I’m posting this list of writers’ lists of “rules for writing” just for fun. If we read one list a day, we’d be done in 41 days, and who knows what we’d know then that we don’t know now.
On the other hand, maybe we should just start with #42:
42. Phillip Pullman’s One Rule for Writing
“My main rule is to say no to things like this, which tempt me away from my proper work.”
The “7 Rookie Mistakes” from Phoebe Quinn over at A Writer’s Path ring true. For example, I agree we tend to recycle clichéd characters from other things we’ve read or TV we’ve seen. It’s because we do this that literature in all its forms has such a profound effect on our values. We think “heroes” MUST behave like the hero in a popular book or that people who behave like the villain we just saw on Netflix are also villainous. It’s tough in writing to catch yourself scribbling in these “types.”
What do you think of Quinn’s fixes? I’m still a pantser, and I do pay the price—but I want to be surprised by my own writing, and outlines take that surprise away.
A Writer's Path
by Phoebe Quinn
7 rookie writing mistakes:
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Here’s a discussion of that often maligned—or at least, often ignored—punctuation mark, the Oxford or serial comma. Disclosure: I believe in the Oxford comma and never leave home without a bagful.
However, do note that when you have only two items in a series (a compound), you DO NOT need a comma before the coordinating conjunctions (usually “and” or “but”). So sayeth Virginia. What sayeth you?
(BTW, if you haven’t encountered the Freelancers’ Union, you might want to take a look. They provide support for independent contractors and single proprietors of all stripes!)
Here’s an extra comma, in case you’re out!
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This article provides excellent, detailed discussion. In critique groups I’ve been enrolled in, some critiquers seem terrified of the progressive tenses, and some believe that using a present-participle phrase as a modifier constitutes “mixing tenses” and therefore incorrect. The article is on point that glomming onto such rigid rules limits writers’ options for rhythm and meaning.
And the discussion here of dangling modifiers should be required reading for all aspiring writers. i see so many of these. Otherwise competent writers seem oblivious to them. The examples here precisely mirror what I see. Here’s my rant on dangling modifiers.
I think writers need to READ, widely, and not just the latest free examples of their favorite genre, to see how good writers make use of many available strategies and apply rules thoughtfully rather than blindly.
If you’ve ever been told to cut “-ing” words, take the time to read this!
Word Craft ~ Prose and Poetry
I wish there was a magic wand I could wave to correct my grammar as I continue editing my novel. How about you? Read this comprehensive article about editing and how to fix some of your mistakes. This is a MUST-READ! ❤
There’s a lot of conflicting advice that tells writers to never use words that end in -ing or to not use -ing words under certain conditions. Explore both the advice and the rationale behind it.
Source:Using -ing Words | The Editor’s Blog
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As usual, Chuck Wendig has his own way of saying things. So put your fingers in your ears so you won’t hear the bad words, and read! 25 Reasons I Stopped Reading Your Book!
I’ve posted my own reasons more than once. Here’s what I wrote on Chuck’s post:
I’ve posted more than once about my own answer to this question. Lack of voice is way up there. Too many characters and scenes feel pasted out of the Universe of Stock that we all have access to. No surprises, not in the characters’ actions, not in the diction, not in the rhythm. All stuff I’ve seen a thousand times (and don’t subject myself to any more).
What I call “illogic” fits several of these points: When something a character does or something that happens serves the prefabricated plot and not the story that wants to emerge from the characters’ interactions. I got into trouble myself once making characters do something they were screaming that they didn’t want to do. Ruined a potentially good novel, and boy, did I pay. Nothing in this post is truer than that the characters write the story. Listen to them.
And gosh, pages of exposition (and no, that’s not “literary fiction”). And too much info, too many characters, on page 1. And books that start with action before I can understand the conflict. And . . . and . . . and . . .
This post could easily be required reading in every “creative writing” class or critique group (though it would require a language warning in most settings, i fear).
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Here’s a useful article on a meaningful distinction. I’ve started pitching my work in progress, The Drowned Man, as magical realism. It certainly isn’t fantasy. Yet I’m not so sure it meets this definition either. What’s your definition of magical realism? Share your favorite examples!
