The Rules of Good Writing

allmywires

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I feel like I am always linking to io9 on here...but also this is a really good article for all of us to remember when we're asking writing questions like 'does this work?' etc (I'm a guilty party...see my thread below).

http://io9.com/5978762/what-it-means-when-someone-tries-to-tell-you-the-rules-of-good-writing?

And if you don't fancy reading the whole waffle, this is a good quote to live by:

Oh, and one other thing that's a more or less universal rule — try to have fun, as much as possible. You're making sh*t up. That should be fun, at least some of the time.
 

Mouse

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Oh ah, two naked men playing with eels. Dirty girl!

I love making sh*t up.
 

Mouse

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Mmm. I'll believe you. The more you look at that pic, the worse it gets!
 

JoanDrake

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400 Volts of Eel, at first I thought is was the latest megaseller
 

J Riff

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Hmmm. Looks like they are trying to avoid the basic rules of writing in a very roundabout way.
If you can pull it off... well, OK. I'll just... pull it off...yes, and to heck with grammar, style, research, punctuation and all those other darn rules that get in the way of a good story.
 

Fishbowl Helmet

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There have been some good articles about writing over on io9, but this isn't one of 'em. This reads like a list of, "Yeah, well you could be the next author X who can pull it off," rather than learning to color by staying in the lines. Yeah, Picaso went outside the lines... after years of staying inside them. Articles like this never seem to mention that. Hmm.

Best part of the piece was the old pulp covers.
 

Hex

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I didn't read it that way -- I read it as a gentle suggestion that rules are often worth listening to if you're serious about writing. But you don't have to follow them (though he's not talking about grammar etc).

Agree about the covers. I liked the one of the huge-bosomed woman pulling the soldier through a fence best.
 

allmywires

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This reads like a list of, "Yeah, well you could be the next author X who can pull it off," rather than learning to color by staying in the lines. Yeah, Picaso went outside the lines... after years of staying inside them. Articles like this never seem to mention that. Hmm.

Is that not exactly what they're saying...?

Because maybe you need to learn to color inside the lines before you start ignoring the lines. Maybe you need to figure out how to write a pretty standard issue story, where we meet the main character in the first sentence and the conflict is spelled out right away and the action is fully linear and there are no adverbs and everybody learns a lesson — and then once you've mastered that, you can start mixing it up.

That reads to me as them saying: you don't have to be the next revolutionary, and you can't be unless you understand what the bread-and-butter of storytelling is.
 

Brian G Turner

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There have been some good articles about writing over on io9, but this isn't one of 'em. This reads like a list of, "Yeah, well you could be the next author X who can pull it off," rather than learning to color by staying in the lines. Yeah, Picaso went outside the lines... after years of staying inside them. Articles like this never seem to mention that. Hmm.

Best part of the piece was the old pulp covers.

Echoed. :)

What I find strange is that I don't see much talk about the tools of writing, and how different authors use different techniques in different ways for different effects.

The other day someone was telling me how they were finding it difficult to get into Lies of Locke Lamora, because the characters don't appeal emotionally as yet - you don't see their internal conflict (obviously a major writing tool).

But that's the point - the starting chapters are not Locke's, but instead close to Father Chains and the Beggar King. They view Locke as a dangerous enigma. And that's what Lynch is doing, IMO, at the start of the book - he wants to introduce Locke as an enigmatic figure and draw reader interest that way. It's a different tool - he's using anticipation.

But too much would be flat, so he splits chapters between the past and the present - and pushes the reader on with end of chapter hooks that are not addressed either in the following scene or the one after that!

By the time the biggest questions in the flashbacks are answered to the satisfaction of the reader, Lynch has completed his introduction of Locke in the present along with his Lucas Fehrwright ruse which is the foundation for the rest of the story.

It is a clever and daring way to structure the start of a book - the pacing is very controlled, and it's designed to push the reader deep into the story before they realise it. And judging by the popularity of the book, it worked for a lot of people.

No, not everyone will like it - but the point is to recognise how a writer has used a tool and to what effect - and what the alternatives would be.

Lynch could instead have used sympathy to open with, by showing a late chapter with Locke beaten up to force a reader connection.

Or open the book using conflict as a driver of pace and character development (but the warning is, conflict works best when internal - some writers externalise it far too much, such as Richard Morgan in 'The Steel Remains' (but perhaps he was more interested in using a different tool to make his point?)) etc etc.

I get really tired of reading fluffy "write the best you can" because unless you are aware of the tools you are using, then all you are doing is stringing words together, and not telling a story.

That's why I really liked 'Save the cat' - lots of other writing books focus on characterisation, dialogue, POV use, etc - but to me, these are the basics - these are the pieces in the game you have to play with.

Instead the book underlined the need to use the actual tools - sympathy, anticipation, conflict, etc. These define how you actually use your pieces for best effect.

A lot of people will use them subconsciously to some degree, but unless you understand what you are using and why, your writing won't be living up to its potential.

Maybe other writing books do talk about these tools, maybe I just happened to be at the right state of mind to understand what was being communicated when I read 'Save the cat'.

But the bottom line is that - to myself - a story is not about one or more characters going through a series of events: instead it's about the emotional journey of the one of more characters you choose as your protagonists. You can have good stories that don't do this, but consistently the best ones will tend to be focused on the internal journey, not external one - because this is the journey you need your reader to take to enjoy it most.

IMO, anyway, and I think I'm waffling now. :)
 

Mouse

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I hated the Lies of Locke Lamora. Couldn't get past the first 20 pages, so whatever he was doing, it didn't work for me!
 

Warren_Paul

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I couldn't get into it either. Not because of the way the book was written, but because the personality of the characters in the first few pages grated on me.

But that's normal. As is always said, you can't please everyone.
 

Brian G Turner

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I admit, I struggled to get into it - what pushed me on was wanting to see the questions answered. By the time they were, I was hooked enough to continue. But to me, trying to understand why you may like or dislike a book, or part of a book is very important as a writer.
 

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My two rules on writing

Do not confuse the reader (except on purpose! In which case intrigue the reader, do not make them say 'I have no idea what the hell just happened, why was there a hippo in that sex scene'....)

Do not bore the reader

Everything else is open for experiment.

Writing 'rules' are in fact 'guidelines'. They mean 'think about this before you do it, and make sure you avoid the pitfalls' no 'don't ever do this, it's evil'
 

Reivax26

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My rules for good writing are simple:

Open strong with a first few chapters that draw in the reader. Make them want to read on.

Have characters with depth. If they are a villain, explain why they are a bad guy now. Were they always bad? What triggered there turn to the "dark side".

Don't be afraid to kill characters, whether they be good or bad. You should never kill a character without having a good reason for it, though.

Have a climax actually be a climax. Make it matter. Nothing worse than an anti-climactic part in a book that should have been climactic. Leaves the reader feeling cheated.
 

Abernovo

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Do not confuse the reader (except on purpose! In which case intrigue the reader, do not make them say 'I have no idea what the hell just happened, why was there a hippo in that sex scene'....)
Does anybody else now wonder if there really is a hippo in Kmq's sex scenes? :p

Hmm, intrigue the reader...mission accomplished! I like what you did there. :)
 

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