Friday, August 16, 2019

Writing: Are There Rules?

Recently, there seems to be an emphasis on "rules" in writing. I've posted about this in the past, but thought perhaps I should revisit this once again. Although some people break rules with impunity, I suggest that you learn and follow them when you're getting started.

As I've said before, if you're Picasso, you can put the eyes and ears wherever you want, but I'll bet anything that you know where they belong if you wish to put them there. Translating that to writing, I think that if you have an agent and a publisher, and especially if you have a following, you can break some of those "rules," but remember that you got there by observing them.

Here are the ones I continue to observe. Don't use the passive voice unless what you're writing demands it. Why? Because passive voice slows down the reader.

Give your characters easily pronounced names that are compatible with the person. And try to avoid having two characters with names that are easily mixed up. Like the preceding suggestion, it makes things easier for the reader.

Try not to use the same word more than once in each paragraph (unless it's absolutely necessary). This is to make the paragraph read more easily. Use your talent as a wordsmith here. Your reader (and/or agent and/or editor) will appreciate it.

Keep one point of view per scene. Put the TV camera on the shoulder of one person, and remember that if they don't know it, your audience won't either. I change POVs with each scene, but some authors keep one POV for their whole book. Whatever works, but be consistent.

Whether you're a plotter or pantser, have something to shore up the middle of your manuscript, as well as a "knock-out ending" (which you should be ready to change if the story demands it). Personally, I agree with the philosophy of Donald Westlake: if the author isn't sure what's coming next, the reader sure can't anticipate it.

What rules do you follow when writing?


Diane B said...

great advice Dr. Mabry! When I am writing I try not to use the same word twice as you mentioned. One rule I had not thought of was your illustration of POV; have the camera on the shoulder of one character at a time then, shift the camera to another when needed. I need to remember that.

Richard Mabry said...

Diane, I first heard that description of point-of-view from Randy Ingermanson. It's been a good method for me. Glad you found it helpful, too.
Thanks for your comment.

Priscilla Bettis said...

I like your rules. I think the name thing is an important one because I have stopped reading fantasy books when the made up characters' names were too bizarre and hard to remember.

I have a rule to make sure the reader knows in the first paragraph of each scene when and where the scene takes place and who is present.

Richard Mabry said...

Thanks, Priscilla. That rule is one I've learned from my first reader)-I don't think I've ever heard it or read it elsewhere.

Patricia Bradley said...

Don't bore the reader. :-) I agree with everything here1

Richard Mabry said...

I think it was Elmore Leonard who said he tended to avoid writing the parts the reader skipped. Good advice (although some that he gave was of dubious worth). Thanks for your comment, Patricia.