Word Craft ~ Prose and Poetry
In the quest to define the genre of my novel, The Heart Stone Chronicles – The Swamp Fairy, I stumbled across a definition of a genre I had not previously explored. It is called magical realism.
Although I have categorized my novel into the fantasy realm, after further reflection, I do believe it falls more into the magical realism category.
“Fantasy is defined as a work of fiction where magic is the main plot element, theme, or setting. Many fantasy novels take place in imaginary worlds where magic and magical creatures are common.” Wikipedia.
EMWelsh.com in her post, “Magical Realism, What is it?” defines magical realism with the following traits:
“Real World Setting:
Magical realism is almost always rooted in a real place, though like in Wizard of the Crow or One Hundred Years of Solitude, it can often be a made-up city or town within the real world that is…
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Here’s an article about an old controversy: to adverb or not to adverb. My thoughts on this issue:
I agree with one of the comments in the original post that a blanket ban on adverbs is unworkable. In the sentence “After I had breakfast, I went to the store” (okay, it’s not literature), the first dependent clause, “After I had breakfast,” is an adverbial clause. Anything that fleshes out where, when, why, or how may well be adverbial. To ban adverbs completely would be to impoverish a piece of writing beyond recognition. Does “completely” in that sentence add anything? It does add emphasis. Whether it should be cut is a judgment call.
I do agree that it’s better to find the precise verb that does the work rather than to tack an adverb onto a weak verb. Sometimes that can be tricky, though. “He closed the door firmly” conveys an intentionality that ‘He closed the door” does not. “He slammed the door” won’t work. “He jerked the door shut” might work to replace “firmly.” It can take a long time for the word that works best to float up (and “best” is an adverb in that sentence). Finding the word that Mark Twain compared to lightning rather than the lightning bug should always be the goal, IMHO.
What’s your take on adverbs—the “ly” kind and its sometimes (adverb) invisible brethren?
A Writer's Path
by Gary Smailes
In this article I will set out to explain why so many famous authors (Stephen King being perhaps the most vocal) warn other authors against the use of adverbs. In fact, King’s hatred of adverbs is so intense that he’s been quoted as saying, “Adverbs are evil.” You will discover the role of adverbs in fiction writing, and I’ll demonstrate why removing adverbs from your writing will make your book more enjoyable to read. In short, I’ll explain just why adverbs are evil.
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Joel Friedlander at The Book Designer shares this comprehensive discussion of myths and truths for first-time novelists from Florence Osmund. I would argue that you CAN format your books yourself if they’re not graphically complicated (i.e., just text). Check out my InDesign Beginner’s Cheat Sheet series. But this advice is worth taking to heart!
From fellow writer alfageeek, here’s a link to a Scribophile piece on dialogue that provides some excellent elaboration on the piece I reblogged yesterday. Join in the discussion about “actions” as “dialogue tags.”
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This post from Kristen Lamb’s blog gives some good basic guidelines for using and punctuating dialogue. These principles can be surprisingly hard to master, so a good primer is always helpful. The one I see most often is the use of an action as if it were a dialogue tag. To add to Kristen’s list, I’d say, “Watch out for that darn Autocorrect in Word. If you have it turned on and you accidentally type a period instead of a comma after the dialogue, Autocorrect automatically capitalizes the next letter, so you end up with two punctuation gaffes, not one.
Kristen Lamb's Blog
Today we are going to talk about dialogue. Everyone thinks they are great at it, and many would be wrong. Dialogue really is a lot tricker than it might seem.
Great dialogue is one of the most vital components of fiction. Dialogue is responsible for not only conveying the plot, but it also helps us understand the characters and get to know them, love them, hate them, whatever.
Dialogue is powerful for revealing character. This is as true in life as it is on the page. If people didn’t judge us based on how we speak, then business professionals wouldn’t bother with Toastmasters, speaking coaches or vocabulary builders.
I’d imagine few people who’d hire a brain surgeon who spoke like a rap musician and conversely, it would be tough to enjoy rap music made by an artist who spoke like the curator of an art museum.
Our word choices are…
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