Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Rules of Writing - Part II

Last week I posted Part I of the Rules of Writing, but there were so many, I needed to create a second part, so today I continue the list, with my commentary. The contributing authors for Part II are: Hilary Mantel, Michael Moorcock, Michael Morpurgo, Andrew Motion, Joyce Carol Oates, Annie Proulx, Philip Pullman, Ian Rankin, Will Self, Helen Simpson, Zadie Smith, Colm Toibin, Rose Tremain, Sarah Waters, and Jeanette Winterson.
  • Are you serious about this? Then get an accountant. [DL: And an attorney, a group of beta readers, an editor, and an EIN number. And don't forget a dash of sanity.]
  • Read Becoming a Writer, by Dorothea Brande [DL: Here's the link: Becoming a Writer on Amazon
  • Be aware that anything that appears before "Chapter One" may be skipped. Don't put your vital clue there. [DL: I believe in Part I of these rules, there was a rule that even said not to write prologues. This is why. Like it or not, people skip prologues. If the information is vital to the story, don't put it in a prologue or other front matter. Find a way to work that into your manuscript and skip the prologue. I have heard the rule many times before.]
  • Description works best if it has a human element and comes from an implied human viewpoint rather than from the eye of God. If it is colored by the viewpoint of the character doing the noticing, description becomes part of the character definition and part of the action. [DL: This is why omniscient storytelling is not encouraged and can be dry. When the viewpoint comes from outside the characters, the reader doesn't get a good sense of the characters.]
  • Read. [DL: This rule comes up often, with a variation that says to read outside your genre as much as possible.]
  • The first third of your novel is the introduction, the middle third is the development, and the final third is the resolution. [DL: Introduce characters and plots in the introduction, develop them in the development, and resolve them in the resolution. We shouldn't be meeting a main character for the first time in the development, and we should be starting to wrap up the main action by the time we reach the final third of the story].
  • Once the book is finished in its first draft, I read it out loud to myself. How it sounds is hugely important. [DL: If you read Part I that was posted last week, this rule should sound familiar. It came up over and over and over (and over again) on the list. In other words, if you're not reading your story out loud while editing it, you're probably not catching flow problems.]
  • Think with your senses as well as your brain. [DL: This rule ties in with the following rule.]
  • Honor the miraculousness of the ordinary. [DL: Eating a pear may seem ordinary to you, but to someone who has never eaten a pear, it's an experience. Remember in the movie, City of Angels, when Meg Ryan described what eating a pear was like? Sweet, juicy. Grainy, like sugar that melts on my tongue. I think that's what she said. Does that sound "ordinary" to you? Try to imagine what these "ordinary" experiences feel, smell, look, taste, and sound like. Make them EXTRAordinary.] 
  • Let your work stand before deciding whether or not to serve. [DL: This one is so important, I need to expand on it. When you grill a steak, you're supposed to let it stand so the juices seep back into the tissues and don't escape when you cut it. In other words, don't serve the meal before it's ready to be eaten. Same with your books. I see a lot of authors crank out a first draft and then publish it within a few weeks. Whoa, whoa, whoa! A few weeks is not enough time to let your precious baby sit. A manuscript needs to rest a while, then go through edits. Right after you've finished writing it, you think it's a masterpiece. Only after you put fresh eyes to it after a resting period will you see all that still needs to be done before it's ready. I've looked at my "masterpieces" after a couple of months and wondered what drugs I was on when I wrote that crap. How embarrassing (and reputationally damaging) it would have been had I published it immediately after finishing it. Hold tight...more rules on this coming up.]
  • Use plain, familiar words, not polysyllabic ones. [DL: I used to write using large words no one knew. Now I know better. You don't want your readers reading two books: yours and a dictionary. KISS - Keep It Simple Sweetie.]
  • Rewrite and edit until you achieve the most [well-suited] phrase/sentence/paragraph/page/ story/chapter. [DL: Much like letting a manuscript sit for a while, I put each manuscript through at least five rounds of edits. At least. Letting it sit between each edit. The first two edits are for large amounts of rewriting and editing, where I will add, rewrite, remove, or relocate entire chapters or scenes. The next couple/few edits are for honing smaller scenes and paragraphs. Then I move on to fix things on a sentence level. Finally, I go through and address individual words, cutting out the extras or changing them. Only by running a finer-toothed comb through each read-thru can I get to a point where I feel I've fleshed out all the fat. You can't fix all the small stuff until the big stuff is fixed, so this requires many rounds of edits.
