All you need to know about writing in 1,000 words

There are a lot of things like this out there, but this is one of the best, most succinct and well-written examples I’ve ever seen. I found it via Joanna Penn (you may remember her from Day 1 of the blog book tour) who passed on the link via Twitter (you can find Jo there under @thecreativepenn). The link was to Nathan Bransford’s blog. Nathan Bransford is a literary agent for Curtis Brown. I’ve mentioned him before and I regularly follow his blog, but for some reason I missed this one.

Anyway, the particular post in question is a guest blog from A Victoria Mixon, a writer and editor for over thity years. The stuff she writes about in this article is stuff that every writer should know and stuff that every writer should do. However, the way she presents that stuff in this article is excellent and a great way to give your brain a refresher. In the article she says:

Hook your reader (make them curious), tell your story, throw them off a metaphorical cliff when you’re done.

She then goes on to the five biggest mistakes in plotting:

1) Starting with backstory.

2) Letting the complications sag.

3) Dragging your denouement out.

4) Putting the climax too far from the end.

5) Using a trick ending.

And then she talks about Character, Dialogue, Description, Action and Exposition.

It’s a brilliant piece – go here and read the whole thing. Then read it again. Then bookmark it for later.

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13 thoughts on “All you need to know about writing in 1,000 words

  1. Great piece but I disagree with the trick ending — unless he meant something very specific by it? We need to draw a distinction between a “good” surprise ending and a “bad” ending that overdoes the concealment of information.

    He doesn’t go into the difference — maybe that’s something for you to explore?

  2. Hey Michael. It’s actually a she – A. Victoria Mixon. And I think the explanation is in the article. She’s drawing a distinction between the completely unhinted surprise and the twist that had clues leading up to it. She says: “Even mysteries, which appear to be all about trick endings, give the reader the clues to see through the trick before they get to it.”

    I think the important distinction is that even if readers didn’t get it, they can see it in retrospect. As opposed to an ending that no one could possibly have seen coming.

    However, I’m a fan of the surprise ending and the twist, if it’s done well. If it’s poorly executed or blatantly obvious, then that just annoys me. Maybe it’s not too clear, but I think that’s what Mixon is suggesting.

  3. This was a good find. Still, if everyone wrote to these “rules” books would be all the same. I wouldn’t want to read any of them because I know what I’d be in for. They’d be devoid of personality. As for no trick endings, she must be one of the x amount of editors who rejected Harry Potter. Despite my cynicism, I found it an enlightening article.

  4. I don’t really see these rules as homogenising writing in any way. I see them all as really good advice on making your writing interesting and readable, which is what gives you a chance to then let your own voice shine through.

  5. You had me worried there — but I thought she was a he because I saw the blog author’s picture and missed the guest post bit.

    I still think sometimes even the ending that no-one could possibly have seen coming could still be good — for instance in a Douglas Adams book. So it’s all about context — which is why I don’t believe rules are all that useful. Ultimately most people who use the very-surprise ending will be thinking that their use is the “justified” version just like Douglas Adams did — but the only real way to find out is after the fact from the readers.

  6. I suppose that’s true. Then again, doing your own thing with a mind to rules like these should help a writer improve their craft.

  7. Hi Alan!

    Thanks for the pingback. And for overseeing even more discussion. It’s great—I love the discussions people get into over this stuff—it shows everyone’s awake and paying attention. There was a lot of this type of discussion on Nathan’s blog, at the time, too.

    I actually addressed these issues on my blog at (possibly unnecessary) length in earlier pre-Nathan posts. The post for his blog is exactly 1000 words, so I couldn’t get too deep into them there.

    The trick ending issue is in a post called Pushing your readers off a metaphorical cliff at http://victoriamixon.com/2009/07/06/pushing-your-readers-off-a-metaphorical-cliff/. John Gardner taught me about this in his classic Becoming a Novelist, which every aspiring writer should read and absorb into their bloodstream.

    For the record, I love Douglas Adams. His endings always make bizarre but complete sense in the context of his novels–no trick about them. That’s a whole post in itself, how he set up the conditions just right. He was a wily little devil. And no, I’m not one of the editors who rejected Harry Potter. I don’t have those kind of chops in the industry, sad to say. Funny the conclusions people can jump to.

    The homogenization issue is in a post called Sorting out the hype at http://victoriamixon.com/2009/04/18/sorting-out-the-hype/. It’s often hard to know, when you’re starting out, exactly what it is that you bring to your writing that’s uniquely you and what conventions of literature you’re just stuck with (like writing with words for a reading audience). Lots of geniuses have toyed with this issue. Homogenization was not the result. Flannery O’Connor famously said, “You can do anything in fiction that you can get away with, but nobody’s ever gotten away with much.”

    We are, actually, tackling such issues anew on my blog right now, since that guest post stirred up so much interest in them. It’s heck of fun. So far we’ve done dialog and cutting & trimming. We’re onto exposition next, I think, and then possibly the whole hullabaloo over: how close to the end is too close? I think I’ll call that one the shave-&-a-haircut post.

    Thanks again, Alan!

    Victoria

  8. Hi Victoria – great to hear from you. Thanks for dropping in to clarify. I added your blog to my feed after I discovered that 1,000 words post, so I’ve been following the other posts. It’s all very interesting stuff. Thanks also for the links in your comment above.

  9. Good find, Alan, and excellent to see Victoria chime in. I’ve added her blog to my feeds as well. Could have done without the book references – my ‘to buy’ list seems to be in forever growing mode :c(

    Good stuff.

  10. Ah, don’t you just love the interwebz?

    Victoria, I think one of the best things aboug blogging is being able to post something, generate a discussion and subsequently post to refine those original ideas based on comments and feedback. So much better than the days of old with fops in smoking jackets wiffling on to themselves in a diary.

    BT – I hear ya. My “To read” pile is only eclipsed by my “To buy” list. *sigh*

  11. Absolutely, Alan. It’s a whole other world of after-dinner conversation, isn’t it? Although I admit I get a pang at the thought of losing anything as riveting as “wiffling.”

    A couple of lifetimes ago, I worked as editor-in-chief of small newspapers. The highlight of my day was receiving letters to the editor. I chronically published inflammatory editorials in the hopes of inciting discussion. Non-editors thought I was insane, but other editors knew what it was about.

    I’m not so inflammatory these days. It’s a blaze that eventually reaches equilibrium. But I still love the evidence that people out there have BRAINS.

    Victoria

    P.S. If you two ever run out of “To read’s” drop me a line and I’ll rattle off a shelf from the wall of bookshelves my husband built for me in my office up here under the eaves. I’ve got an American side and a British side. Sort of.

  12. Oh, don’t get me wrong, there’s always a place for wiffling. I’m just glad that’s not ALL we have now.

    And yes, evidence of people with brains is always heartening.

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