Monday, April 25, 2011

Even More- Rules for Writing

It seems that everyone has some opinion on writing, actual writers or not. Any time I tell people that I'm an author, which I tend not to do, they have some sort of opinion on what I should be writing and when I should be writing and how I should be writing. Every one's a critic. However, I do rather like reading actual author's rules of writing. Taking advice from someone who has been there before is far easier than taking advice from someone who will never even try to go down that road.

So, without further ado, here are Elmore Leonard's Rules for Writing, shamelessly lifted from Melody Godfred over at Write in Color. I found her website with StumbleUpon, which is super fun, but such a time suck. Just FYI... you've been warned. Also, if you, like me, had no idea who Elmore Leonard is, here's a short bio of him and his works. My own opinions on each of these rules follows in italics. What, you thought I'd let everyone else have an opinion and keep mine to myself? Ha.

1 Never open a book with weather. This seems reasonable, and seems to follow with the understood rule to never open a book with your character waking up. You've got to grab the reader and immediately give her someone she cares about. I do think that an excellent example of this is Graceling, where we are thrust immediately into the action with the main character.

2 Avoid prologues: they can be ­annoying, especially a prologue ­following an introduction that comes after a foreword. Mmm.... maybe. I waver on this rule quite a bit. Some prologues I think are fantastic, especially if they give me a good hint at how the book is going to end, but other times they are annoying. I think prologues must be treated very delicately, because a bad one can definitely stink up the whole novel.

3 Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue. OH man... yes, yes, yes. This totally drives me nuts and smacks of a middle school child with their first thesaurus. I hate when writers use all kinds of ridiculous dialogue tags. It's just bad writing. SHOW that your character is angry, or grumbly, or gaspy, whatever, don't tell me.

4 Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” We're always told that adverbs are the death of writing. I think it probably true, but definitely something I have a hard time with. My writing isn't strong enough without adverbs, so I know that is something I personally have to work on. (Disclosure: I just had to bite back using like 5 adverbs in that last comment... ugh, really need to work on it!)

5 Keep your exclamation points ­under control. This also reminds me of middle schoolers. I can't tell you how many, "This Summer I Rode a Roller Coaster!!!!!!" stories I've had to read in my career, all dripping with exclamation points. No, just no.

6 Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose”. Heee... this reminds me of a conversation the lovely Cari (my writing partner) and I were having the other day about character motivation. It seems, if you have to use "suddenly" and the likes, then there hasn't been sufficient motivation set up for the character. If something is "suddenly" happening to the character, then just show it!

7 Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. Hmmm... this makes me think of Their Eyes Were Watching God, which is riddled with dialect, but it works. I've heard dialect described like salt. A little can really accentuate a plot and characters but too much and no one can stomach it.

8 Avoid detailed descriptions of characters Well, this one I may have to disagree with, or at least, partially disagree with. I love having a clear picture in my head of the characters and the setting. I like it when the author gives me most of that picture. It's not that I don't have an imagination and can't come up with something myself, but if the author has someone in mind, I want to have that same person in mind. That being said, I don't want a long monologue of description because that is rarely entertaining. Also, get the description out of the way up front, in the first few chapters at least. I hate when I've formed a picture of a character, only to find out halfway through the book some key detail that is not how I originally pictured it. It's so jarring. I never went to see the movie version of the book Eragon by Christopher Paolini because when the movie came our, Eragon was blond and the whole time I'd been reading the book I thought he was a brunette. Small detail? Yes, but it bothered the heck out of me.

9 Don’t go into great detail describing places and things Again, I have mixed feelings. I love beautiful sweeping descriptions, but I think these are probably better suited to lovely works of literary fiction where the plot takes a backseat to the characters and their changes. I do like description though and being able to get a clear sense of the place.

10 Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip Now this one really made me think. What parts of novels do I skip? I honestly couldn't come up with a lot. I know that when I'm getting close to the end of a book or close to what appears to be the climax that I'll skip dialogue or descriptions that seem unimportant because I want to find out what happens, but that is usually because the writer has gotten me so excited about the plot that I just can't stand to wait any longer than necessary. 

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