Saturday, April 17, 2010
Writing Rules—There Are None Or Are There?
After years of going to writers conferences, speaking with other authors about what they do and even after my last post, I’ve reached the conclusion that there are no writing rules. Here are several examples. 1. I’ve often heard authors wax poetic about how they know they’re really into the flow of their writing when their characters take over. I haven’t had this experience but I guess it’s like channeling someone else’s thoughts. Recently, I heard best-selling author, Stephen Cannell address this topic. He quoted Janet Evanovich who when asked if her characters ever run away with the story replied, “If they do, I shoot the sons of bitches.” 2. Another rule often stated is to write what you know. This is definitely helpful when getting started, but one of the joys of the writing process is to experiment and try new things. That’s when learning takes place. 3. Some people state that using a prologue is verboten. I find many thrillers greatly improved by the prologue that sets the stage in the past and then plays out in the present. 4. Character description. Some people advocate extensive character description while others keep it to a minimum to let the reader’s imagination fill in the blanks. We’ve all seen excellent examples of both approaches. 5. Outlines versus seat-of-the-pants. Here’s one where you’ll hear opinions ranging from extensive outlining to just sitting down and writing. Either extreme or any gradation in between can work. It’s up to the writer to figure out what’s best for him or her. I use a basic outline but then always find that the story takes off in a direction I never would have predicted. I need a starting structure but then can enjoy the discovery of new alternatives as I write. 6. Write it right the first time versus extensive rewrites. I happen to be in the camp of many rewrites. I can write a fast first draft but then need to do numerous rewrite passes. But there are others who labor over that first draft and then that’s it. Hey, whatever works for you. Rules? Okay, so I really think there are two rules to writing. These are: 1. Sit down and get started, 2. Keep going.