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The rules of writing. (1 Viewer)

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Olly Buckle

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Patron
Okay, calm down, I am not really an authoritarian :)

I always think of them as "Things worth considering" rather than rules, You can go against any one of them Provided you have a good reason to

Yep, any one, you can even leave out punctuation and spell things wrong If you have a good reason to.

If you are just doing it for the craigh it is probably a mistake, note I said 'Probably', I really don't think any of them are rules in the 'hard and fast' sense.


Thing is, what are these rules? I can think of a few, besides checking spelling and grammar,

Kill your darlings.

Get your reader's attention early on.

Less is more.

Never use a ten cent word when a five cent word will do.

But can you think of any more? And you can get into the 'Why?' if you like; like why I shouldn't I start sentences with a conjunction or repeat words next to each other?
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
The fact this topic comes up so frequently says more about writers than about writing. The need for structure and stability in an artform which exists as a kind of mirror maze.

I have read books which most certainly fit the 'less is more' mantra and I have read books that most definitely do not. If there's anything to be understood by the rule, then, it's a matter of numerical superiority: More often books tend to be good that use the principle of 'less is more' than do not include it.

But, even that, is dependent on which books we are speaking of and the biases caused by perpetually small sample sizing: A book written in the voice of a sesquipedalian professor CANNOT follow the 'less is more' rule when it comes to the language. The trick is understanding what likely constitutes exceptions and what likely constitutes rules.

With that in mind, some rules that I can think of that seem generally pretty solid and which I think I could justify:

- Avoid opening stories with extended descriptions of the weather, or other mundane scenery.

- Do not feature scenes of rape or sexual abuse unless they absolutely cannot be omitted from the story without the entire story ceasing to exist (do not use such scenes 'to show character', for instance)

- Adhere to the Bechdel Test in any story where there are more than at least two female characters and where plot continuity allows it.

- Dialogue is the most interesting part of any story and must be delivered perfectly every time. Always read dialogue out loud.

- Do not dress a villain in black clothing.

- Avoid good looking protagonists, unless they become ugly during the story.

- Never try to describe genitalia in a sexy way.

- Avoid prologues

- Work to keep chapters within approximately 5,000 words.

- Ensure that the end of every scene delivers a sense of meaningful change of circumstance from the beginning of the scene, commensurate with the length in word count of the scene. Avoid scenes that do not 'move the story'.

- Avoid scenes that show cruelty to animals, especially dogs, unless mandated by the plot.

- Avoid 'logistical' scenes unless extraordinarily interesting.

- Use no more than one simile OR metaphor per paragraph to avoid image overload.

- Characters should accurately reflect the demographics of the environment: A book set in modern New York City or London should not consist solely of white, English speaking people, for instance.

That's all I got for now.
 

Terra

Senior Member
A 'good' implication should suffice - this is along the lines of don't explain, describe;

Read out loud - this is tricky for me because how I read out loud, is much different than how a reader reads;

Less is more - worth repeating from other posts above;

Inject humour - use it in character development because everyone has some sort of sense of humour;
 

EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
The main character should be involved in the climactic ending.

I suspect there's things we do right so automatically that we don't even realize we are doing them. "Resolve the main conflict."

Consider the reader's perspective.

That came up recently. Are you trying to show that the situation is intense for your character, or are you trying to make it intense for the reader?
 

Olly Buckle

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Patron
I had not heard of the Bechdel test, but I immediately thought of my short 'Mrs W.' written after a bus journey down East hill in Hastings. Proud to say it concerns two women, they converse, and they never mention a man :) It is on my YouTube channel if you want to hear it, probably not the best one there, but...

"... this is along the lines of don't explain, describe;" How on earth did I miss 'Show don't tell', that really is a saw that is repeated and repeated.

"Express rather than impress" I love, there is seldom anything more tedious than an over inflated ego attempting to be impressive, and expressing something is usually the whole point.

And 'Read it aloud', I can't think of a case off hand where that would not be applicable, and how did I miss it when I am currently working on a project to get all my shorts read aloud on YouTube? Doh!

Thank you, this is great stuff folks, keep them coming. It may seem old hat to some of us, but there will be newbies who get a lot from this.
 

Olly Buckle

Mentor
Patron
I had not heard of the Bechdel test, but I immediately thought of my short 'Mrs W.' written after a bus journey down East hill in Hastings. Proud to say it concerns two women, they converse, and they never mention a man :) It is on my YouTube channel if you want to hear it, probably not the best one there, but...

"... this is along the lines of don't explain, describe;" How on earth did I miss 'Show don't tell', that really is a saw that is repeated and repeated.

"Express rather than impress" I love, there is seldom anything more tedious than an over inflated ego attempting to be impressive, and expressing something is usually the whole point.

And 'Read it aloud', I can't think of a case off hand where that would not be applicable, and how did I miss it when I am currently working on a project to get all my shorts read aloud on YouTube? Doh!

Thank you, this is great stuff folks, keep them coming. It may seem old hat to some of us, but there will be newbies who get a lot from this.


Here is another, "Always carry a notebook"
 

VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
"Never end a sentence with a preposition."

That, by the way, is one every writer can disregard. Restructuring to scoot the preposition back into the sentence often makes the sentence not only wordy, but too formal.

That's all I can think of. -- That's all of which I can think.

"Don't split infinitives."

While we shouldn't try to fit an entire phrase into the middle of our infinitive, trying to eject a single adverb often results in awkward, and therefore less clear, sentences. The Chicago Manual of Style gave up the battle in 1983, and even that was too late. Of course, we should always consider whether that adverb is necessary to the sentence, anyway. Often it isn't, so if you write "He decided to immediately start", you can smile with satisfaction as you follow two rules with one deletion. :)

That's efficiency! (Uh oh ... what's that rule about exclamation points again?)
 

