My Short List of Rules for Writing

JJewel

Douglas Morrison
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Since joining I have formulated a handfull of key rules that I had failed miserably at before.

I think I am a good story teller but not a great writer and so I need bring the pen to paper up to scratch.

Now I am in the process of retrospectively going through my work and fixing it all, maybe they will help you also or maybe you have your own?

1. Stop adding endless explanations, they are not needed.
2. Always show, never tell (use character discussion).
3. Dont head hop character wise, this rule is not absolute, but almost.
4. Dont use slang, MC is Motorcycle Club for example.
5. Fix Apostraphes, I am rubbish at them.
6. Their / There ... the endless debate and I can never get the hang of them.
7. Re-read and fix, re-read and fix, re-read and fix until you are physically sick of the b***** story!
- I aim for at least 3 times now.
8. Dont rush in, remember the writing is fun, the rest isnt, so if you think it will take a week, take two weeks.

And that is why I am back at book 1 fixing it up, then will do the same for book 2 even before I continue work on book 3.

Meantime I need to thank everyone here for listing all the to-dos and taking time to chat with me on best practise.

Anyone else got a list they keep to?
 
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Toby Frost

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I think that's a good list. This came up a few years ago and I wrote some of my own.

 

JJewel

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Just read through your list and yes all valid also, in theory you could have 1000 rules :)

What I need is a writing group I suspect, but with lockdown still ongoing to a degree, dream on.

Reading the other notes on the ongoing chat with your thread, I have no issue with writing stories and it is annoying that I am on hold with the writing and instead fixing, but if I am gonna be sloppy thats what i deserve I suppose.

Maybe another rule for me should be.

8. Dont rush in, if you need a week take two.

Have added that now to....
 

.matthew.

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I'm not sure about slang. Some of the most immersive stories I've read have used it to great effect in dialogue.

If you're just talking about acronyms, some can be annoying and I'd probably not use them outside of dialogue or a character's thoughts... but some are common enough to be fine, especially if you explain them the first time they're used... honestly, that's a tricky one but I would say it was more a 'suggestion' than a 'rule'.
 

JJewel

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You could be right, I have just been amending them all for my latest fix. Lot of TVs and MCs mainly.

Maybe TV doesnt need change but MC at least needs explained a lot.
 

Jo Zebedee

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You could be right, I have just been amending them all for my latest fix. Lot of TVs and MCs mainly.

Maybe TV doesnt need change but MC at least needs explained a lot.
You just need to give context. I write most of my stuff using the Northern Irish vernacular and so long as the context is clear it has been fine. Words like eejit haven’t been questioned and even, given context, statements like ‘you’re a bollix’ pass.
 

JJewel

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I find it diff to write in the style of Glasgow.

I have a partially finished book about my time as a Bouncer in Glasgow and the biggest issue other than law suits was the dialect and words.
 

The Big Peat

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I'm trying to come up with a list of my own rules. So far I've got the following

1. Start Late and End Early
2. Scene and Sequel
3. All Scenes are about Situations
4. Everything should reveal something about character, plot, or get an emotional response, or best, all three
5. Emotional response, then logical response
6. Specific Flaws


Also, I'm very pro-slang.
 

The Judge

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The Toolbox talks about many of the points you've raised, but to deal with them in turn:

1. Stop adding endless explanations, they are not needed.
This rule would be better expressed as "Stop adding unnecessary explanations" -- some explanations are needed. It's a matter of learning which those are.​

2. Always show, never tell (use character discussion).
Again, this needs changing to something like "It's often better to show than to tell, but not always". Showing can take up valuable space, particularly in a short story, and it can be better just to tell something to get it over and done with. There are at least two posts in The Toolbox dealing with showing and telling, and umpteen threads in Writing Discussion which go into detail. However, using character discussion is almost certainly going to come across as an "As you know, Bob" conversation which is the probably the worst kind of info-dumping.​

3. Dont head hop character wise, this rule is not absolute, but almost.
If you're writing from the POV of one character, and you're in close you probably won't head hop. If you're writing omniscient, read up on POV so you know what you're doing and why.​

