The Guardian recently did an excellent article on writers rules for writing, with people like Neil Gaiman and Elmore Leonard. It seemed as though the thought behind writing a list of ten rules would be fairly cathartic for a writer, being as most writers probably don’t consciously know their rules. So with that in mind, I’ve set about writing down my own. Some are fairly obvious and some are other (more famous) writers rules – but I still stand by them:
1. Write. It might sound stupid, but is it possible to be a writer without writing? Even if it’s not the novel you’re working on, or the short story you want to finish, write something – a shopping list, a ransom note, a blog! – just sit down and write!
2. Bare use of Adverbs. This is one that can really put me off a story, this article explains it better than I ever could, but pick up any Dan Brown book and you’ll see some beautifully awful use of them.
3. Sparing detail. We are in an office are we? What does it look like?Is the wallpaper the normal cream coloured, slightly raised print we see in every single office? Are the workers sat on black leather chairs at computer screens? Does it look a little bit like an office? Good. We don’t need two hundred words to tell us this. On an equal note, if a character has a gun, I don’t need to know what make the gun is, or the car he drives, or the plane he rides in. The only times you should break this rule is when any of the above is essential for the character…although when it’s essential to tell us your character is flying in his DC-10…I don’t know.
4. Don’t write what you know. I know about working in restaurants, shops, bars, pubs, banks, offices…I know about going out with my friends and having fun. I know that if I wrote a novel about that no-one would want to read it. There’s a line that can be crossed all too easily when it comes to the age old rule of ‘write what you know’ when people can take it far too literally. If everyone did that, we wouldn’t have this.
5. Embrace your instincts. So your character has just met the potential love interest in a bar, he’s leaning in close to kiss her when he pulls a gun and…where did that come from? When I write, my instincts always try to take over and there’s that thought in the back of your mind when you wonder what would happen if you did pull that gun and kill the love interest only a few pages after you introduce her. Embrace that instinct. You can always re-write (see rule ten).
6. Don’t do an impression. Make the story your own. No-one wants to read a rip off Tolkien or Ellis, do they?
7. Don’t do this. Enough said
8. No maps, guidebooks, dictionary’s or sketches. Can you tell your story using just words? No. Then you’re not a writer. You are probably James Cameron.
9. Write. So good it’s in there twice. Why are you not doing it already?
10. Re-Write. Nothing is ever finished the first time. Probably not even the tenth time, but by that point you won’t be able to tell. If there’s anything that’s improved my writing, tenfold, it’s getting the crap kicked out of it at writers groups.
So those’re my rules. What are yours?