My Personal Writing Tips, or “How to Avoid Rookie Mistakes”

Proofreading and editing can be such a chore, I tell ya! Thought I’ve never been very good at proofreading and criticizing other peoples work, I find that it is when I am called upon to edit and evaluate their work that I most want to retreat into my shell. I feel selfish when this happens, mainly because of all the people I have asked to review my own work and give me their opinions. You’d think I’d be better at this aspect of it!

But of course, I know that part of the reason I hate editing the work of others is because I hate editing my own. I’ve noticed this about most people who enjoy writing, composing, and anything else that requires active revision and corrections. By the time the work is done, they want to put it down and forget about it, to let others handle the business of finding the flaws and pointing out the necessary corrections.

Alas, I’ve had to check most of that baggage ever since I started to become a member of several writing communities. In fact, I’ve even volunteered to act as a contributing editor for two major projects, one of which is the “Yuva Anthology” (begun by Khaalidah and myself), the other being the “Worlds Undone” Anthology. The latter one people might remember from a few months ago, when I was doing mock ups for a cover and happened to find some primo artwork to feature in it. Thanks again to cazzyae at deviantArt for her talent and generosity of spirit for that one! Thanks to her, Createspace’s easy interface, and the suggestions of many people at G5N, here’s how the cover came out:

Unfortunately, that has opened up a different can of worms for me. While I’ve definitely managed to overcome some of my reservations about reading other people’s work, I find that my pet peeves, or what I consider to be the marks of weak writing, keep rearing their ugly head. After reading many stories, I began to think that a tutorial might be in order to help some of the newbies avoid some rookie mistakes, ones which I have committed at least a half dozen times. Each!

I should also take this opportunity to thank Kristen Lamb, who’s impressive article “4 Writing Crutches that Insult the Reader’s Intelligence” reminded me of this idea. After seeing the title in my Inbox, I immediately zoomed over to her site to see if we shared the same pet peeves and sensibilities. Upon reading it, I could tell she was much more versed in this whole writing thing than I am! Still, I happen to share her appraisal of some bad writing habits, especially item number four in her list, “telling instead of showing”.

So, to take a page from her book (no pun!) and to make good on something I’ve been planning to do for some time now, I present you with the list of rookie writing mistakes it is best to avoid. All are the result of what I myself have done repeatedly, and have managed to weed out (for the most part) after many years of practice:

  1. Avoid Infodumping: Never start a story with a long, drawn out passage telling the reader what they need to know in order to set up the plot. For that matter, never let your story digress into such exposition either. A story is by definition a journey, with information, details, twist, and revelations provided bit by bit over time. Even if it’s a short story, never, ever simply announce what’s happening or what the significance of it is. Such actions turn what is supposed to be a tale into a description and is boring to read.
  2. Less is More: When it comes to explanations and descriptions, avoid excessive detailing. You don’t need to tell the reader everything about what’s going on, moment for moment, nor do you need to describe the scene in perfect detail. A simple, straightforward description of the scene and the interactions taking place is enough, let the reader’s imagination fill in the rest. Think of it like telling a crafty lie: if you want someone to believe it, don’t tell them a long story loaded with details, keep it simple, straightforward, and plausible. (Editor’s note: lying is wrong!)
  3. It’s called Background for a reason: One of the best tips I ever got as a writer was to “leave the background in the background.” This kind of overlaps with points one and two, but I keep it separate because of how often I see it and how it has factored into my own work. Much like explaining a scene or dumping info into a chapter, going to great lengths to establish the wider context in which the story takes place (i.e. “universe building”) is a bad idea. Stick to the story, only include that which is absolutely necessary, and let the universe build itself. In time, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get a chance to write follow-up pieces which will allow you to delve into different aspects of your fictitious world in more detail.
  4. “No one talks like this!”: If there’s one thing I learned from the Star Wars prequels and the Dune spinoffs, it’s that wooden dialogue can totally ruin a story. When drafting scenes that call for verbal interaction between characters, always keep in mind that this is supposed to sound like a conversation between actual people. Do not allow yourself to be swayed by duty to the story or the need to establish character elements. Those things that need to be conveyed are best when done with fine strokes and subtlety, and never, ever let your characters fall into expository passages where they simply say what’s goings on. Or to quote the Robot Devil from Futurama: “You’re characters lack subtlety. You can’t have people just announce their feelings! That makes me so angry!”
  5. Referencing: When writing a story that is meant to have allegorical similarities to today, or is meant to make a point about a specific issue, avoid referencing them too closely. Never say, “this was just like that thing that happened back then” or “it’s this all over again”. Let the reader infer what you are referring to with your carefully crafted, fictitious comparison. In Foundation, Asimov never directly compared the Galactic Empire to Rome, nor did Frank Herbert ever mention oil in relation to the spice in Dune. Once again, trust in the reader to make the appropriate conclusions and avoid telling them anything outright. Otherwise, you risk turning an “ah-ha” moment into an unimpressed “oh.”

