Happy Monday!!! Welcome to No Wasted Ink’s top-ten writers articles. As I surf the internet, I save craft articles that intrigue me and which I hope will also interest you. This week I found some great ones, so pour yourself the beverage of your choice and enjoy.
Ray Bradbury once said, “I don’t tell anyone how to write and no one tells me.” Yet, when pressed, he produced eight “rules” for successful authors.
In fact, if you Google your favorite author together with “writing rules,” you’re likely to discover links to that author’s answer to the question, “What are your rules for writing success?” Try it. I found rules that ran from two items for Robert Heinlein to twenty-four for Dashiell Hammett. That may say something about their respective styles, or maybe about how much self-reflection went into their writing, or something else. But still, there is some wisdom to be garnered by looking at these lists.
Not all Writing Rules are equal. Hammett’s, for example, are detailed, but in such a way that they apply primarily to detective novels of his era. Here’s his first rule, for example:
There was an automatic revolver, the Webley-Fosbery, made in England some years ago. The ordinary automatic pistol, however, is not a revolver. A pistol, to be a revolver, must have something on it that revolves.
This is interesting, but it’s not exactly advice. Of course, the point is that authors shouldn’t confuse a “pistol” with a “revolver.” More generally, authors should use technical terms in an accurate way. This more general form of the rule would include, for example, don’t confuse a unit of distance, like “parsec,” with a unit of time, like how long it takes to make a journey.
At the other end are Heinlein’s two rules.
1. You must write.
2. You must finish what you write.
These certainly clear, and they apply to all authors and all genres. But they are so general as to be useless. For example, they don’t tell you how often or how much you should write, nor how to know you’ve finished. He eventually expanded this to five rules, including that you should never rewrite except to editorial order, but even that is not specific enough to be helpful. We also know, from the correspondence in Grumbles from the Grave, that he in fact did cut his manuscripts, which is certainly revision.
Tom Clancy proposed five rules.
1. Tell the story.
2. Writing is like golf.
3. Make pretend more than real.
4. Writer’s block is unacceptable.
5. No one can take your dream away.
What? Like golf? What he means is that if you aspire to become a golfer, you practice. You might even take lessons from a pro. What you don’t do is read a book on how to play golf, or watch people playing golf, and then think you know the sport. You learn by doing. With respect to rule three, Clancy once opined, “The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.” That’s one way to make fiction more than real. For rule four, he clarifies that he means to write every day, whether you feel like it or not. Treat writing as a job. Finally, in rule five he says don’t let naysayers destroy your dreams. This is all good advice. Remember, J.K. Rowling went through twenty rejections for the first Harry Potter book before she found a publisher.
Hemingway proposed four rules.
1. Use short sentences.
2. Use short first paragraphs.
3. Use vigorous English.
4. Be positive, not negative.
These give clear instructions. They provide a basis for writing and revision. Anyone who has read Hemingway could deduce the first three rules. The last rule is the only one that might require some explanation. In rule four, he means describe what something is, not what it is not. He does not mean “be Pollyanna.”
The main problem with Hemmingway’s set of rules is that they are incomplete. Of course, any set of rules for writing is likely to share this flaw, but there are sets of rules that both serve as practical guides and are more comprehensive.
Kurt Vonnegut produced eight rules for short story authors, but they have value for novelists as well.
1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
5. Start as close to the end as possible.
6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible.
To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
I’ve gotten particular inspiration from rules two, three, and four on this list. Write at least one character readers will cheer for, give every character a goal, and always advance character and plot. If you can follow these three rules, you’ve got a leg up on a good story.
Elmore Leonard also produced a succinct set of rules.
1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.
5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
Again, these are clear rules, things you can bring to the page as you write.
Raymond Chandler gave us many amazing mysteries, but he also wrote advice on a what makes a good murder mystery:
1. It must be credibly motivated, both as to the original situation and the dénouement.
2. It must be technically sound as to the methods of murder and detection.
3. It must be realistic in character, setting and atmosphere. It must be about real people in a real world.
4. It must have a sound story value apart from the mystery element: i.e., the investigation itself must be an adventure worth reading.
5. It must have enough essential simplicity to be explained easily when the time comes.
6. It must baffle a reasonably intelligent reader.
7. The solution must seem inevitable once revealed.
8. It must not try to do everything at once. If it is a puzzle story operating in a rather cool, reasonable atmosphere, it cannot also be a violent adventure or a passionate romance.
9. It must punish the criminal in one way or another, not necessarily by operation of the law…. If the detective fails to resolve the consequences of the crime, the story is an unresolved chord and leaves irritation behind it.
10. It must be honest with the reader.
I like these rules because they easily generalize to other genres. For example, change a word here and there and you’ve got a guide for a good science fiction story.