4. Dont use slang, MC is Motorcycle Club for example.
Slang is perfectly acceptable in dialogue and can be fine in narration, depending on who is doing the narrating. Word use is important for atmosphere and characterisation -- basically always think about the words you're using and why you're using them.​

5. Fix Apostraphes, I am rubbish at them.
Then learn the rules -- there are again at least two posts in The Toolbox about apostrophes.​

6. Their / There ... the endless debate and I can never get the hang of them.
There is no endless debate about them; one will be right for a sentence and one will be wrong. Again, there is a post on homophones in The Toolbox. If when you're writing you can't recall which is which, make yourself an aide-memoire and refer to it every time you use them.​

7. Re-read and fix, re-read and fix, re-read and fix until you are physically sick of the b***** story!
- I aim for at least 3 times now.

Um... I really don't think three times is anywhere near enough when you're clearly having such problems with basic grammar and spelling. I read each of my Chrons' posts at least three times to catch errors and ensure what I've written is clear -- you might find it good practice to do the same as it will get you into the habit of editing and correcting mistakes. When I'm writing stories I'll probably check each and every scene at least 30 times by the time I'm done, because I'm continually refining. Mistakes are inevitable, but the more you read over your work, the more likely you are to catch them.​

8. Dont rush in, remember the writing is fun, the rest isnt, so if you think it will take a week, take two weeks.
I'd suggest that after the two weeks you then leave it for at least another two and then come back to it with fresh eyes to pick up errors.​


My own rule, every single line I write must advance the story by way of adding atmosphere, showing characterisation or pushing the plot forward, and the best lines do all three. If it doesn't do any of them, I need to ask why it's there.
 

Steve Harrison

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I discovered early on, when my only access to the writing world was Writers' Digest magazine, that I'm quite anal about lists and 'rules' and found it hard psychologically to break them.

Show, don't tell is a classic, as I used to tie myself in knots trying to adhere to it, when it's an opinion that superficially makes sense, but is often impractical. Showing and telling are both valid and useful methods and depend on what is going on around the writing and the context. I have the same thoughts about most of the other conventional writing 'wisdom' that is commonly accepted as gospel.

Anyway, I've found after many years I can see when something is wrong in my writing - a very common occurrence - and know how to fix it, so maybe I unconsciously refer to lists and guidelines. It's all still a mystery!
 

The Big Peat

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I discovered early on, when my only access to the writing world was Writers' Digest magazine, that I'm quite anal about lists and 'rules' and found it hard psychologically to break them.

Show, don't tell is a classic, as I used to tie myself in knots trying to adhere to it, when it's an opinion that superficially makes sense, but is often impractical. Showing and telling are both valid and useful methods and depend on what is going on around the writing and the context. I have the same thoughts about most of the other conventional writing 'wisdom' that is commonly accepted as gospel.

Anyway, I've found after many years I can see when something is wrong in my writing - a very common occurrence - and know how to fix it, so maybe I unconsciously refer to lists and guidelines. It's all still a mystery!
Possibly the third greatest gift in writing is to have all those "Dos" and "Don'ts" and "Do unless doing X in which case do Y" embedded at a subconscious level where you don't really need to look at the lists and automatically process the contexts. Really, that should be the end goal of all the lists and all that.
 

Bren G

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The Toolbox talks about many of the points you've raised, but to deal with them in turn:

1. Stop adding endless explanations, they are not needed.
This rule would be better expressed as "Stop adding unnecessary explanations" -- some explanations are needed. It's a matter of learning which those are.​

2. Always show, never tell (use character discussion).
Again, this needs changing to something like "It's often better to show than to tell, but not always". Showing can take up valuable space, particularly in a short story, and it can be better just to tell something to get it over and done with. There are at least two posts in The Toolbox dealing with showing and telling, and umpteen threads in Writing Discussion which go into detail. However, using character discussion is almost certainly going to come across as an "As you know, Bob" conversation which is the probably the worst kind of info-dumping.​