  • Don't look back until you've written an entire draft. [DL: This is another rule that was repeated often. Do not begin editing until you've finished the first draft. You have to have something to edit before you can edit it.]
  • The real work is in the edit. [DL: Here's another rule about letting your work stand before you serve it. I have seen too many authors publish their books without so much as a cursory re-read, only to see their work published with an ungodly amount of errors. Writing the book is the easy part, but once you type the last word the REAL work is only beginning. If you aren't willing to do the real work, this is not the profession for you. Editing is hard f'ing work. No joke. No lie. If I spend a month writing a manuscript, I spent 3-6 months editing it. Just because you have an "editor" does not mean you can skimp on this step. It's your responsibility to double-check your editor's work, because editors are not infallible.]
  • Always carry a notebook. And I mean always. [DL: This goes without saying, because you never know where your next idea will hit you. You don't want to be without your notebook when it does. Write it down or you'll forget it.]
  • Regard yourself as a small corporation of one. [DL: This is a job. Treat it like one, including lunch breaks and Christmas parties for yourself. Like I said earlier, get an EIN number.]
  • Leave a decent space of time between writing something and editing it. [DL: Are you beginning to see the importance of this rule? It comes up repeatedly on the list. Let. It. Sit. Before. You. Edit. And. Serve. It.]
  • Stop feeling sorry for yourself. [DL: Feeling sorry for yourself kills your creativity and energy. I know. I've been there.]
  • Never be satisfied with a first draft. [DL: Ahem. I detect a theme there. Edit, edit, and edit some more.]
  • Listen to the criticisms and preferences of your trusted "first readers." [DL: And don't just listen. ENCOURAGE your beta readers to be HARSH! And when they are, LISTEN. Don't get mad at them. Listen. They represent your audience and readership, and they are there to help you. Would you rather they catch a major plot hole before you publish the book, or would you rather thousands of readers destroy you in bad word-of-mouth and reviews after the book is released?]
  • Write dialogue that people would actually speak. [DL: Would a character more like say this: "I do not know where we are going," or this: "I don't know where we're going."? This: "I'm aware that our neighbor provided sustenance that caused gastrointestinal upset," or this: "I got food poisoning from my neighbor's barbecue."? This is a good reason for reading your work out loud. Doing so allows you to hear bad dialogue.]
  • Novels are for readers, not your self-expression or therapy. [DL: If you write for yourself, it's called journaling. If your goal is to write for public consumption, remember that you need to know your market and that you need to give readers what they want, not what YOU want.]
  • Take no notice of anyone you don't respect or who has a gender agenda. [DL: Who cares if some ding-a-ling wants to snark off about how women shouldn't write homosexual romance because they have no right to when they're not homosexual men. I'm not a doctor, either, but I can still write about doctors. And I'm not a dude, but I've created some wickedly bad-ass alpha males my readers have fallen in love with. I'm giving MY readers what they want, and since my readers are mostly women, I cater to their tastes. They don't care if I'm a woman. All they care about is they loved my interpretation of two male vampires going through hell and back to find love with one another, not that I'm a woman writing M/M romance. Let the naysayers sound off. Who cares? Ignore their sorry asses. They aren't your bread and butter, and they're not worth the time you give them and take away from what's truly important: YOUR WRITING and your FANS.
  • Be ambitious for the work and not for the reward. [DL: If all you want is money without the desire to learn the craft of writing...without caring enough to put a quality product into readers' hands...then you're in this for the wrong reasons.]
  • Last but not least, Enjoy the work! [DL: If you don't enjoy it, don't do it. It's not the profession for you if you aren't enjoying every facet of the work, which includes editing and improving your skills.]
Here's the link to the full list of rules: The Rules of Writing

Happy Writing and Reading!

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