Stephen King has given us twenty writing rules. These are also quite good, and replicate some of the advice above, especially about adverbs and leaving out the boring bits. King also takes the interesting view that writing is like archeology in that you are discovering your fictional world as you write, much like an archeologist discovers, potsherd by potsherd, a village in ancient Mesopotamia, Mongolia, or Mesoamerica.
Can we find truth in these writing rules? Sure. There’s the truth about how these individual authors view writing. There’s truth in that there is some agreement between this diverse set of authors, although agreement doesn’t necessarily imply a deeper truth. But there’s truth in the diversity of opinion, too. Each of these successful authors found their own truth. If you want to be successful, you have to find yours, too.
Isaac Newton wrote, “”If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” As you seek your own truth, you can build on the shoulders of these authors. Starting with their wisdom, find your own truth.
You can find the Writing Rules mentioned above in various sources. Here are the ones I used.
Max writes horror and science fiction stories, often with a dark twist. John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction is the single most important influence on his thinking about the craft of writing. Authors as diverse as John Updike, Stephen King, Richard Matheson, and Lawrence Block inspire and inform his literary style.
Max Griffin is the pen name of a mathematician and academic. He has retired from his positions at a major university in the Southwest. He is the proud parent of a daughter who is a librarian, and the grandparent to two beautiful little boys. Max is blessed to be in a long-term relationship with his life partner, Mr. Gene, who is an expert knitter. To learn more about Max Griffin, please visit: https://new.maxgriffin.net/
The Planets: a scifaiku poetry collection is a literary journey through our solar system featuring poems inspired by the nine planets. All the scifaiku and astropoetry is meant to inspire you to seek out and learn more about the history of human’s exploration and the physical characteristics of the these fascinating worlds.
The Elgin voting season is about to close. If you are a voting member of the SFPA, I hope you’ll consider The Planets when you are making your final considerations for the Elgin.
Currently, Wendy Van Camp is composing a new astropoetry scifaiku book called Time and Space. She hopes to have it published in Spring of 2022. Look for it and for The Planets on Amazon.
When I asked PJ Manney to describe herself as a writer, she said, “I’m a human sponge, and culture and SF geek. Everything is connected and I’ll show you the network.” Please welcome her to No Wasted Ink.
PJ Manney wrote the bestselling and P.K. Dick Award nominated novel, (R)EVOLUTION (2015, 47North) in the Phoenix Horizon trilogy with, (ID)ENTITY (2017), and (CON)SCIENCE, (2021). A former chairperson of Humanity+, she authored “Yucky Gets Yummy: How Speculative Fiction Creates Society“ and “Empathy in the Time of Technology: How Storytelling is the Key to Empathy,” foundational works on the neuropsychology of empathy and future media. Manney consults and lectures for organizations about the future of technology and humanity. She was a teleplay writer (Hercules–The Legendary Journeys, Xena: Warrior Princess, numerous TV pilot scripts) and film executive. Manney has two children, lives with her husband in Southern California and is a dual citizen of the US and New Zealand.
When and why did you begin writing?
My husband and I went to New Zealand in 1993, so he could produce five TV movies based on Hercules. I had just left running one production company and was negotiating to run another. But I didn’t want to be away from my husband for 9 months, so I put the job search on hold and joined him in Auckland. I was so bored doing nothing, I thought I’d write a spec feature length script to pass the days. For thirty years, I had believed the lies told by my teachers who mistrusted my dyslexia, and my producers who believed that production executives didn’t have what it took to be writers. My spec was good enough for me to pitch the executive producer in charge of the new episodic TV series in the works, Hercules—The Legendary Journeys, then Xena: Warrior Princess. We were in New Zealand for seven years and had two children there.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I considered myself a screenwriter after my first sale to Hercules—The Legendary Journeys. I considered myself a novelist after selling (R)EVOLUTION. I considered myself a short story writer after selling “Ours” to the ghost story anthology, December Tales. Even though writing is what makes one a writer, I like a pro sale to feel like I’ve earned the moniker. But that’s just me.
Can you share a little about your current book with us?
(CON)SCIENCE is the third book in the Phoenix Horizon trilogy. Five years ago, bioengineer Peter Bernhardt spearheaded an innovation in nanotechnology that changed the course of evolution. Until everything was taken from him—his research, the people he loved, and finally his life. Uploaded as an artificial intelligence, Peter is alive again thanks to a critical reactivation by fellow AI Carter Potsdam.
But a third sentient computer program, Major Tom, is tearing the United States apart, destroying its leaders and its cities. Major Tom’s mission: rebuild a new America from the ruins and reign as uncontested monarch. Carter knows that only a revolutionary like Peter can reverse the damage to a country set on fire.
