Wednesday, February 24, 2010

When I Felt Secure, I Said "I Will Never Be Shaken." (Psalm 30:6)

OK, I have an entire three-ounce bag of Jack Links Original flavor Beef Jerky and a vitamin water steeping inside my gut, so I believe I'm ready to fake my way through yet another blog post. Boy, it's a good thing for me that you all are so easily duped! Man! I can talk about anything and you'll read it! BUAHAHAHAHA!!!!

Actually, I did have a cool link to lead off with, especially for the writers among us. I saw an article that was inspired by Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules for Writing Fiction (which is a book coming out next month). The article followed up a summary of Leonard's 10 Rules by asking a bunch of other current, successful writers what their Rules for Writing Fiction were. It is definitely interesting reading, especially for those of us that (are trying to) write.


Here are Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules:

1 Never open a book with weather. If it's only to create atmosphere, and not a character's reaction to the weather, you don't want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead look­ing for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways than an Eskimo to describe ice and snow in his book Arctic Dreams, you can do all the weather reporting you want.
2 Avoid prologues: they can be annoying, especially a prologue ­following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in non-fiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want. There is a prologue in John Steinbeck's Sweet Thursday, but it's OK because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: "I like a lot of talk in a book and I don't like to have nobody tell me what the guy that's talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks."
3 Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But "said" is far less intrusive than "grumbled", "gasped", "cautioned", "lied". I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with "she asseverated" and had to stop reading and go to the dictionary.
4 Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said" . . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances "full of rape and adverbs".
5 Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.
6 Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose". This rule doesn't require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use "suddenly" tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.
7 Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apos­trophes, you won't be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavour of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories Close Range.
8 Avoid detailed descriptions of characters, which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants", what do the "American and the girl with him" look like? "She had taken off her hat and put it on the table." That's the only reference to a physical description in the story.
9 Don't go into great detail describing places and things, unless you're Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language. You don't want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.
10 Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them.
My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.


And here are the links to the article, if you want to see what other writers (including Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood and Sarah Waters) have to say about it. Part One, Part Two.

I've noticed that Patrick Rothfuss breaks a few of these rules! O_O I'm about 150 pages into my re-read of The Name of the Wind, and I'm loving every bit of it again. I wish I could write with such richness and imagination. All I have to lean on are fart jokes...

Here's another awesome piece of art by Kekai Kotaki.

By the way, Fiction Addict is a good site. If you like books, go nose around there, eh!

Actually, here's a couple other good "book related" sites, while I'm at it...

Kyusi Reader, A Dribble of Ink, The Mad Hatter's Book Shelf, The Writer's Notebook, and Speculative Horizons.

And, of course, there's Logan's Blog, Kristopher's Blog, Rebecca's Blog, Shellie's BlogMelissa's Blog, Crystal's Blog and Krista's Blog, in case you didn't have enough to browse!

I am done. Hope your week ends well.



logankstewart said...

An excellent list, though I can't agree with all points. It's like with grammar. Once you learn the rules, you can manipulate and do what you want, so long as it's in reason.

I think I'm gonna switch all of my "suddenly's" to "all hell broke loose" and see how that works. That'd be fun, eh?

#8 & #9 are both finicky things, methinks. I want to provide some detail, but not too much to eliminate imagination.

Again, great list. And some great blogs listed, too.

Crystal said...

Thanks for linking my blog!

That's an interesting list of writing rules. I don't agree with every one. I like prologues. I like descriptions of characters and scenery. It's what makes the story real for me.

Rebecca said...

I like the list Dave. Thanks. However, I think like Logan said, grammar and writing style is too subjective. What works for some authors doesn't work with others, and what some people find as poor writing, others find brilliant.

#10 was funny. I guess I just need to master mindreading : )And I think I would have to disagree with #3. I like colorful language but more importantly I like precise language. If the man was grumbling under his breath when he spoke then by all means don't say he said...

Abbie said...

haha, that was very very funny! but I also disagree with #3 haha. I like to know "how" people are saying things lol. and I don't know what asseverated means either lol! nice word...

Paula Titus said...

I like the list of "no-no's" - thanks for posting it. Awesome artwork too. :)

Krista said...

Very funny and interesting. Thanks for posting.

The Name of the Wind is an awesome read! I've read it twice and skimmed it once for a book club and I loved it every time... But GEEZ!! come on Rothfuss next installment already! lol

Shellie (Layers of Thought) said...

Oh love the tips - hope you do a review of the book when it comes out.

Regardless - even though I refuse to think of myself as a writer.. I could use the help.

Thanks for the shout out!