Writing Rules

I’ve collected this year’s Writing Rules, so that they’d exist all in one place.  Next year’s task will be adding tags to all my posts…  Here, in reverse order or random importance, are the 20 Writing Rules of 2009.

#20  Understand that no idea in your head ever sounds as good when you say it out loud, at least not in the soundbite version you’re going to tell your wife, brother, friend, or whomever.  That doesn’t make the story a bad one, though…

#19  Find a source (or several sources) of motivation.  I would advise that your list of motivational wellsprings not include money or fame.  Vindication is a good one, though.  Whatever you use to inspire yourself, hang on to it.

“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”

#18  Decide what do you want from writing, and once you have, take the time to ponder that decision every so often.

#17  Join a crit group.

#16 The earlier in a story a flashback appears, the more obvious it becomes to the reader that your story has begun in the wrong place (and, possibly, is being told by the wrong person).

#15 Write the story you want to read.

#14 There are two types of research.
Type A: Research which involves wandering through books, the net, etc., in a search for inspiration, plot, and virtue.
Tybe B: When you need to know what the damn thing was called, what it did, or how it worked.

Type A is fun, Type B is frustating.  When stuck with type B research, go here: 

http://www.nypl.org/questions/chat.html and ask them…  Don’t take up too much of their time, and thank them for the hours they’ve saved you…

#13  There is no rule #13

#12 Keep the momentum going. 

#11 Write the story you want to tell.  Write the story that’s bursting to get out of you.  Give that one wings and bright eyes and little hooks on the end of its legs.  Give it life.  Then loose it upon the world.

#10  Dialogue should give the reader the guilty pleasure of eavesdropping.  As an author, get the hell out of the way.  Use the word “said” and stop using the other ones.  You know the ones…

#9  Click on this link – www.duotrope.com and register.

#8  Writing requires sacrifice, on the part of yourself as well as those you love.  Remember this.

#7  Do not be afraid to hitchhike on an idea you like.  Don’t steal or copy, but allow the ideas of others to inspire you. 

#6  Be clear.  Jot down a couple things that you absolutely want every smart reader to KNOW after they’ve read your story.  Keep the list short; 2 or 3 things.  Now go back and make sure that you’ve given the reader enough of a push to get them to those destinations.

#5  Stretch.  Struggle.  Leave the low hanging fruit for those who refuse to stretch and struggle. The stories I’m proudest of are the ones that were HARD to write.  Perhaps you’ll experience that to be true for you, too.

#4 Maybe the first time someone used an apostrophe in a name to show how exotic and otherworldly the character was (Vr’kva’ne or whatever) it worked.  Maybe even the second time.  Not anymore.  Seriously.

#3  Don’t let rule #2 turn your narrative into a boring trip to Boresville.

#2.  Do not try and do too much in your short story.  Short stories are far too often cluttered with too much of this:  Boy who’s father was killed by the cheiftain that subsequently stole his mother, prompting the boy to find the soothsayer to learn how to weave the rope of command to catch the horse he’d heard about in a myth (insert gratituios flashback scene here) to return to the village and smite the usurper and retrieve his mother, thus bringing honor back to his family…

As always, though, if you make complex plots work, then they must not be too complex, right?

Rule # 1.  Do not, under any circumstances, listen to someone else’s writing rules.  It’s your life, and you are perfectly entitled to write your story any damn way you please.


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