Writing 101

“Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers.”

T.S. Elliot

This is my 101st blog post, and today I would like to talk about writing in general.  There is a huge disparity between how many people write a novel, and how many people make successful livings off of novels written. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of money in writing, it’s just not as evenly distributed as some of us would like.

So, how am I going to bring you up to date in my Writing 101 class?  How am I going to let you in on all that money?  Well, by talking about the rules of writing.

“There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

W. Somerset Maugham

This is absolutely true, well, maybe not the “three” part.  There are rules for writing a novel.  There are your own rules, agent rules, publishing house rules, and reader rules.  Everyone is going to have a different set of rules (TOR is going to have different rules than Disney Hyperion).  There are even different rules for the USA as there are for Europe.

Some sets of rules allow head-hopping, some don’t.  Some rules demand writing in past tense, others don’t.  Some rules despise the use of “ly” adverbs, others don’t.  In the end, there are so many different rule sets that it becomes obvious that even the experts can only tell you the rules that worked for them, not the actual rules of success.

I will give some rules I have heard over the years.  Pick the three you like – or maybe pick the ones you think will help you sell your book:

  • Don’t use “ly” adverbs
  • Have tension at the end of every chapter
  • The protagonist needs to have an arc
  • Don’t head-hop
  • Write in past tense
  • Don’t info dump
  • Only use “said” and “asked” for attributing quotations
  • All main characters have to be multidimensional
  • Strictly avoid semicolons
  • Show, don’t tell
  • Only have characters change when events change them (this is my favorite as a reader and writer)
  • Don’t overuse any specific word – watch out for “I” when doing first person
  • The climax must be inevitable based on the earlier events
  • Use (or don’t use) metaphors for sex scenes
  • Handle scenes in date/time order, never go back
  • Start with a meaningful moment and use flashbacks for background
  • Use (or don’t use) profanity/slang/accents/colloquials
  • Realism is important

Whatever rules you picked, make sure they don’t get in the way of the story.  In my mind, the most important rule is to have a compelling story – a story that is compelling to you, the writer.  You have to love the story enough to write it out.  You have to put the world, and all of its temptations, aside long enough to put the story on paper.  Everything else is trivial in comparison.

So, my three rules (as if my opinion matters to the majority of the writing world):

  • Love the story enough to get it on paper.
  • A far distant second rule, the story needs to be written in such a way that others can see it the same way you do (this is where most of those other rules come into play – the smaller rules we get hung up on).
  • And third, the storyline and characters must be compelling to others, something they would want to read, can’t put down until they are done, and can’t stop thinking or talking about until they have started into the next great story.

About R. Garrett Wilson

I am a member of the Stanislaus World Builders writing group and have participated in the FSFW writing group. I have written one drama that was based on the book of Mark and performed at my church in 2007. My story, Journeyer, is published in Analog Magazine and a novelette, The Bakrra Encounter, in the FSFW 2010 anthology, I Dreamed a Crooked Dream. I also took part in the community novel project, Stanislaus Reads and Writes, and have a chapter in their novel, Ashes in a Teardrop. Beyond writing, I enjoy road trips, photography, woodworking, watching tennis and cycling, and reading.
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6 Responses to Writing 101

  1. Okay, LOL about Mr. Maugham’s quote. SO true!

    I like your three rules. I officially adopt them. :)

  2. Hey! Who put that scary-face picture next to my name? :)

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