Tag Archives: writingtips

Writer’s Writing Rules by Max Griffin

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 notHe 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.

References

You can find the Writing Rules mentioned above in various sources. Here are the ones I used.

Ray Bradbury
Raymond Chandler
Tom Clancy
Dashiell Hammett
Robert A Heinlein
Ernest Hemingway
Stephen King
Elmore Leonard
Kurt Vonnegut



When Max Wore a Younger Man’s Clothes


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/

No Wasted Ink Writers Links

No Wasted Ink Writers Links

Happy Monday! It is time for another batch of writers links from No Wasted Ink. This week I was heavy into reading writing tips as I gear up to return to revisions on my novel “Christmas in Kellynch”, the sequel to “The Curate’s Brother”. There were many great articles about writing fiction, including a good one at Tor.com about Speculative Poetry. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Honing Your Process of Receiving Feedback and the Revision It May Require

Writing Community Etiquette

Lessons From Three Bad Fight Scenes

4 Questions to Help You Determine Whether Your Writing Matters

Write What You Know—But Not Exactly

What We Can—and Can’t—Learn About Louisa May Alcott from Her Teenage Fiction

How to Create an Authentic Setting from a Place You’ve Never Been

Public Thinker: Ainissa Ramirez on Putting The Story Back In Science

Becoming a Writer: Calibrating the Work Against the Pleasure

Weird as Hell: Falling in Love With Speculative Poetry

No Wasted Inks Writers Links

No Wasted Ink Writers Links

Happy Monday! Welcome to No Wasted Ink’s top ten writing tip article list. As I surf the world wide web, I earmark writing articles that I personally find interesting…and ones that I hope you will too. This week is heavy on the writing tips, but there are a few about journaling and being a better reader that might be worth your looking into. Enjoy!


Why I Keep A Currently Inked Journal (And Why You Should, Too)


Write Short Stories, Get Rejected


How to Find, Develop, and Let Your Writing Voice Shine–Three Tips


Crafting the Short Story


How Web Content Writing Will Make You a Far Better Writer


What Redemption Arcs Tell Us About Forgiveness


8 Ways to Write Your Novel’s Outline


Can Writers Still Be Readers?


3 Beautifully Descriptive Novel Passages…


The Many Lives of Jewish Lore’s Favorite Monster

Look Small; Look Deep by Robin Moyer

Some questions. But do you know the answers?

Almost everyone has sprawled on a grassy hill or mountain meadow. Or simply sat on the ground in a backyard. Have you ever knelt, gently parted the grass with your hands, and looked to see what you might overwise have never seen? The sprouting seedling, with its neck curled to the sun, an earthworm keeping my yard green, a sugar ant scaling a blade of grass, a 1987 penny: yesterday in my front yard. In less than thirty seconds I looked upon a hidden world, right under my feet. Same thing, but use a magnifying glass! What all do you, might you, can you SEE?Without looking, do you know whether the last time whoever mowed the grass went back and forth, up and down or diagonal? Why not? Do the daffodils need cutting back, has the last tulip bloomed, and were your lilacs caught by the cold this spring? Do you know?

Without looking, do you know if it is sunny or cloudy outside? Is the sky a bowl of brilliant blue or pale whitish blue? Do clouds shuttle across, great sails of billowy white or are they multiple shades of threatening grey? Are there mare’s tails, or is it, perhaps a mackerel sky? Are there a million pricks of light or a blanket of thick clouds? What phase is the moon in? Is it a child’s fingernail clipping or a fish-bellies moon? Have you seen the space station skittering across the sky? Do you know? Have you?

Have you looked to appreciate the diamond glitters of dew catching the morning sun on the grass? Do you know if the birdfeeders are empty or full? Do you have one? What birds come to feed? Have the bluebirds returned? The hummingbirds? Do the goldfinches have their summer colors yet? Did you notice how the calls of the robins, cardinals, and blue jays have changed? Have you seen? Have you noticed?

Have you ever found a bench to sit on and relax in town and simply watched the throng pass by? Are they staring at their phones or looking where they are going? Do they ever look up to catch the colors of a morning sky or notice a checkerboard of contrails? Do they stride or stroll? Can they tell, without even looking, when the crowd pauses for the light as if part of a school of minnows? Do they notice the world around them or are they secure in their little bubble? Are they busy talking? Do they even hear the car horns, the clack and stomp and shuffle of feet on a sidewalk, or the sound of the vendor on the corner? How do they look? Happy, busy, sad, depressed, mad, or stressed? Are they smiling or frowning or are they blank-faced or excited? How do you move in the crowd? Ever thought about it?

If your desk is near a window, do you notice how and when the sun slants in and gets in your eyes? How it moves from one side of the window to the other as the year progresses? What is outside that window? No, not ‘just the backyard or the street. Across the backyard, we have a long, four-foot-tall woodpile. It is also the chipmunk condominium, the opossum’s den, and is half-buried in pine needles. The older wood is blackened from time, weather, heat, and cold. The newer wood is still pale browns, golds, and oranges depending upon whether it is cherry, pine, oak, or birch. Between here and there are goldfinch feeders, lawn chairs (which absolutely need new cushions) and a wide expanse of (diagonally-mowed) grass. Goldfinches, resting on the grass, look almost like dandilions.

