Tuesday, August 14, 2012

3 Writing Rules to Fracture Considerably

For writers these days there are so many rules and ideas, how-tos and do-nots coming at them that they forget they're there to just write.
So I think it's time to ponder a couple of the biggies. 
The first is "Show, don't tell".  Really?  Do you always 'show' everyone everything or do you tell as well? I mean in the real world, who gets up from a grog-inducing night's sleep, looks at him or herself in the mirror and does a critique of him or herself noting scars and other physical traits in the mirror? Okay, maybe, sometimes, something could catch your attention when gazing in the mirror other than the toothbrush in your hand, the fact that you got your mascara on a bit thick, or that cold sore coming up on your lip.
But SHOW, always, simply isn't real. And, because it isn't really real the writer ends up manufacturing an entirely artificial series of 'facts', 'woven' into the story. There's nothing wrong with ignoring the 'rule' of "Show, Don't Tell," and simply stating your character is five and a half feet tall with a killer scar over his right eyebrow. Really, it’s okay.
I mean, come on, have you been asked to show someone a story or is it that we, as writers, are asked to tell our readers a story? If you read too many rules and attempt to follow them all you can lose your readers not to mention making yourself a little nuts, tying yourself in knots, trying to figure out how to follow all those rules.
Those folks out there thirsting for a great story don't care about show or tell.  They just want a great read from an excellent writer and that means they need something that catches them by the eyeballs and won't let go. That means you need to combine showing and telling, hone your writing until it's crisp and engaging.
Yes, you must produce good writing despite all the rules.
Yes, there are many times when you, the writer, 'show' the action or exchange between characters. And yes, you want to avoid long explanatory narratives. That's where crisp and engaging comes in. It's your responsibility as writer to know when to use which and to do it with clarity and in such a way that it draws the reader into the story.
There’s another favorite no-no that many writers have thrown at them from a variety of sources and that is “don’t start your story with the weather”.  Really?  I mean never? What if it’s central to the story? What if it sets the mood you’re looking for?
If the weather is what your book needs to begin with, then begin writing with the weather. Geez. I mean author Alistair MacLean did it all the time. Just because Snoopy, the star of Peanuts, began all his novels with “it was a dark and stormy night” doesn’t mean it’s always a joke. In fact it doesn’t mean anything at all. Be a good writer. Do what’s good for your story and don’t be afraid of it.
All right here’s another. How about Suspense is always created by this, that, or another, in a story. Meaning you can pinpoint exactly what will cause suspense and one rule is that you can’t have suspense without creating sympathetic characters. More and more writers are taking chances and breaking this rule. Think about it. You’ve probably read something recently in which there is no sympathetic character to be found in the entire book. You can pinpoint bad guys, and worse guys. Which one of those to you want to sympathize with? What can create suspense is the asking of a question and the artful way the writer makes people wait for the answer. We humans want answers. We always want answers. So, you better have that answer, but meanwhile your reader sticks around, reading, because he or she is fascinated, digging for that answer. It seems like we’re all hard-wired for that answer seeking.
These are just a few of the rules that need to be brought into question. Basically I write with a general idea of where I’m going and a lot of ongoing notes as I progress, but I pretty much don’t know the answer to my question at the beginning and go forward scene by scene throwing in complications as I go. 
I can’t help it. I like to be surprised by the ending too.
So, in conclusion? Read about the ‘rules’, know about the ‘rules’, but don’t let them corner your writing. Take chances and explore.


  1. Thanks, Peggy. I always thought that rules were made to be broken--writing rules anyway. Even the grammar books are changine some of the hard and fast rules. Every writer is unique and has the right to determine what's best for their book. I've found in life--it's sometimes easier to get forgiveness than permission.


    Tom Blubaugh, Author
    Night of the Cossack

  2. Thanks for chiming in Tom. Writers, especially new writers, seem to be always bombarded by 'rules'. I've always believed the most important 'rule' is engage your reader!


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