Skip to main content

Writer's Rules Revisited #16

I haven't done one of these since March of 2013, and since people keep telling me how useful they've found these over the years, I figure I might as well finish what I started. 

For those new around these parts, a brief explanation is in order. A long time ago (way back in August of 2011) I posted a list of rules and guidelines I'd been collecting in my notebook over the years as a writer. I put together the list on the blog and it was fairly popular. (You can read the whole thing here) But there's only so much that comes across in a simple bullet point list. I wanted to expand on it and we've been doing it a couple at a time ever since. 

I didn't feel like I was saying anything useful that people didn't already know for a long time, and I was reminded that that wasn't exactly the case, so I figured I'd tackle them here and there until it's done or I keep adding to the list.
If you want to catch up on the series:

You can read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 herePart 4 herePart 5 here, Part 6 herePart 7 herePart 8 herePart 9 herePart 10 herePart 11 here, Part 12 here,  Part 13 herePart 14 here, and Part 15 here.

Before we start, I want to remind you that "rules" of writing are largely guidelines to help you figure out what to do and what works for you. If something I said doesn't work for you, it doesn't mean I'm wrong or you're wrong, per se, it means that didn't work out for you. So, take all of these with a grain of salt.

50) Pay attention to the geography in your prose. People, places, things, everything. It's important.

Have you ever read a scene in a book and you couldn't really place the setting? I've read far too many books that have that scene, and invariably I end up imagining the two characters with their eyes closed in a dark room talking to each other in the vacuum of space. It's not that difficult to sprinkle in a bit of the surroundings. As writers, it's definitely our job to set the scene, and if we're not doing that, every book can quickly turn into a science-fiction film with disembodied heads doing all the talking.

As writers, we know exactly what the surroundings are like because we can imagine it all in our head, but when we transfer that image to the page for others to interpret, it's missing many of the little details we've taken for granted. As you're revising scenes, read them with an eye for the image a first-time reader will conjure. Start with that blank room and add details and you've doled them out and based on what people can legitimately infer. If you find that the decor in your mind's eye is lacking, you know right there what you can add to the scene.

And think about all the senses as you're doing this. Would the body odor of the guy a table over tell you about the layout of the room and the smells your character is taking in? Would it add character if the room was covered over in tattered photographs tacked to the wall? Or would it seem serene with a quiet fire in the fireplace in the corner of the room and flowered wallpaper above an oak wainscotting?

It's not just about setting the scene, either. It's about paying attention to the actions and geography of those scenes. If you have two characters sitting at a kitchen table eating breakfast for half the scene, and then a third character comes to the door, you need to give a spatial idea for the reader to latch on to. I've seen some writers try to get away with having the character appear, have them speak for a bit, and then suddenly they're slurping cereal with no indication that they've made their way through the room or sat down. As a reader, it forces me to rewind and figure out where these jumps occurred and it's not helpful to me.

It's particularly bad in fight scenes. People will notice when your character has a broken left wrist that the antagonist has gripped in their clutches when the hero clasps their hands together and smashes the bad guy across the face. You need to be a physical choreographer of each action sequence so that each motion of the characters is possible and easily tracked by an audience.

They will know. You can't imagine things in a half-baked fashion and put them on the page, they need to be complete in your head before you can capably ensure it gets on the page.


I'm only tackling the one today "rule" today. Like I said, it's more of a guideline of what's worked for me than a rule. I'll be back with more of these, I'm sure.

As far as other stuff of mine that's been published, I had a spoilery piece on The Force Awakens come out for Salt Lake City Weekly that you can read here. And Howstuffworks published my piece on the 10 nods to the prequels contained in The Force Awakens.

I'm this close to done with my tenth novel. I was trying to get it done before the end of the year, but I don't think that will happen. Instead, I will aim for before my next blog post next week.

As a reminder: The Aeronaut and Escape Vector are still out and still need your purchases and reviews. If nothing else, they can use you telling people about them. If you want signed copies, visit the shop here on this page.

Then, The Serpent's Head and Operation: Montauk are both in a Storybundle for a couple more days. The cost is "name your price," and they're packaged with a whole slew of other books worth checking out. Go ahead and snag them here. 

Also! here's the full list of "rules and guidelines" I've been collecting over my years of studying writing advice and process

As far as my work outside of all this: There's a lot of great stuff on Big Shiny Robot! and Full of Sith for you. 

And please, please, please don't forget to check out any of my books, drop reviews of them on Amazon or Goodreads, and follow me on twitter and Facebook!


Popular posts from this blog

The Missed Opportunities of Days Gone By

“Hello?” I said into the phone, accepting the call from a number I didn’t recognize. “Hey,” the feminine voice on the other replied, as though I should know the sound of her voice. At a loss, I said, “Can I help you?” “It’s Brooke.” Her name stopped me. It couldn’t possibly be her. We hadn’t spoken in years, a decade perhaps. “Brooke?” “Yeah, Brooke Baker. This is Mark, right?” Jesus Christ. It was her. “Yeah, it is Mark. Brooke. Wow. How are you? It’s been a long time since… well… since anything.” “I know.” “So, how are you doing?” “Okay, I suppose…” Her voice belied her words, though. Something was up. “I… It’s just been so long and I guess I wanted to hear your voice.” “I don’t think I had a number for you. Ever. I offered a couple of times, but…” “I was a brat back then.” And that’s how a random phone call turned into a two-and-a-half hour catch-up session. We spoke of everything under the sun: people we still knew, how different we were, h

Anatomy of a Scene: The Third Man

It's time again to break down a classic scene. One that's well-written and, in my view, a fine example of excellent craft. I've done some of these articles from books (like The End of the Affair   and Starship Troopers ) and other movies (like Citizen Kane , City Lights , Raiders of the Lost Ark , and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid ), but now it's time to take a look at a scene from The Third Man . It blends the best of Orson Welles (as he's in the film and drives this scene) and Graham Greene, who wrote this particular screenplay. Before we get to the scene, we need some context. The Third Man is a tale of the black market in Vienna, just after World War II. It's about a cheap, dime-store Western novelist named Holly Martins (played by Joseph Cotton) and his friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles.) Lime offered Martins a job in Vienna, so Martins leaves America and arrives, only to find that Harry Lime is dead. Penniless, without a friend or reason to be

Anatomy of a Scene: All the President's Men

All the President's Men is one of those perfect movies. Based on a stunning true story with a brilliant screenplay from William Goldman (we've already gone through one of his scenes here with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid ), it's a movie that brings all of the elements of character, plot, and drama together in a way that makes me really love and admire it.  The scene I want to go through is one that comes during a particularly trying time in the film. For those unaware, this film tells the tale of Woodward and Bernstein, the Washington Post reporters who cracked the Watergate story. And now, looking back on it, it all feels like one big victory, but it was marked by a number of defeats.  This is them reporting to their skeptical editor, Ben Bradlee (played brilliantly by Jason Robards) about where their investigation is at. Immediately preceding Woodward and Bernstein walking in, a salesman is trying to sell Bradlee on features his papers doe