Rule #18

As nice as it is, I got tired of posting that huge graphic from So, I split it up into its individual pieces. One of these days, I’ll go back and fix the images from earlier posts. And if you ever do want to see the entire image in all its glory, check out the original on PBJPublishingcom’s website. From now on, I’ll just be posting the cropped version of the graphic for each rule. Oh, and if you want an index of these posts so far, check out my Tips page.

Here’s what #18 looks like separated from its brethren:


You have to know yourself: The difference between doing your best and fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

I have to admit, this one has me stumped. I’m guessing it has something to do with the core message or tone you want to impart to your readers, regardless of the story.

Is it: good conquers evil? Or is it: life’s a bitch, deal with it?

For my part, as a writer, I know that I’ve had to ask myself that question many times, and in the end I’ve decided that my stories should reflect who I am. And that means, for the most part, I think humans are fallible, but ultimately good. Mind you, I know there are bad people and true evil in the world, but I believe most people, no matter their background, upbringing, and acceptable cultural/moral beliefs, are good.

Whether that ‘good’ includes basic human rights is an entirely different matter. I mean, for example, in the 1800s, most plantation owners/families in the southern United States owned slaves, and treated them like livestock, but given the acceptable norms of that society, no one would have said those plantation owners were bad (i.e. evil) – except the abolitionist, but let’s not go there.

The point is, even if most folks are not, I think most people think they are good, however they define good.

Not everyone has that world view. I know several authors who think that sentiment naive, and that humans are essentially self-centered, greedy and will screw you if given the opportunity. Any good that comes out of life is pure happenstance.

Yikes. Remind me not to invite them over for dinner…

Anyway, those writers have very different outlooks on life and human nature than I. And when I read their works, that general outlook permeates their writing. Their stories are dark, their protagonists struggle against a foreboding world or circumstances, and, frankly, they are self-centered, concerned with saving their own asses and damn everyone else.

This can make for good fiction, and I’m not saying I don’t like that kind of fiction. I do, but that’s not the fiction I want to write. My characters are good (in my sense of good) and they generally struggle against their poor decisions and the conflicting goals of people in their lives.

I imagine this rule is cautioning writers to know who they are before they approach a story. To do otherwise can result in insincere words on the page, and not a good story.

But I could be wrong.

What do you all think this rule means?


10 thoughts on “Rule #18

  1. Wow, this is one of the deep ones requiring a group of writers, several bottles of wine and a very long Friday night methinks!

    I think the question is more about knowing your own limits as a writer and realising that there comes a point where your writing is as good as it is going to get and to know when to hack it pieces. More about self-acceptance? Or am I reading it wrong?

    To answer your question though, I like the stories that are about finding humanity between the selfish and the selfless. This is why I find Harry Potter so compelling “the choice between doing what is right and doing what is easy”. I do enjoy exploring that fine line and stretching the meaning of it. That is what I will hope to do with my current project to a certain extent 🙂

    1. >> requiring a group of writers, several bottles of wine and a very long Friday night

      I agree. This is so vague I suppose it could mean anything. But, yes, self-acceptance in one’s (current level of) ability is probably closer to it.

      And, yes, doing what’s right is often hard. I’m writing something along those lines right now, too. We should swap notes! 🙂

      1. Take a look at this post but go easy on the sample, it is an unedited first draft so I know it is pants! It is chapter 2 of the project and it is the first time that all five men meet. The other night I sat up and made a few pages of notes about them and their relationships, including a spider diagram of their present relationship.

        Will be great to have your feedback on interpersonal relationships between characters on that one!

        I’m planning a follow up to do in the next few days too

  2. What I get from this rule is that you can only improve a story so far by revising. After that, you’re just fussing with it.

    Maybe you’re re-writing to put off submitting (and the likelihood of rejection). Maybe you fear if you stop on this story, you’ll never have another idea again. Fussing with your story keeps you from moving forward in your career. You don’t try new things because you’re still fussing with the old.

    The message, to me, is to not let your current story prevent the (possibly even better) stories to come.

    1. I like that. I guess the hard part is knowing when to move on. I just listened to an NPR interview of an author who spent 7 years on his book. And it is getting high praise on the national level. So…how to know when the story is finished, eh? I guess that’s the know yourself part – know when you don’t have anything left to give to a particular story. Thanks!

  3. If author advice is a bit opaque, it may be the adviser and not the advisee who needs to work on it 🙂

    I agree with Deby that the main take-away seems to be don’t revise so much you are fussing over it.

    How do you know where the line is? Maybe the rest of the rule means trust yourself or know yourself but it seems kind of vague.

    The PIxar guys came up with a lot of great blurbs to help us writers. Maybe a few of them aren’t on target 🙂

  4. I don’t know what the writer of that ‘rule’ intended, but I’d say the “Know Yourself” part is about being honest with yourself. This is a lot harder than it sounds. I can’t really figure out what’s meant by the second part, testing vs. refining.

    1. I’m glad it’s not just me. Refining implies small alterations for improvement, while testing implies treading new ground. So maybe Deby has the gist of it – time to move onto to different (and presumably better) pastures! 🙂

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