Monday, 22 February 2010

Rules For Writers That I Have Broken

Yes, yes, I know that the only rule in writing is that there are no rules, but that's not strictly true, is it? We know if the dialogue tag says, 'he asked wonderingly.' then it's probably not the best book ever. It's not a hard and fast rule, but it's certainly in the region of being a guideline. And you do have to know what the rules/guidelines are before you can go around discarding them. Although that rule isn't set in stone either, apparently. Right. Anyway. These are some of the rules that I have broken.

- Don't have kids. I'm quite glad I ignored that bit of advice. Stupid advice. Writers have to be selfish, do they? Why? You want to write, you will. You don't need all the time in the universe. You don't need not to share yourself around with anything else. Grow up. *

- Don't use any other dialogue tag than 'said'. I quite like people to shout occasionally. Or huff. Or spit. Just to break up the monotony. But in a comedic piece you can't beat a good 'he said'. 'He said' is quite funny, sometimes. I'm not sure why.

- Don't tell the reader the moon is shining. Show them the glint of moonlight on broken glass. Yes, but what about when you've got acres of stuff to get through and you've just lovingly described their discarded wedding dress on the bed or their forgotten doll high on the shelf or some such? Sensory overload does exist, I'm sure of it. Choose what to show and what to tell. Decide what's important. Yeah.

- Don't make your main character unlikeable. Erm, guilty. Likeable and interesting aren't the same thing, though, are they? And when we first meet a character, our impression of them doesn't have to be true. We have to get to know them. We might hate them to start with, and end up loving them. Even though they're still unlikeable. I like lots of unlikeable people. Grumps are fun. Maybe don't put your reader totally inside the head of a complete git might be more pertinent advice.

- Don't use adverbs. Ah, heck. Again, in comedy, you can't beat a good adverb sometimes. She opined grandiosely.

So what is true about being a writer? You won't learn unless you keep reading and writing, I think. Not consciously dissecting it, but doing it until it gets stuck in your head and you begin to know without knowing when a piece of writing is good. Oh bum, that's pants advice too.

*I should point out that I'm not saying you should have kids. Please don't go around procreating because I said so. I'm just saying, you know, if you wanna, and you're all in a good place with it, do it. Blimey, what a minefield.

18 comments:

Gareth L Powell said...

Good article, Aliya. On the one hand, kids are time consuming, but on the other, they make your emotional life (and therefore your writing) so much richer. I discussed this very point myself on my blog a while back:

http://www.garethlpowell.com/should-writers-have-kids/

Let me know what you think.

Aliya Whiteley said...

Hi Gareth - yes, I agree with you that having less time makes you focus and become more productive. And having a child has changed my perspective on everything. I don't know if I'm a better writer, to be honest. I'm less confident, for a start. I understand what real loss could be, and most of my brain now belongs to my Munchie. But being a writer and being a human are not separate issues anyway, are they?

I can understand how people might not want to put themselves through that kind of change, but I'm glad I have.

Frances Garrood said...

Me too, Aliya. Me too. And grandchildren (tho' you don't have any choice on that front). One of mine yesterday flung herself into my arms and cried, 'I don't want you to die!' Her triplet brother asked me, 'what's it like to have wrinkles?'

But I still love them.

My big writing rule - more of a phobia, really - concerns exclamation marks. But you know about those. Oh - and the kind of description which snags your brain and holds up the flow of the narrative (in a novel by Rachel Cusk: 'the sun rose like a fried egg.' It might have been a poached egg, but the effect was the same).

Tim Stretton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tim Stretton said...

*dons dinosaur costume*

Don't Tweet

If that's not a rule, it should be...

Aliya Whiteley said...

I wonder if it's true that tweeting, blogging, etc sucks time away from the important activity of writing.

That's a bit of a no-brainer, really, isn't it? Yup, it's the internet that's the problem, not kids.

Tim Stretton said...

I think blogging has a stronger justification than tweeting. Your post today, for instance, will engage anyone interested in the craft of writing, and shows your voice to the world. Twitter, on the other hand, only engages those people who would already buy your work etc, and by definition doesn't allow the scope to develop any genuinely interesting ideas.

But in general, yeah, the internet just sucks that writing juice away...

Aliya Whiteley said...

Yes, but I posted a link to this blog post on Twitter, and some people retweeted it and their followers picked it up, and they wrote their own posts based on my post. So I reached a new audience. Hah.

*waits expectantly for Light Reading to make bestseller list*

Tim Stretton said...

Touche! ; - )

Alis said...

The trouble with rules is that if you don't take any notice of them at all you end up with a horrible, unfocussed, embarrassing mess. And if you're too slavish with them, you end up with something bland and unremarkable, not to say unreadable. The real bugger of it is that each writer has to work out for him or herself where their adherence/breaking point is. But then that's the thrill of it all, too, isn't it?

Aliya Whiteley said...

Have to agree with that, Alis.

Matt Curran said...

Aliya - what a great post. I think I've broken most of these and Neil's as well.

In defence of Twitter, it's a good publicity tool, like blogger, and when used well, it can

Aliya Whiteley said...

Thanks Matt - it can what? Don't leave me hanging...

Matt Curran said...

mid sentence, can be annoying and not the done thing as Neil points out.  But back to the Twitter thing, Aliya… I reckon that Twitter is…

That Twitter…

Ah, I'm losing my thread slightly.
I think that comes from parenthood, you know?  Losing one's mind, memory, and sense of surreality?

I was talking about Twitter, wasn't I?

"Perekint" as word verification says...

Aliya Whiteley said...

*commerical break*

Pepsi's great! Pepsi's neat!
Pepsi doesn't taste of feet!

*and now back to our scheduled programme...*

Matt Curran said...

"Pepsi doesn't taste of feet!"

I disagree - I think it does...
Don't like Pepsi at all.

I'm more of a Dr Pepper kind of guy (so misunderstood).

David Isaak said...

I think that restricting oneself to "said" in tags is too limiting. I also like "asked," since I dislike anyone "saying" a question. ("Can I say you a question?") As to the rest of the possibilities, I don't think they should be avoided under all circumstances, but I think every use of every one of them should be cross-examined for suitability as though the writer worked for the Inquisition.

As to "likeability" of a main character, you're right--that's just silly. Humbert Humbert has to be one of the least likeable characters in history. Alex DeLarge in Clockwork Orange isn't any treat. And what about Hannibal Lecter?

Should writers have kids? Depends on whether they want them. Writers as unstable and unreliable as Yours Truly shouldn't even have dogs, much less children.

Guppies are more my speed--or the various amphibians and reptiles that only need to be fed once a month. Don't try this with children. They become restive.

Aliya Whiteley said...

Indeed. I don't know why it's so difficult for everyone to do what suits them best, whether that comes down to dialogue tags or reproduction. Sheesh. Humanity.