3. Dont head hop character wise, this rule is not absolute, but almost.
If you're writing from the POV of one character, and you're in close you probably won't head hop. If you're writing omniscient, read up on POV so you know what you're doing and why.​

4. Dont use slang, MC is Motorcycle Club for example.
Slang is perfectly acceptable in dialogue and can be fine in narration, depending on who is doing the narrating. Word use is important for atmosphere and characterisation -- basically always think about the words you're using and why you're using them.​

5. Fix Apostraphes, I am rubbish at them.
Then learn the rules -- there are again at least two posts in The Toolbox about apostrophes.​

6. Their / There ... the endless debate and I can never get the hang of them.
There is no endless debate about them; one will be right for a sentence and one will be wrong. Again, there is a post on homophones in The Toolbox. If when you're writing you can't recall which is which, make yourself an aide-memoire and refer to it every time you use them.​

7. Re-read and fix, re-read and fix, re-read and fix until you are physically sick of the b***** story!
- I aim for at least 3 times now.

Um... I really don't think three times is anywhere near enough when you're clearly having such problems with basic grammar and spelling. I read each of my Chrons' posts at least three times to catch errors and ensure what I've written is clear -- you might find it good practice to do the same as it will get you into the habit of editing and correcting mistakes. When I'm writing stories I'll probably check each and every scene at least 30 times by the time I'm done, because I'm continually refining. Mistakes are inevitable, but the more you read over your work, the more likely you are to catch them.​

8. Dont rush in, remember the writing is fun, the rest isnt, so if you think it will take a week, take two weeks.
I'd suggest that after the two weeks you then leave it for at least another two and then come back to it with fresh eyes to pick up errors.​


My own rule, every single line I write must advance the story by way of adding atmosphere, showing characterisation or pushing the plot forward, and the best lines do all three. If it doesn't do any of them, I need to ask why it's there.
I'm with @The Judge on this one. #7 caught my eye too. If one can write a good novel for instance after only three top to bottom edits (or even a short story for that matter), then it'd put that writer in the top .01% or so of successful writers. My 75 worders are re-read, rewritten at least 15 times and would say my upcoming novel the same (+ about the same amount of reads), and I still wonder if that's enough. In my experience, writing is a set of sprints, yes, but all together make up a marathon.
 

zmunkz

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I agree with judge. #2 is too tight. Often, telling is the right thing to do.

Seems to me, the key for all these things is to be deliberate. You only run into issues when you don’t realize what you are doing, what the pitfalls of that technique might be, and aren’t aware you had other tools at your disposal. As long as you know the value of showing, then when you decide to tell, it will be for the right reasons.
 

BT Jones

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I could be in trouble with number 3. I'm 10 chapters into act 2 of my first story and I've already written sections from 8 different perspectives, as well as having a semi-omniscient baseline (to add to the 5+1 from the first act). As someone that really struggles to read books, I have almost no idea if it will work or not. I think its going to be like marmite: people will either like it or they'll hate it.

But rule 7 should be rule 1. My world changed when I finally realised I needed to re-read each chapter once I'd finished it. I've been picking up on so many more errors, omissions and flow issues.
 

pyan

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The Judge has it right with her comment on your Rule 7 (I read each of my Chrons' posts at least three times to catch errors and ensure what I've written is clear). Treat each post that you make on the forum as a miniature story or essay and the continual practice will help your other writing no end. Your three posts so far in this thread are good examples - there's at least 15 grammar, spelling and punctuation errors between them.
Your points on apostrophes and their/there are, frankly, not something that I would include in a list of key rules - if you've problems with them, get a basic grammar book and apply it to what you write.
I won't go into your first two points, because I personally think they are pernicious rubbish made fashionable by the creative writing police. It's like "write what you know", which you'll often find given as advice for authors, and would bring all of science fiction and fantasy writing to a crashing halt if applied.

Here's a link to a post in WriteWords that you may find helpful: What advice would you give to a new writer starting out?
 

Stephen Palmer

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Rules are for people who like rules.
There are one or two useful ones - I think a bare minimum of grammatical skill is required.
But what really matters is imagination. As you said, @JJewel , story telling is where it's at.
Check out my 'breaks pretty much every rule' novel Hairy London.
 