That’s all I got. Suffice it to say, I am still learning and still looking for ways to perfect my craft. That’s never going to happen, of course, but it’s the goal which provides endless opportunity for improvement. Speaking of which, more samples will be forthcoming soon as I work my way deeper into “Winston Agonistes”, “Crashland”, “Frontera”, and “Fortress”. And most importantly of all, Data Miners will finally be ready for distribution by August long weekend! Yes, after roughly six months of delays, the editing of that story is finally coming to an end. But more on that in a bit.

In the meantime, keep hammering those keys, keep working on those manuscripts, and keep reaching for the brass ring of artistic perfection. And while you’re at it, feel free to share with me some lessons that you’ve learned along the way and feel obliged to share with the newbies in your field. There’s no shortage of lessons, as there are no shortages of mistakes 😉

Babylon 5, Best lines!

Babylon 5, Best lines!

One of the best science fiction shows of all time, in my humble estimation. And I know I’m not alone in this. I think I’ve watched the full series a couple of times over now. In fact, a few years back, some friends and I used to watch the reruns on DVD over a couple of cold Swan beers! Hi Aaron, hi Megan! And since I got my hands on all five seasons a few weeks ago, I’ve been replaying all the good moments.

I loved the action, the story, the writing, but one thing I especially liked was the dialogue. J. Michael Straczynski is definitely one of the best writers, but he also benefited from a kick-ass cast. I’m sure everyone had their favorites, and I can’t possibly do the whole series justice in one post. But here are some I managed to dig up. Enjoy!

Season 1:
G’Kar: The Earthers have a saying: “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” I believe they stole it from us.

Franklin: It’s all so brief, isn’t it? Typical human lifespan is almost a hundred years, but it’s barely a second compared to what’s out there. It wouldn’t be so bad if life didn’t take so long to figure out. Seems you just start to get it right and then…it’s over.
Ivanova: Doesn’t matter. If we lived 200 years we’d still be human, we’d still make the same mistakes.
Franklin: You’re a pessimist.
Ivanova: I’m Russian, doctor. We understand these things.

Narn Courier: Are you Ambassador G’Kar?
G’Kar: This is Ambassador G’Kar’s quarters. This is Ambassador G’Kar’s table! This is Ambassador G’Kar’s dinner! Which part of this progression escapes you?!

Londo Mollari: Do you know what the last Xon said just before he died? [clutches chest] AAAAGGGHHHH!

Vir: But they love each other!
Londo: Love. Pah! Overrated. Here. Look. These are my three wives: Pestilence, Famine, and Death. Do you think I married them for their personalities? Their personalities could shatter entire planets! Arranged marriages, every one of them. But they worked out. They inspired me! Knowing that they were waiting for me is what keeps me here — 75 light-years away.

Franklin: Are you okay? Londo, do you know where you are?
Londo: (looks around, sees his wives) Either in Medlab, or in Hell. Either way, the decor needs work.
Daggair: Oh, Doctor Franklin! Thank you for saving our husband! You’ve done the Centauri a great service!
Mariel: I agree. It’s so good to see you with us again, Londo!
Londo: Well, that settles it, Doctor! I am in hell!

G’Kar: What do I want? The Centauri stripped my world, I want justice.
Morden: But what do you want?
G’Kar: To suck the marrow from their bones and grind their skulls into powder.
Morden: What do you want?
G’Kar: To tear down their cities, blacken their sky, sow their ground with salt… To completely and utterly erase them!
Morden: And then what?
G’Kar: I don’t know. As long as my homeworld safety is guaranteed, I don’t think it matters.
Morden: (looks disappointed) I see… Well, thank you very much for your time, Ambassador. Good day!
G’Kar: Nonsense!

