This is an ‘article’ I wrote for the other blog I contribute to; I’m thinking about rules for writing (personally I like to break some rules, and kick against being told to do some things!)
I guess every one who writes regularly and with some conscious thought about what they are doing, why and how they are doing it (or hoping to do it) and what they hope to achieve at the end of the effort, has some sort of inner self-rules. We all make choices or have habitual ways of writing which amount to rules – for example, writing in the first or third person, being heavy on characterisation and light on description or vice versa, writing something mostly through dialogue or avoiding dialogue altogether… We may be very pleased with our results, but sometimes we are blinkered and could actually make our writing better (in our own eyes as well as any audience we hope for)
How could we improve our writing; one way is to look to other writers and authors who we admire or who have had success. We can look at these ‘rules’ or suggestions and maybe try to apply some of them – or at least think about some of them with regards to our own writing.
Kurt Vonnegut was a most respected and renowned writer; he was born in 1922 and published fourteen novels, short story collections, plays, and non-fiction. He was a master of the craft. Here are his eight rules for writing fiction:
- Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
- Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
- Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
- Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.
- Start as close to the end as possible.
- Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
- Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
- Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
Maybe ask yourselves these questions and consider these points, based on Vonnegut’s rules:
- what will your reader have gained/achieved/learnt/enjoyed when they finish your story? (Count yourself as a reader if you like, but don’t confuse self-congratulation and pride in your achievement as a gain – that’s separate!!)
- you love (or hate) your characters – but what about your readers? Will they be fed up to the back teeth with your amusing/tragic/wacky/romantic/serious/dedicated/ /beloved people?
- do the characters engage – with your reader, with each other, with reality, – or are they just decorative/unrealistic/pointless?
- this needs thinking about – if you are writing a description, then advancing the action may not be apparent. Maybe Vonnegut is thinking about a particular sort of novel… However description can put the characters and action into a context!
- rule number five – just think about it!!
- rule number six – this should be pinned to the page/wall/computer screen/window of all writers! Don’t be indulgent! Don’t fall in love with your characters (like them, be proud of them, sympathetic to them, but DO NOT FALL IN LOVE WITH THEM!)
- again – think about this! Don’t try to pander to every sensibility every reader might have; you end up pleasing no-one! It’s a difficult balance!
- It might be easy to look at Vonnegut’s last rule and then throw it into the waste-bin – don’t! Read it again and consider what he actually means. Even in a mystery, everything should be there, even if it is very subtle, it should be there so when the story is finished the reader will know how they got to the end. Don’t have some mysterious Peruvian turn up at the end, who has never been referred to or even hinted at, to be revealed as the culprit… A silly example but you know what I mean!!
You might not agree with all of these – maybe it might be helpful to write your own rules of writing? (not that they can’t be broken, but just to give you some guidelines to follow!)
Here is a link to the other blog I share two friends, The Moving Dragon Writes:
… and a link to my ebooks and paperbacks: