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.

So PAY ATTENTION TO IT.

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!
Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Anatomy of an Opening: The End of the Affair

Instead of breaking down a scene from a movie, this time we'll break down the opening of a book. (Previously, I've done scenes from City Lights, Citizen Kane, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  I've also broken down the opening to Starship Troopers.

Graham Greene's The End of the Affair is absolutely one of my favorite books. The writing is lyrical and story heart-wrenching and beautiful. Greene's style of writing is such that he always has me gripped, whether it's the beginning of the book or the end. And he shows you so much about the character in his opening lines.

So, here are the first two paragraphs from the book:
A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which, to look ahead. I say 'one chooses' with the inaccurate pride of a professional writer who - when he has been seriously noted at all - has been praised for his technical ability, but d…

50+ Rules and Tips About Writing I've Collected Over the Years

I have twenty or thirty notebooks and journals filled up with snippets about writing, my plans for stories, bits of dialogue, interesting ideas, plotlines, scraps of short stories, and a dozen other things. I carry one with me at all times and it takes me a couple of months to fill one up.

One of the things I've kept in one of my notebooks was a collection of writing tips and rules that I've collected over the years in my travels. From teachers, from books, from wherever. Most of my career has been spent screenwriting, so a lot of these are most applicable to that, but I wanted to present them so they might be of use to you as well.

I've never stopped collecting these over the years and I never will.

To start the list are Kurt Vonnegut's eight rules of writing. They are the first in my notebook and, I think, the most useful. I'll add a star to those I think are applicable most to screenwriting. Some of these aren't applicable to everyone in every situation, but…

Anatomy of a Scene - City Lights

We're going to break down another scene this week, and it's one of my favorites in cinema history. It comes from the ending of City Lights by Charlie Chaplin, which I think is the greatest romantic comedy ever made. 
It's a touching film from 1931 and I would make it mandatory viewing for anyone who wants to learn to tell a story.
The scene we're going to be breaking down comes from the very end of the film, so if you haven't seen it, I don't want to spoil it for you. Go watch the film. You can rent it for $3.99 in HD on Amazon or for free on Hulu with a free trial or plus subscription. You should just buy the Blu-ray, though. You're going to want to revisit it.
For those of you familiar with the movie, or for those of you who are going to ignore my pleas to watch it and go ahead with this post anyway, I'm going to set this clip up a bit before you watch it.
City Lights tells the story of Chaplin's Tramp and how he falls in love with a blind flower …