Is your coffee cold in its cup or still steaming hot? Has the ice melted away to dilute your drink? Where are you reading this? At your desk? On your cell in the car? Waiting for the kids or on a subway? What are three distinct sounds you can hear right now? Listen …–Listen, don’t just keep reading! I can hear the furnace running and feel the heat on my bare feet. I can hear the annoying clicking my fingers make on the keyboard, (some keys click louder than others; most noticeably the space bar!) and I can hear the dog barking. It is her ‘Mom, the bunny’s in the front yard again and I want to go play with it! Can I, Mom? Huh, huh? Can I?’ whines and yips.

As writers, as poets, we need to be observant. It is most often the little things that can give poetry the nuances and levels to make a point. Poetry depends upon fresh descriptions and new ways to see things. Perspectives change and morph depending upon a vantage point. How we, as writers, describe things in the world around us requires us to become excellent observers. Otherwise, one sees (and writes) the same old cliched phrases.

Imagine, for a moment, you were a sugar ant. Blades of grass soar upwards. The root of a tree is a mountain. Then aiming up the truck, following a scent that means food, you travel upwards, for almost half an hour as you traverse bits of knobby bark, branches, knotholes. Thirty feet off the ground, something ‘big’ brushes you off the tree and you fall, covering in seconds what it took a very long time to achieve. Assuming a bird doesn’t snatch you mid-air, do you know what happens to that ant when it hits the ground? It bounces, shakes itself, and then starts a totally different journey. Assuming I could manage to climb thirty feet up into a tree, I seriously doubt I’d be able to pick myself up, dust myself on and just continue on my way collecting food!

Observation also comes into play when reading poetry. Ours or others, it is still the same. There is so much to be learned about writing poetry from reading a plethora of poems. Experienced writers tend to write in layers. The poem is so much more than x-numbers of words arranged in a pleasing fashion. Word plays, multiple meanings from the same words, a deeper meaning, a layered nuance. Poems are rarely what’s just on the surface! You need to take a deep breath, dive down and explore the multiple meanings that can be found, the deeper message. Then, get that magnifying glass back out and look again!

Then it more[hs into the MORE! Not just in our daily existence. You will find yourself seeing the stuff that was right out in the open that you’ve missed! The little things others do for you that they don’t mention. That cup of coffee brought to you just when you realized you wanted one. The haircut. The new shirt. That they mowed the yard or that there were fresh flowers on the table. Maybe someone else (for a change!) did the dishes or folded laundry. Maybe they didn’t touch their cell once while you both were talking or one of the kids did a good job on their room or chores without being prodded to do so! Little things. Tiny things. But they add up to so very much! Sometimes, you need to work for it –it isn’t just handed to you on a poetic platter! Don’t just read for the snack –read, write and –live (!) for the feast!

It may be hard in our day-to-day lives with significant others, kids, pets, work, dealing with covid on top of everything else, but once you get yourself in the habit of being a dedicated observer, it will become second nature. You will be amazed at all the things you’ve been missing out on.


Cut me: I bleed ink. There is a space, a fathomless well of unsprung thoughts that exists inside me. I write to pull forth the words; grasp and yank them screaming or dancing, from deep within and set them free upon the page. This, this is why I write, for if I didn’t, then I shouldn’t be alive at all.

My ‘Journey Collection’ is a contemporary fiction series about groups of people with a high-risk of suicide: things read when people are not mid-spiral may surface when they are – and let them break free. Nothing like a phone call from someone saying they walked away from the Golden Gate Bridge because something in ‘Journey to Jukai’ made them think again! Or receiving an email from someone wondering if I am trans or gay because I nailed ‘the who they are!’ (I am not. Intense, deep research is your friend!)

Robin Moyer is an author, poet, great-grandmother, veteran, creative writing teacher, wife, world-traveler, free spirit and book publisher. (wynwidynpress.com) She has eight books under her belt including a prize-winning series and three works in process.

No Wasted Ink Writers Links

No Wasted Ink Writers Links

Happy Monday! No Wasted Ink has a new top-ten of interesting writing related links for you to enjoy. During my own surfing of the internet, I earmark craft articles that I find useful and engaging and share these with all of you.


Writing Rogues, A Study o Batman: The Animated Series
Whose POV Should It Be?
The Joys of Scrivener – My Favorite Software for Organizing Your Book-In-Progress
Achieving Immortality Through Fiction
Writing Rules vs. Writing Fashion: Should Writers Follow Fashion Trends?
Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know: Hybrid Publishing
A Display Hack for Your Story’s Outline
Using TikTok to Sell Books
Affiliate Income For Authors
Why You Should Know Who Your Narrator Is Talking To