Caught in a virtual world between an alleged ally and an enemy, pieces of Peter’s former self remain: the need for vengeance, empathy for the subjugated people of a derelict world, and doubt in everything he’s been led to believe. To rescue what’s left, he’ll need to once again advance the notion of evolution and to expand the meaning of being human—by saving humanity.
What inspired you to write this book?
I love American history, having been an American Studies major in college. I love futurism, where I watch trends in society and culture and figure out the possible futures that may occur. And I love neuroscience. I taught myself neuroscience to imagine the possible brain-computer interface technologies (BCIs) in the novels. They must be good enough, because at least one major BCI company has replicated them. Imagining how a person would change with an implanted BCI, then change again as a digital personality is the best fun ever.
Do you have a specific writing style?
I think my style changes with the story told and the point of view. In the Phoenix Horizon trilogy, it’s close third person in the mind of a scientist, but as the protagonist shifts personality, the writing does, too. “Ours” is a story told by three ghost children as a collective entity. But I have techniques that are consistent story to story, including how I brainstorm, structure and write all over the place, in layers. I call it sedimentary writing, as I lay down the different layer details at different times.
How did you come up with the title of this book?
My first editor at 47North, Jason Kirk, came up with (R)EVOLUTION. I took the format of parentheses as a starting point, and added one letter more to inside the parenthesis to indicate the number of the book in the series: (R), (ID), (CON). Then I had fun coming up with words that were thematically correct and could exist on their own inside, outside, and separate of the parentheses. Each title has several meanings or thematic references. I think it worked.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Change happens. Technology advances. We can’t stop it, nor should we. Technology is morally neutral. What matters are the choices we, as a society, make for its use. And we have a voice in those decisions if we chose to say it.
Are experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in
your own life?
The series protagonist cognates, memorizes and problem-solves through music. My daughter does this. I find her brain so interesting, I created a hero/anti-hero based on it. And several characters are based on or are composites of people I know. I’ve made a lot of parents happy by making their adult children fictional doctors, lawyers and Wolfesque ‘masters of the universe.’
What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?
Alexander Dumas inspired all three books with The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers and The Man in the Iron Mask respectively. Dumas was a magnificent storyteller, and especially in The Count of Monte Cristo, the political technothriller writer of his time, as the Count uses early 19th Century technologies to foil his enemies.
Mary Shelley is my compass, always pointing the way. From Frankenstein, depicting the OG scientifically-created human, to The Last Man, with its deep contemplation of what makes human beings necessary, she asked the hardest questions as the first science fiction author. We still ask the same questions today.
If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor? Why?
Two writers mentored and helped me over the last several years. Joe Quirk picked me up and dusted me off when I had given up on an early draft of (R)EVOLUTION that was a disaster. He focused on solutions and gave me the best notes a writer could ask for, because they worked. I learned so much from him as a first-time novelist. Cat Rambo came into my life when I needed her most. I had writers block and took Eileen Gunn’s excellent writer’s block class at Clarion West online. At the end, she said we should join Cat Rambo’s daily co-writing group and continue with classes at The Rambo Academy. I did both. They allowed me to finish (CON)SCIENCE and take it to publication, as well as teach me how to write short stories, leading to “Ours.” I’m a lucky writer to have such mentors and friends.
Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?
I told 47North that I wanted covers that were the 21st Century version of the surreal, psychedelic SFF covers I loved as a child in the 1970s. Jason Kirk and I searched the web for a great artist and found Adam Martinakis. We adore him and his three-dimensional, CGI surrealist style. They speak to the drama and individual conflicts of each book. (R)EVOLUTION depicts the painful emergence of a new kind of human. (ID)ENTITY refers to the fracturing of identity in artificial human intelligences and the different bodies they inhabit. (CON)SCIENCE references how many iterations of a single mind can occur when digital entities exist. The images were perfect.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Write. Don’t give up. I imagined the seed of an idea in 1993 that became (R)EVOLUTION, published in 2015. During that time, I wrote for television, ghostwrote for movies, published my first academic journal article, consulted as a futurist, helped run a PTA, reorganized and accelerated STEM classes in our schools, raised two children, cared for six parents, and had my own health crises. I have dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia, as well as late-discovered ADHD. In theory, I should be the last person writing anything. But it turns out that dyslexics are unusually good storytellers, but we’re only learning that now. Against conventional wisdom, I do the thing I was told never to do. You can, too.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Don’t be afraid of the future. We are all more resilient and powerful than we think. We can make a better world together, if we want one.
Orange County, CA
Welcome to No Wasted Ink’s writer links. These are articles that caught my attention while surfing the internet. I hope that you find them as interesting as I did. Enjoy.