Clare Davidson

Writing without compromise

Tuesday Writing Tip: Nic Widhalm

Today I'd like to introduce you to the acerbic wit of Nic Widhalm, author of short story, 'Razors and Rust'. Take it away, Nic!


Fight the Power: Writing Advice That Should be Ignored

If you’re a writer there are two things you are guaranteed to receive through the course of your career: rejection, and more writing advice than you can shake a stick at.

Now, rejection we can learn to handle. It stings, sure, but like a case of childhood chicken pox it only makes you stronger in the end (As well as itchy...but I digress). Writing advice, on the other hand, is an insidious little bugger that harms as often as it helps, paralyzes as much as it frees, itches as much as it...uh...makes things un-itch. (I don’t know, I’m a writer not a doctor).

You must remain ever-vigilant against these writing commandments, alert against the totalitarian writer’s cabal that says “Things should always be this way.”

In other words, fight the power.

Over the years I’ve heard some doozies, but here are the three worst pieces of writing advice I’ve ever received.

1. Write What You Know

Hmm, let’s see, write what you know...well, I know all about the stupid construction going on across the street that keeps making me late to work. That’s interesting. Or, I spent a fair amount of time catching up on all ten seasons of Smallville, so I could spin some prose on Supermanny angst.

I also know a fair amount about arguing with Century Link about installing DSL. That’s interezzzzzzz.....

Huh? What? Drool on the keyboard?

Hey, if I wanted to know about installing DSL I would become a freaking installer for goodness sake! I’m here to write about dragons, and wizards, and orangutans fighting space zombies because I’m a storyteller dammit. That’s what we do.

You can write a damn good story about road construction. Go for it, if that’s what makes your fingers tingle. Otherwise, write what you don’t know, and have some fun. You think JK Rowling knew about butterbeer before she got Harry Potter drunk for the first time?

2. Never Kill Your Protagonist

I recently returned from Chicago World Con,and this was one of the biggest pieces of advice I kept hearing: if you kill your main character your readers will never trust you. And if they don’t trust you, they won’t buy your books.

Ok, sure. I get that. You want to make your readers love your protagonist (shameless self promotion: I wrote a blog on that exact subject), which means they shouldn’t, you know, wish for them to die.

Welp, too bad. Sometimes your MC has to bite the bullet.

You know what happens when no one dies in your books, like ever? Your audience doesn’t believe they’re in danger. And if they’re not in danger there goes the conflict. And without conflict you can forget about drama.

And every time you forget about drama a kitten dies.

So there you go, kitten hater. Do you really want that on your conscience? I know it hurts, you love your characters after all. They’ve been your friends for years/six months/ninety days/one caffeine-soaked afternoon. But you need to learn to say goodbye.

Stephen King said it best--sometimes you have to kill your darlings.

3. Show, Don’t Tell.

And here we go. The grandpappy of them all. The three words branded on every English teacher’s soul: show, don’t tell.

All it took was three little words to kill the most misunderstood of the eight parts of language--the adverb.

We avoid the adverb because adverbs tell, right? And telling is the worst sin you can ever commit. “Telling” is responsible for more bad prose in a single week than the semi-colon, passive voice, and italics combined!

And lets not forget hyperbole.

Look, I get it. I know why “telling” is bad. I know it can kill your prose. But you know what? Screw it. Sometimes I wish writers would just ignore this pillar of writing wisdom.

I mean, you tell me which is better:

-“You mean it was the butler all along?” Clifford asked, his eyebrows climbing up his forehead, mouth slightly agape, pupils dilated, nostrils flaring and hands clenched tightly at his side

-“You mean it was the butler all along?” Clifford asked, shocked.

Story is king, my friends. And if it gets your story moving, well, consider giving “tell” a break. I know your Creative Writing teacher will mark you down, but even Dostoyevsky had to suffer a “B-” every now and then.

And he never had to kill any kittens.


Nic Widhalm is a freelance writer based out of Northern Colorado,
specializing in urban fantasy and supernatural horror. His work can be
found in magazines and review boards nationwide, as well as the local
blog, Discover Fort Collins. He is happily married, has two beautiful,
feisty kids, and spends much of his free time singing and beat-boxing
for the professional a cappella group, Curious Gage.


Diego Santos will never forget the day he met Sir Wentworth Atlee.

He had spent his whole life reading about the legendary recluse, but never expected to meet him. Until one day Diego is summoned to Atlee's palatial estate. There, he discovers that Atlee has developed a plan that will change everything we know about life and death. It will unlock the deepest mysteries of the universe. Roll back time itself.

Or, at least that's what Atlee says.

And all he needs is a pyramid...

You can buy 'Razors and Rust' for Kindle at Amazon and Amazon UK.

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On 09/10/2012 Margaret Alexander said: Oh, thank you for this post, how brilliant! All of those points bug me at one point or another. While I agree with them most of the time, they don't apply 100%. Sometimes you have to know when to break the rules to make your prose even better. Great stuff!

On 10/10/2012 Ruth Ellen Parlour said: It's nice to read about tips NOT to follow for a change. I tend to think of writing 'Rules' as the pirates code - more like guidelines. I think it's more than fine to kill your darlings and even telling has it's place. I always say 'write what you know, if you don't know then find out!'

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