whom you can trust. Not all of this advice can be right.

When people critique your work, they always filter it through their own set of likes and dislikes.

Those may or may not be the likes and dislikes of your target reader. If you know for sure that your target reader is going to like the way you've written it, then ignore advice that tells you to change it to something your target reader won't like.

But what if you don't really know whether your target reader would agree with the advice you're getting?

In that case, you are the final authority. It's your book. You get to decide.

If the pace feels right to you, but people are telling you it's too fast, then you don't have to slow it down for them.

If you like your main character, but people tell you he's a wimp, then you don't have to change him.

If you like your dialogue the way it is, but people tell you it's too much, then you don't have to cut back for them.

I'm not saying you should always ignore advice.

I'm saying the opposite.

When you get advice, try it on for size. Think about how it'll change your fiction. Will it make your novel a better or worse experience for your target reader? Will it make YOU like your fiction better?

If the advice will improve your fiction, then run with it.

But if you don't like what the advice will do to your book, walk on by.

It's your book. You get to decide what advice you'll allow to mold it.

Choose the advice that makes you proud of your work. Ignore the advice that doesn't.

It's that simple. It's just not easy.


Craft: Naked Dialogue

"What's naked dialogue?"

"It's dialogue without any action, description, interior monologue, or interior emotion."

"Can you do that?"

"In short stretches."

"Why would you do that? It sounds stupid."

"If the main conflict is in the dialogue, then adding anything else takes the edge off the conflict."

"I don't believe that could work. Give me three examples where you'd use it."

"Courtroom scenes. Interrogations. Um ... can't think of a third example."

"Maybe a Socratic dialogue?"

"Oh, right."

"So you can actually make this work without even one tag to tell me who's talking?"

"If it works, it works."

"What if it doesn't work?"

"Then add in the minimum amount of other stuff necessary to make it work."

"I suppose you'd call that bikini dialogue then?"

"You're stretching the metaphor too far."

"And you somehow imagine this kind of dialogue works?"

"I know it."

"Could you do a whole scene that way?"

"Orson Scott Card did several scenes that way in ENDER'S GAME."

"How did the reader know who was talking?"

"Readers are smart."

"Don't be ridiculous. Don't readers have to see at least one tag so they know the names of the speakers?"

"Not unless they need to know the names."

"But you'd have to limit it to two people, right? You couldn't possibly do this with three people, could you?"

"Hey guys! Whatcha talking about so violent-like over in the corner? Gretchen, are you practicing your interrogation skills on poor Grendel?"

"Get lost, Goober. I'm just trying to get the bare facts."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa! I get the message. I'm not wanted, so I'm outta here. Give her heck, Grendel."

"So what was your question again? Something about three people?"

"Never mind, I figured it out."

"Any more questions?"

"Well, naked dialogue sounds difficult. Is it worth it?"

"You have to decide that after it's all written. You can always throw the scene away if you don't like it."

"Have you ever tried it? In your own scene?"

"Just once."


"Just now."

"Oh, man, are you going meta on me? Mixing planes of existential reality again? You are so weird!"

"Admit it, Gretchen, you love me."

"That's it. We're finished and I'm leaving."

"It ain't over till I say it's over."

"You can't keep me here against my--"

"It's over."


This article is reprinted by permission of the author.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 32,000 readers.
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