Londo: You really want to know what I want? You really want to know the truth? I want my people to reclaim their rightful place in the Galaxy. I want see the Centauri stretch forth their hand again, and command the stars. I want a rebirth of glory, a renaissance of power! I want to stop running through my life like a man late for an appointment, afraid to look back, or to look forward. I want us to be what we used to be! I want… I want it all back, the way THAT IT WAS! Does that answer your question?
Morden: (smiles darkly) Yes… yes it does.

Londo: (after receiving the Eye from Morden) How? (Notices Morden’s gone) Where did you go, eh? Let me buy you a drink! Let me buy you an entire FLEET of drinks! How can I ever find you to thank you?
Morden’s voice: We will find you, Ambassador. We will find you…

Ivanova: Worst case of testosterone poisoning I have ever seen.

Londo: But this…this, this, this is like… being nibbled to death by, uh…Pah! What are those Earth creatures called? Feathers, long bill, webbed feet…go “quack”.
Vir: Cats.
Londo: Cats! I’m being nibbled to death by cats.

Season 2:
G’Kar: LONDO! (grabs him) I’m going to get you… a drink! …It’s not everyday I have a revelation, you know… I believed your people only capable of only murder and pain, but apparently there is still a spark of decency in your genetic code. It’s not much of a foundation, I’ll grant you that but… it’s a start!

Londo: But what happens if I ask for another of these… little demonstrations?
Morden: Then we’ll provide it. Simply choose your target, a colony, an outpost…
Londo: (laughs) Why don’t you eliminate the entire Narn homeworld while you’re at it?
Morden: (looks at him darkly) One thing at a time, Ambassador. One thing at a time.

G’Kar: Take my advice and go back to the time you came from. The future isn’t what it used to be.

G’Kar: Weep for the future, Na’Toth. Weep for us all.
N’Toth: Are you alright?
G’Kar: I have looked into the darkness, Na’Toth. You cannot do that and ever be quite the same again.

G’Kar: When you told me about the destruction of our base in quadrant thirty-seven, I knew that only a major power could attempt an assault of that magnitude, but none of the governments here could have done it, which left only one of two possibilities: A new race… or an old race… A VERY old race.

G’Kar: G’Quan spoke of a great war long ago against an enemy so terrible it nearly overwhelmed the stars themselves. G’Quan said that before that enemy was thrown down, it dwelled in a system at the edge of known space. I searched for days, going from one system to another. (Looks distant) Then, on dark, deserted worlds where there should be no life, where no living thing has walked in over a thousands years, something is moving, gathering its forces, quietly, quietly, hoping to go unnoticed. We must warn the others Na’Toth. After a thousand years the darkness has come again.

Marcus Cole: (noticing Ivanova’s not paying attention to his report) There’s always the threat of an attack by say, a giant space dragon. The kind that eats the sun once every 30 days. It’s a nuisance, but what can you expect from reptiles? Did I mention that my nose is on fire? And that I have 15 wild badgers living in my trousers (Ivanova glares at him) I’m sorry would you prefer ferrets?

Lennier: Sometimes I get so close and yet it feels like I’m shut out of the important things.
Vir: It’s a useless feeling. The Ambassador is definitely going through some changes. He even looks different.
Lennier: Indeed. And now with the military starting to stampede over everyone and everything…
Vir: People coming and going and secret meetings…
Lennier: You never know what it’s all about until later when it’s too late.
Vir: And they never listen to us.
Vir/Lennier: Makes me nervous.
Vir: Same time tomorrow?
Lennier: Sure.

Season 3:
Sheridan: You know, I just had a thought. You’ve been back and forth to your world so many times since you got here. How do I know you’re the same Vorlon? Inside that encounter suit you could be anyone.
Kosh: I have *always* been here.
Sheridan: Oh, yeah? You said that about me too.
Kosh: Yes.
Sheridan: I really *hate* it when you do that.
Kosh: Good!

Garibaldi: I’m not authorized for that kind of information.
Endawi: But…you’re the head of Security.
Garibaldi: And what kind of head of Security would I be if I let people like me know things that I’m not supposed to know? I mean, I know what I know because I have to know it, and if I don’t have to know it, I don’t tell me, and I don’t let anyone else tell me, either.

