Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Writing for One

"A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit."

Thinking I probably wouldn't learn anything new, I drove six hours to attend a Writers Workshop in October, and guess what? I learned a lot.  So who knew?

When I'm writing, I like to have references other than the basics I've learned to depend on, like The Elements of Style or my personal writing Bible, Writing Down the Bones. So I am happy to share my newfound knowledge with all of you who did not go to the workshop. The following lists are tried and true rules, if not quite set in stone, then set in Times New Roman typeface by successful writers.

Kurt Vonnegut

1.            Use the time of your reader 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 or 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.
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. Give your reader as much information as possible, as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Elmore Leonard

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."
5.            Keep your exclamation points under control.
6.            Never us 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.

Advice from Michael Connelly

"The one piece of advice I would give someone about writing is a piece of advice that was given to me. It is that you have gotta keep your head down when you write. You can't put your finger in the wind to see what would sell and then write. You have to write what comes from within. You have to be confident that you are a member of the human race, so whatever your experiences are and how you translate them into works will be accepted by someone and hopefully a lot of someones, But you have to write for an audience of one. Write every single day even if it's just one paragraph."

So there you have it, folks. Rules to follow in order to write the great American novel. Should you use them all? Probably not. But when successful authors take the time to let you know what they had to learn the hard way? I'd say it's worth a shot.

There is one last rule not written down, but was given verbally with strong emphasis. It flies in the face of one of Mr. Leonard's rules, but it bears repeating. You are allowed exactly TWO exclamation points in all of your writing. That's it. Period. No more than two. After you have reached your limit, you will be fined ten million dollars for every additional exclamation you use. Writers beware! Oops.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent rules from three writers who broke most of them (but only when necessary).