Welcome back to No Wasted Ink’s top-ten articles about writing with a science fiction and fantasy bent. This week I found many great articles for you to review. Enjoy!
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/
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.
Authors come from all walks of life and a stump is no exception. While this author may claim to be a mere hobbist, I think he has much more going for him than he might realize, for a stump is a literary author with over thirty short stories published in over fifteen publications. Read on and see if you agree with me. Please welcome a stump to No Wasted Ink.
Hi Wendy! When I think about who I am, I’d like to begin be saying that I’m a man—a pastor, even!—married to a beautiful, supportive wife with four amazing sons. I don’t think of myself as an author, but certainly enjoy the hobby of writing. I love being outdoors, and I love drinking coffee. I’m a slow, but avid, reader. I read about 150 words per minute, which makes me an “auditory reader.” So, being such a slow reader, I have to be very judicious in my reading list.
When and why did you begin writing?
My best friend, N.D. Coley, is a writer. I saw what he was doing and how his stories were getting published, and I thought, “I’d like to try doing that.” I did, and it worked!
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
From the get-go, I knew that I was a writer. I had had a lot of English and writing classes in college, so I knew the mechanics of writing. I understand vocabulary and writing quite well, so I know what works. I also have a working knowledge of Greek, Hebrew, Latin, French, and German, and I’m working on Old Norse, Old English, and Anglo-Saxon. That being said, I don’t view myself as an “author.” It’s not the main thing I do, only a hobby. I’m happy, however, that people seem to enjoy my writing.
Can you share a little about your current book with us?
I have one book, The Endless Summer, that I’m advertising now. It’s the right time for it, as kids are getting out of school and teachers are assigning reading lists and such. It’s a bit of a fantastical romp through my own childhood in the 1980’s in upstate New York. Of course, it’s not just nostalgia, but infused with the supernatural. I have a mermaid, a genie, and a vampire in my story, all interacting with a group of ten year-old boys. I think that that’s when the magic happens—between childhood and puberty. There’s a liminal phase there where childhood belief mixes with some sort of adult notion that the world is a really gritty, complex place.
What inspired you to write this book?
It began as a short story called The Storm Drain. It was eventually changed to Keep Off the Grass and published in the online magazine, Jakob’s Horror Box. When I had finished that story, I felt the characters begging me to tell more. I did. I wrote several short stories, and they all became a single piece that turned into The Endless Summer.
Do you have a specific writing style?
If I had to pick a single style, I’d say “Literary.” I really want to write stuff that everyone wants to read. As such, I use a lot of descriptive and grammar structure to make my writing broadly appealing. My Book, The Endless Summer is written for a young adult audience, but will also be appealing to adults. In fact, one reviewer stated that she read the book twice in a row for the beauty of the writing.
How did you come up with the title of this book?
One of the stories/chapters in this book is called “The Endless Summer.” It’s one of the few stories in the book that hasn’t been published previously. After writing it, I thought that it encapsulates the idea of a childhood summer—never ending. The story takes place over one whole summer, and it seemed a fitting title.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Yes! Some people might think that the message is something like “there’s magic everywhere” or “childhood is magical.” In reality, I think that the truth of the book is that “things aren’t always as they seem.” Being disillusioned is one of the hallmarks of the journey from childhood to adulthood. The jading that happens somewhere in adolescence is quite unfortunate. My book captures the twilight magic that happens somewhere between those two bookends.
Are experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in
your own life?
Every story is somehow autobiographical. All the characters are some part of me. It takes place in upstate New York, which is where I spent several years of my childhood. It was formative for me, and a natural backdrop for my stories.
What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?
Without a doubt, Ray Bradbury, C.S. Lewis, Sherwood Anderson, and Ursula K. le Guinn.
If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor? Why?
I write my own prose and poetry. While I’m influenced by a lot a authors’ styles, I try not to mimic them.
Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?
I did it. Because I’m broke! I’d love for someone else to design covers for me, but I’m broke and can’t afford graphic design. A designer actually volunteered to design a cover for me, but none of the proposed designs really fit the book. I think that any designer needs to read my writing before submitting a design. My writing is often dark and brooding. Even with a title like The Endless Summer, it’s not a flowery book.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Just write. Write what you love. Who cares if it’s published? Also, when you’re ready to publish, it’s ok to give some stuff away, but don’t give everything away. Giving writing away cheapens our craft.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Please, please, please leave a review for the work that you’d read! Even one sentence! Obviously, five-star reviews are preferable. But even one word reviews (like “Awesome!”) make a difference for authors. I’ve sold a lot of copies of my titles, but have relatively few reviews. Granted, they’re all five star reviews, but it would be really nice if the amount of reviews were reflective of sales!
The Endless Summer