Londo: My people have a manifest destiny. They can achieve it just as well without the help of your associates, perhaps better.
Morden: So we’re no longer necessary?
Londo: That’s right.
Morden: And now that we’ve done everything you’ve asked, you’d like us to just.. disappear.
Londo: I do believe you have got it surrounded, Mr. Morden!
Morden: Aren’t you being premature? After all, you’re people are moving on several other worlds. You might still need us.
Londo: No, I don’t think so. We have danced our last little dance Mr. Morden. Now it is time for you… to go away.

Morden: What do YOU want?
Vir: I’d like to live just long enough to be there when they cut off your head and stick it on a pike as a warning to the next ten generations that some favors come with too high a price. I want to look up into your lifeless eyes and wave like this (does a little wave). Can you and your associates arrange that for me, Mr. Morden?

Delenn: Three years. For three years, I warned you this day was coming. But you would not listen. “Pride,” you said! “Presumption!” And now the Shadows are on the move. The Centauri and the younger worlds are at war, the Narns have fallen… even the humans are fighting one another. The pride was yours! The presumption was yours… “The problems of others are not our concern.” I do not blame you for standing silent in your shame. You, who knew what was coming, but refused to take up the burden of this war! If the Warrior Caste will not fight, then the rest of us will! If the Council has lost its way, if it will not lead…if we have abandoned our covenant with Valen…! (Grabs the leader’s staff, breaks it) Then the Council should be broken! As was prophesied! We must stand with the others—now, before it’s too late!

Delenn: This is Ambassador Delenn of the Minbari. Babylon 5 is under our protection. Withdraw…or be destroyed!
Capt. Drake: Negative. We have authority here. Do not force us to engage your ship.
Delenn: Why not? Only one human captain has ever survived battle with a Minbari fleet. He is behind me. You are in front of me. If you value your lives, be somewhere else.

Zathras: Zathras is used to being beast of burden to other people’s needs. Very sad life… probably have very sad death, but at least there is symmetry.

Draal: I don’t like surprises!
Ivanova: Really? Love ’em, myself. To me, everything’s a surprise! You’re a surprise. This place is a surprise. You see this? [She holds up a finger.] Paper cut. Hurts like hell! Anybody else would be upset, but to me, it’s just one more wonderful surprise! I mean, I even surprise myself sometimes! So I guess there’s nothing wrong with me surprising you. Right?
Draal: I like you! You’re trouble!

Ivanova: Good luck, Captain. I think you’re about to go where…everyone has gone before.

Marcus:I think you just hit a nerve. The Vorlons must owe them money or something.
Ivanova: At least it tell us they understand our language, they just aren’t willing to speak to us in it.
Marcus: Who knew they were French? (Ivanova glares at him) Sorry!

Walkers: ZOG!
Ivanova: “Zog”? What do you mean, zog? Zog what? Zog yes, zog no?
Marcus: It’s leaving. My guess is “zog” means “no”.
Ivanova: Like hell. I am not letting them leave here without saying yes.
Marcus: Really? And how do you propose stopping them? Perhaps a big red and white sign with the word “stop” on it? …I’ll put a bucket on my head and pretend to be the ancient Vorlon god Boogee.
Ivanova: That’s it!
Marcus: Fine. I’ll get a bucket.

Refa: You walked away from the greatest power I have ever seen! And now you expect me to do the same? They are the key to my eventual rise to the throne! Why would I abandon them?
Londo: Because I have asked you. Because your loyalty to our people should be greater than your ambition. And because I have poisoned your drink. Yes… and it is very interesting poison. It comes in two parts. Both are harmless on their own. But when combined…quite lethal. The first settles into the bloodstream, and the intestinal walls. It stays there for years. Silent…dormant…waiting. When the other half of the poison enters your system the two meet, have a little party in your cardiovascular system…and suddenly, you are quite dead.
Refa: Why? Why did you do this?
Londo: To guarantee your cooperation! And because sooner or later, you would do it to me! As we are returning to the old ways, Refa, and poison was always the instrument of choice in the old Republic, being something of a sentimentalist, I got here first.

Season 4:
Marcus: At least a dozen ships have reported seeing something rather godlike in the area, and since neither you nor I were there, it must be one of the First Ones.
Ivanova: [smiling] You’re having delusions of grandeur again.
Marcus: Well, if you’re gonna have delusions, may as well go for the really satisfying ones.