Pamelyn Casto

WF Veterans
I'm with Olly Buckle-- writing rules or guidelines are meant to be carefully considered. It's good for a writer to understand the general rules or guidelines or suggestions for effective writing and it's also good for a writer to understand that those rules/ guidelines can often be broken to good effect. Sometimes breaking beginner writing rules can result in something outstanding. (Basics first, then comes the break from tradition or expectations.)

Here's the "rule" I'm busy trying to learn all I can about its effective uses.

Writing Rule: Don’t use passive voice.

That is . . .

Unless you’re Charles Dickens: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness . . .”

Or unless you're William Golding as he's writing The Inheritors.

Or unless you're Jane Austen who loved to poke euphemistic fun at her characters through the use of passive voice.

Use of passive voice is a much maligned, much misunderstood writing "rule" but it is a writing tool we can put to good and effective use when we learn what it's for and how it works. I'm still learning.
 

JJBuchholz

Senior Member
Checking spelling and grammar

An obvious must, and one I do after every scene so as to not leave myself a ton of work right after I finish writing the story. I do give it a once
over at that point, but it saves a lot of time by going over every scene after they're completed.

Kill your darlings.

Only when necessary. Death of a popular, relatable character can be considered very cliche. Even though it's not easy to always kill off a character,
this is something that should only be done if there is no other option to move the plot/other character arc forward. Severe injuries can work better
n a lot of cases.

Get your reader's attention early on.

Indeed.

Less is more.

My own writing style is to not give away too many details in each scene. I want to reader to figure it out as much as possible, and just give them
enough to tantalize them into wanting more and proceeding through the story.

But can you think of any more? And you can get into the 'Why?'

1) Don't reuse too many words over and over. I believe this is called a 'crutch word' situation that a lot of writers have.
2) Keep the cast of characters small. Too many characters means too many arcs and too many plot points that need to be taken care of. The
stories we write are only as hard as we make them.

-JJB
 

VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
Writing Rule: Don’t use passive voice.

That is . . .

Unless you’re Charles Dickens: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness . . .”

Passive voice may be one of the most misunderstood concepts. It really should be "Don't use passive voice all the damned time!" LOL A good blog on copula spiders will clear this one up, for most people, in one fifteen minute read. I came across one literary agency who devoted a page on their web site to it. They'll give you one copula spider per page. If you have more than that, they reject you. But mark what that says: "One copula spider per PAGE. That's nine "It was a dark and stormy night" on each page, and they're OK with that, as much as they warn you off copulas.

Many copulas are easy to fix. Either bring the connecting verb plus noun forward and dump the copula (1), or turn a following gerund (or -ing verb) into a verb and dump the copula (2).

(1) I was delighted by the lights. --> The lights delighted me.

(2) I was swimming toward the pier. --> I swam toward the pier.

We can't do that every time, and we don't want to do that every time, but it's what to look for when we've drifted into writing a lot of passive sentences. I recently read a first draft by a gentleman who otherwise writes well, but 90% of his sentences had copulas ... even his action. As much as *I* look for them while writing my first draft (and I'm closing in on 3.5 million words of fiction now), I edited just over seven hundred sentences to get rid of them in my last completed work, last summer. I think I'm doing better in my current first draft. (Crossed fingers).
 
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Pamelyn Casto

WF Veterans
Never use a ten cent word when a five cent word will do.

Another fine rule/ guideline. And it too has plenty of exceptions. So I guess it's a matter of choosing the best words for best effect-- five cent or ten cent words. A challenge today too is that so many people are polyglots now so there are always new words coming to be (at least for the reader who reads English only). I love how we readers can learn about so many unfamiliar words in a reading context.

Writers like Vladimir Nabokov, James Joyce, Edgar Allen Poe, Shakespeare loved not just the "ten cent" words but loved the fifty cent words as well. Lots of readers would be unsatisfied with a small or limited vocabulary on the part of a writer. Such readers usually require more than "See Dick and Jane run" sentences.

I was once quoted in a California newspaper because I used the word "autochthonic" in my writing (the newspaper columnist loved it and called it a $5 word.:-D) That was fun. (I was referring to my ancestors and how we came to be-- we were born from the mouth of a cave.)

Good, basic rules are helpful and solid. But as we all know, readers come in all shapes and sizes and likely want different things from the material they read. My own reading preference is for writers with larger vocabularies. I love the magic of words and want to learn from them because they sure know how to manage that large vocabulary to great effect. Some outstanding writers even make up their own words-- they make up five dollar and ten dollar words.

This is so good that we can go over "writing rules" together (and their exceptions) It can be a refresher course for us all.
 

VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
T- Avoid good looking protagonists, unless they become ugly during the story.

Great list of rules Lucky!
This one surprised me. What is the reason for it?

If this were true for the screenplay, a lot of actors would be out of work!

It's for the writer who is trying too hard. Unless their hero is poor, struggling, ugly, crippled, and emotionally scarred, they think the character is too stock. It's gotten to the point in some circles where the poor, struggling, ugly, crippled and emotionally scarred character is the cliché, not the other way around.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
It's for the writer who is trying too hard. Unless their hero is poor, struggling, ugly, crippled, and emotionally scarred, they think the character is too stock. It's gotten to the point in some circles where the poor, struggling, ugly, crippled and emotionally scarred character is the cliché, not the other way around.

Ok, that's good to know. Because my protagonist is freakin' gorgeous!
 

Olly Buckle

Mentor
Patron
a writing tool we can put to good and effective use when we learn what it's for and how it works. I'm still learning.

One of my life rules, not just a writing rule "When you stop learning you start dying"

I like 'Fix it in the edit', Bazz, Let it flow out, then fix it so other people understand, but get that raw stuff to work on first.
 
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