Nila’s Writing Rules

As some of you know, I’m a moderator over at the Writing forum on SFFWorld.com. There’s really nothing to moderate. I’m just a glorified coordinator. My main job is to stick and unstick contest threads. Occasionally, there’s a scuffle between writers, but we’re an insipid lot. We may wield our pens like swords, but they’re still pens. Retractable pens, even.

However, among writers, there are a couple of topics that get the blood boiling:

  • the difference between a novella and a novelette (don’t ask) and
  • writing rule(s).

Please note I did not enclose the word rule inside quotes. I mean rule in the sense it is meant: one of a set of explicit or understood regulations or principles governing conduct within a particular activity or sphere (Google definition).

It is the use of that word (rule or rules) that is what gets some writers so very upset. Their argument being: no governing body has authority to dictate rules for fiction so listing a set of rules, any rules, is ludicrous at best and damaging at worst.

I don’t see it that way. While using the word rule when listing things that writers might find helpful might seem harsh and dictatorial, really, folks, stop getting your panties in a bunch.

There are many of these writing rules bandied about the internet. Some list specific things you should not do in fiction writing while some list items you should include. But all of them, of course, are not absolute.

Why?

Well, isn’t that obvious?

As implied by the detractor’s own argument, there’s no Editor-God in the sky dictating these rules.

In my mind, at least, when folks attach the word rules to a list, they are simply giving advice and guidelines and maybe warnings a bit of an authoritative boost. In much the same way I say to my husband: It’s against the law to drop your dirty shorts in the living room! I’m just adding that word, law, for emphasis. So, too, do other writers use the word rule to add emphasis to their lists.

So, why don’t we join in, no?

Here are my writing rules:

Nila’s Writing Rules

Do not confuse

There’s nothing worse that being utterly confused when reading something. If you don’t like it, chances are most other folks don’t either. A mystery is great, but not when you can’t keep track of who’s saying or doing what. If you need to, use punctuation and paragraph formatting to set off text to make the dialogue and action clear.

Do not bore

Do you ever find yourself skimming through passages? Don’t you think that’s a waste of time?

If I find myself skimming through pages of a book, pretty soon I just abandon it. In my own writing, if I catch myself doing that during a re-read, I immediately highlight the offending text in red and figure out how to impart the information in other ways. Is the information necessary right now in the story? Or can I include it earlier in a description? Or later in some dialogue?

Do not get in the way of the story

Sometimes, I like to tell a story in a particular dialect. Or I have a cool historic fact I want to include. Or maybe there’s this one perfect line so poignant and brilliant, I have to include it.

No matter how much I like to use those items that give my writing its unique style and voice, I try not to – unless it supports the story.

Sometimes, that funky Chinese-American dialect I’m going for just confuses readers because I’m not particular good at writing it. Or that cool factoid has nothing to do with the story and is, really, a boring bit of history.

Do make sense

Are your characters acting like they would or are they running through your plot points because you want them to? Character motivations are the key to any story. Nail those, and the plot will write itself.

Remember to have fun

Sometimes, we forget this part. At least, I do. If you are enjoying the writing process, then that’s all that really matters.

So, what are your writing rules*?

*If using the word ‘rules’ is offensive, by all means, please substitute tips, guidelines, or any other agreeable word.

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10 thoughts on “Nila’s Writing Rules

  1. These are great rules to follow. Another one I tend to follow (because when I see it broken in the books I read, I get distracted) is head hopping. Unless it’s an omniscient narrator which can be tricky to pull off well (and is kind of an old-fashioned tool), each scene should only come from one character’s POV. Another thing I try to do is anchor the reader to the setting. I wasn’t always so good about this, and I’m trying to do better now. It’s tough to start reading a scene and not know where the character is. We need something to ground us.

    1. You. Are. RIGHT! Normally, I just say my piece and move on, but I just couldn’t tear myself away this time. Next time, I will endeavor to just write. Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

  2. Don’t add violence, rape, cursing just to add excitement.
    Balance dialogue and exposition.
    Don’t get too creative – readers always have immutable preferences.
    Always remember there is a difference between popular and literary writing.

    1. Cursing is a good one! I went through a phase when all my characters cursed terribly. I’m glad I’m over it. And ditto about the violence and rape. I’m guilty of using those when they are not appropriate.

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