Drazi: Captain…we’re sorry…We thought you were dead.
Sheridan: I was. I’m better now.

Morden: You’re insane.
Londo: On any other day, you’d be wrong. But today… today is a very special day! One last time, remove your ships!
Morden: No! You don’t frighten us Mollari. If you go up against our ships, you’ll lose.
Londo: Yes! Your ships are very impressive in the air, or in space, but at this moment, they are on the ground.
Morden: Right. They’re on the ground. But they can sense an approaching ship miles away. So what’re you gonna do, Mollari, huh? Blow up the island?
Londo: Actually…now that you mention it… (he produces a small remote detonator)
Moden: NO! (Londo blows up the island)

Lorien: We’ve lived too long, seen too much. To live on, as we have, is to leave behind joy, love, and companionship because we know it to be transitory; of the moment. We know it will turn to ash. Only those whose lives are brief can believe that love, is eternal… You should embrace that remarkable illusion. It may be the greatest gift your race has ever received.

Sheridan: Commander! Did you threaten to grab this man by the collar and threaten to throw him out an airlock?
Susan Ivanova: Yes, I did.
Sheridan: I’m shocked! Shocked and dismayed. May I remind you that we are short on supplies here? We can’t afford to take perfectly good clothing and throw it out into space! Always take the jacket off first—I’ve told you that before! Sorry. She meant to say, “stripped naked and thrown out of an airlock”. I apologize for any confusion this may have caused.

Franklin: Smells like the inside of a Martian pleasure dome on Sunday morning.
Marcus: Wouldn’t know about that.
Franklin: Don’t make me come over there and [flick] take that thing from you.
Marcus: Helps me relax.
Franklin: Marcus, this is the kind of conversation that can only end with a gunshot!
Marcus: Would you like me to sing instead?
Franklin: No.
Marcus: You haven’t heard me!

Sheridan: You have a face people trust.
Ivanova: I’d rather have a face people fear.
Sheridan: That too.

Marcus Cole: Touch passion when it comes your way, Stephen. It’s rare enough as it is. Don’t walk away when it calls you by name.

Now this is one of my favorites. It was taken from the season finale of season 4, when J Michael Straczynski was apparently planning on wrapping it up. It happens after we get a montage of scenes showing how Sheridan, Delenn and what they’ve done will be remembered a million years hence.

Sheridan: I was just thinking about it all, and what I said earlier. And I was just wondering, if they will they remember us in a hundred years or a thousand. And I figure, probably not.
Delenn: But it doesn’t matter. We did what we did because it was right, not to be remembered. History will tend to itself, it always does.
(End Credit) DEDICATED TO ALL THE PEOPLE WHO PREDICTED THE BABYLON PROJECT WOULD FAIL IN ITS MISSION. FAITH MANAGES.

But alas, there was a final season. A friend told me that gwas convinced to make it for the sake of his fans, but I also heard he planned to do five all along and got the funding for it at the last minute. Either way, there were some more doozies! Here are a few…

Season 5:
G’Kar: Do you want to be President?
Sheridan: Yes.
G’Kar: Put your hand on the book and say “I do.”
Sheridan: I do.
G’Kar: Good. Done. Let’s eat.

Bester: Let me ask you something, Mr. Garibaldi. Purely philosophical question. On a scale of one to ten… how stupid do you think I am, anyway? Do you really think I’d let you run around, knowing what you know, and leave you free to kill me?
Garibaldi: What have you done to me?
Bester: I’ve hit you with an Asimov.

Sheridan: Delenn, I have been working up a good mad all day and I am NOT about to let you ruin it by agreeing with me!

G’Kar: Well, with everyone now on the same side, perhaps you’re planning to invade yourselves for a change. I find the idea curiously appealing. Once you’ve finished killing each other, we can plow under all the buildings and plant rows of flowers that spell out the words, “Too annoying to live” in letters big enough to be seen from space.

Londo: I have this feeling… Something is terribly wrong…
G’Kar: You’re at war with everyone in the known universe. Perhaps its that.

Alright, that’s all I got room for now. Holy hell, that was a good show! So many good episodes, so many good lines. I wish they’d get on the spin-offs already!