The Writing Rulebook Part 1

Christopher Fowler
I'm sure someone must already have put out a writing app that allows you to access writing advice, but if they haven't, I've been gathering writing tips from all over the place, and plan to put a few up here. I ran some at the end of 'Paperboy', so let's start with some amendments to those. Kenneth Tynan's Rule of Writing: You don't need to know why people fall in love. You just need to know that they do. Stephen Sondheim's Rules of Writing: Less Is More Content Dictates Form God Is In The Details Jonathan Lynn's Writing Rules: Every character has a spine that never changes. Give the audience the pieces but not the whole. Start with the ending. Story is anticipation plus uncertainty. Comedians don't get laughs when you can't see their feet. George Abbott's Golden Writing Rule: All Stories Are Cinderella. My Writing Rules: Fiction means making stuff up. Don't worry about embarrassing yourself. Ask yourself what your hero really wants. Be prepared to think the unthinkable. When a story can't go further, go further. Crisis moments are better when they're completely still. Adventures often happen because the hero is slow to correct a mistake. Everyone has the same feelings; they just think differently. Leave room for your characters to breathe. You have to love something about your hero. Always keep the story moving forward. Characters who contradict themselves are more human. Dialogue is not conversation. It's better to do than to describe. Life is a mess to which fiction brings a shape, which is why it's called fiction. There's a difference between being realistic and being believable. Make sure that something always remains hidden. What your hero thinks he wants might be different from what he needs. No matter how deeply hidden, there will always be love. Argue among yourselves, there'll be more tomorrow.


Dan Terrell (not verified) Tue, 13/03/2012 - 15:17

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Wonderful topic. Glad there will be more.
Helen Martin's next to last sentence in her post on "The Long and the Short of It" goes nicely on this list.
Re. writer's block: I've just read somewhere that it's a natural state necessary for cleaning out and ordering the writer's mind and preceeds a period of productivity. So have at it.
Best guidance I ever received was: "Stop obsessing about the small stuff on the page or you'll never get finished. Tell your story first, and then go back later with a broom and sweep up."
Next best: "Set aside what you've just finished, let it and your thinking mature, work on something else,and then review it. You'll be amazed how fast you'll spot what really needs additional work."

Gretta (not verified) Tue, 13/03/2012 - 21:40

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

That wee lolcat. Bless.

I think there are, unfortunately, a number of writers for whom their first rule should be 'pull your head out of your arse', or, at the very least, 'don't treat your readers like imbeciles.'

There was an English writer on the radio here last year, or maybe the year before, who was totally up-front that her books were 'the sort of trash that you'd read on a plane and throw away', because that was what she'd intended them to be, nothing more, nothing less. I had way more respect for her than pretentious writers who carry on as though they and their books are the saviours of the universe.

Oh, and another rule which admin touched on recently...for God's sake get your facts right!

Vickie (not verified) Wed, 14/03/2012 - 17:30

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Had to think about this one a bit...paltry reader response to what appeared to be a hopeful finale: "Argue among yourselves..."

Dan is right: you need to "let go" and stop festering. Go engage combat again with those snarky monkeys (in Indonesia was it?). Or, a little less distant, go to the Isle of Lewis for an altered viewpoint. Or get on your steed and lope to (author) Craig Johnson's hometown in Ucross, Wyoming (population, I believe, 25). Being you, it is very likely that ideas will begin emerging with great rapidity once you cease the conscious ponderings.

Dan Terrell (not verified) Wed, 14/03/2012 - 18:36

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I agree, Vickie, and this seemingly was a great topic. There seem to be writers who contribute posts to this blog, so what happened?(Perhaps, saying you have the Big B makes other writers as uncomfortable as saying you have the Big "... er 'one letter further into the alphabet', if you get my drift.") Actually, I was beginning to wonder if Admin didn't have a touch of block, when he began drifting into Ageism, old scripts, etc. Displacement isn't it? And there's nothin that needs dusting in his apartment.
I for one think he's exactly the right age to write B&M (yes,there we go again) not as old by far as his lead characters and among or just a bit older than his other PCU characters. When the next book is published on 8/11th, lets make a huge thing of it.
Finally, second your recommendation of Wyoming.
Those snarky monkeys in the Monkey Jungle in Indonesia (was it Bali?) are really, really bad. Took the wife and 7-years old son there, long ago, bought each of us a bag of monkey treats, entered the area and WHAM. Dropping out of the trees on us, running up the road, leaping off walls, yelling, we looked like three mortified money trees. And they spit, and scratch, yell, and may bite. It was like Baby Aliens Attack! Wyoming definately.
That's better: 4 posts.

Helen Martin (not verified) Wed, 14/03/2012 - 23:42

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I think many authors are reluctant to admit to writers' block, but it must happen to everyone. An argument with the landlord or the grocer, a family emergency, a series of boring errands that won't wait. Work can be interrupted by anything. Roald Dahl had a writing shed down his garden and that would stall most interruptions but you have to give the brain permission to go on idle every once in a while. I wonder if the pencil sometimes gets ahead of the brain's creative function so that you have to stop and let that portion fill up again. "Things will look better in the morning" is not always true but the unconscious mind does carry on working while we sleep. Perhaps one rule would be "Give it time and don't worry at it."

Lynn (not verified) Thu, 15/03/2012 - 21:35

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Stories move FORWARD. If it's any other direction -- backward, sideways, up or down -- it is analysis, commentary, editorializing or bullsh*t. It's not story.

Steve (not verified) Fri, 16/03/2012 - 04:16

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Who was it said "Write about what you know"? That's a load of crap. I mean I'm reasonably certain Admin hasn't gone around murdering people so he could write about it...and I'm also reasonably certain that ERB didn't actually visit Barsoom.

I'd write more, but a giant block of concrete has just fallen on my desk.