JJewel

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The Toolbox talks about many of the points you've raised, but to deal with them in turn:

1. Stop adding endless explanations, they are not needed.
This rule would be better expressed as "Stop adding unnecessary explanations" -- some explanations are needed. It's a matter of learning which those are.​

2. Always show, never tell (use character discussion).
Again, this needs changing to something like "It's often better to show than to tell, but not always". Showing can take up valuable space, particularly in a short story, and it can be better just to tell something to get it over and done with. There are at least two posts in The Toolbox dealing with showing and telling, and umpteen threads in Writing Discussion which go into detail. However, using character discussion is almost certainly going to come across as an "As you know, Bob" conversation which is the probably the worst kind of info-dumping.​

3. Dont head hop character wise, this rule is not absolute, but almost.
If you're writing from the POV of one character, and you're in close you probably won't head hop. If you're writing omniscient, read up on POV so you know what you're doing and why.​

4. Dont use slang, MC is Motorcycle Club for example.
Slang is perfectly acceptable in dialogue and can be fine in narration, depending on who is doing the narrating. Word use is important for atmosphere and characterisation -- basically always think about the words you're using and why you're using them.​

5. Fix Apostraphes, I am rubbish at them.
Then learn the rules -- there are again at least two posts in The Toolbox about apostrophes.​

6. Their / There ... the endless debate and I can never get the hang of them.
There is no endless debate about them; one will be right for a sentence and one will be wrong. Again, there is a post on homophones in The Toolbox. If when you're writing you can't recall which is which, make yourself an aide-memoire and refer to it every time you use them.​

7. Re-read and fix, re-read and fix, re-read and fix until you are physically sick of the b***** story!
- I aim for at least 3 times now.

Um... I really don't think three times is anywhere near enough when you're clearly having such problems with basic grammar and spelling. I read each of my Chrons' posts at least three times to catch errors and ensure what I've written is clear -- you might find it good practice to do the same as it will get you into the habit of editing and correcting mistakes. When I'm writing stories I'll probably check each and every scene at least 30 times by the time I'm done, because I'm continually refining. Mistakes are inevitable, but the more you read over your work, the more likely you are to catch them.​

8. Dont rush in, remember the writing is fun, the rest isnt, so if you think it will take a week, take two weeks.
I'd suggest that after the two weeks you then leave it for at least another two and then come back to it with fresh eyes to pick up errors.​


My own rule, every single line I write must advance the story by way of adding atmosphere, showing characterisation or pushing the plot forward, and the best lines do all three. If it doesn't do any of them, I need to ask why it's there.
Tbh I seem to have a weird mental disorder, always with words.

I lose the ability to spell obvious words quite often, cooker is my worst and certain words I cannot spell at all.

I have a sheet for their / there and yet often my brain keeps switching around options because I suspect it fits both.

But I am improving and forcing will over nature.

Thanks for your insight as always judge. Each time you answer with a view I always feel like I am under an avalanche and yet each time I feel that I am taking a step forward also.

My nature is Chaos rather than law which always causes issues I find in anything with rules. Where as you have a comfortable spot in the Courts of Law that much is clear.
 

JJewel

Douglas Morrison
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I discovered early on, when my only access to the writing world was Writers' Digest magazine, that I'm quite anal about lists and 'rules' and found it hard psychologically to break them.

Show, don't tell is a classic, as I used to tie myself in knots trying to adhere to it, when it's an opinion that superficially makes sense, but is often impractical. Showing and telling are both valid and useful methods and depend on what is going on around the writing and the context. I have the same thoughts about most of the other conventional writing 'wisdom' that is commonly accepted as gospel.

Anyway, I've found after many years I can see when something is wrong in my writing - a very common occurrence - and know how to fix it, so maybe I unconsciously refer to lists and guidelines. It's all still a mystery!
No rule is absolute and over time we improve as we pick up and refine the skills until they become second nature.

I expect in 6 months my rules will have changed again and once more I will see new mistakes that previously I felt were pearls of widsom.
 
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