Categories of Writing Smells


I’ve been writing down writing smells for over a year now, and the collection is growing. Time for some house cleaning. In this case, dividing the smells into categories.

Form and function

A good place to start ordering is by looking at “form over function”.

Storytelling is something that crosses medium boundaries. Stories exist in writing, cinema, and video games. However, some of the writing smells apply only to writing. These smells relate to errors in the form or the – I think – better term ‘style’.

On the other side of this split is the ‘Structure’ of stories, which also applies to other media.

Organising ‘style’

When looking at the style, we can differentiate further. One way to do this is by the scope of the smells. Some style smells are on the word level of a story, while others relate to sentences, while still others are on the scene level. After some thinking, I came up with the following list of categories:

Organising ‘structure’

If we look at the structure aspect of writing, you’re looking at things that apply to every type of story, regardless of genre and medium.

How to divide these further? The first thing that comes to mind is Orson Scott Card’s MICE quotient.

However, I don’t like the terms Milieu, Idea, or Event, so I’m substituing Setting, Theme, and Plot – I understand that STCP makes a lousy acronym, but screw it.

I’m also reordering them to the order that you’ll most likely work on them, starting with Character and ending with Theme:

And there we are, a nice ordering. I’ll update the smells page to reflect these changes. I hope that helps with your writing.

Martin Stellinga Written by:

I'm a science fiction and fantasy writer from the Netherlands