Give a monkey a monkey bar.

David L. Robbins, novelist, educator, playwright, essayist

No, I’m not talking about the zoo–unless that zoo is the wonderful world of novel manuscript revision (did my sarcasm shine through there?).

Rust Belt Girl followers know I’m currently reworking my historical novel, chapter by painstaking chapter. And, as with most things, I’m not doing it alone.

Robbins–quoted above–taught a historical novel-writing course as part of my grad program, way back when, when the first little seed of my novel was planted.

His advice is evergreen. To me, “give a monkey a monkey bar” means to give a character something to showcase what he or she can do. Phone calls and meandering strolls don’t let a character prove their worth–unless he suddenly realizes he’s lost his voice or she breaks a leg.

Today, I’ve dumped a scene where I had two guys sitting in a bar exchanging information in favor of a steep trek into the clouds of the Marin Highlands where a WWII battery fortification is being constructed. We’ll see if the scene goes or stays.

But advice is always welcome.

What’s your best writing advice?

7 thoughts on “a bit of writerly advice

    1. Amen. Yes, put the butt in the chair even when the writing isn’t flowing. Great advice! Another WordPress blogger wrote about how she creates “garbage scenes,” even if she knows they won’t stay in her manuscript, to move past a tough spot or flesh a character out, etc. Thanks for checking in!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. The best writing advice I ever got was, “Don’t write. Tell a story.” You can always tell the people who “write”. Who know they’re writing. The stilted form, the hackneyed devices, the stock phrases, the over use of adverbs. They’re all giveaways. Being told early that I was trying too hard to be appear as a “writer” was the most constructive criticism I’ve still ever received.

    I received almost the exact same advice when I went into radio as a profession. Our first lecture at broadcast school, the teacher said “When you are on the radio you are not talking to an audience. You are talking to an individual, because that’s how people listen. So only talk to one person.” We were told to imagine we were chatting with our best friend, or a family member, whenever we opened the mic. Only talk to them, no one else. Thinking “I have to talk like I’m on the radio” would be a death knell.

    Twenty four years later I’m still on the air, and I still follow that advice. I suspect anyone looking to hone their communication skills, whether written, oral, or visual, would benefit from adopting a more natural tone as well. Audiences can smell artificiality a mile away.

    But I like the advice you posted here quite a bit as well, particularly as pertains to character development. Thanks for that!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m going to write it again: “Don’t write. Tell a story.” Because that’s wonderful advice I don’t want to ever forget. It’s about immersing oneself in the story, isn’t it? Forgetting the writer’s ego–not so easy to do in this day and age when we writers are told we’re supposed to be forming a following, to be building a brand. When what we should do is just tell as story–as if we’re sitting down one-on-one with a good friend. Your advice pertaining radio is just as applicable to the written word. Wonderful tip. Thank you, and I look forward to checking out your blog!


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