Rules of Writing
by Barbara Geiger
I was a very stubborn writer when I was unpublished, and I probably would have remained unpublished if I hadn’t taken a long, hard look at my writing. I had to realize what I was doing wasn’t working for me. I was getting the odd contract, but for every story I wrote, I got twenty not-its for every story I sold. At three different points in my life I realized that what I was writing frequently violated the basic rules, and though I was doing it “on purpose” it didn’t work. I kept scenes and lines of dialogue I loved, but weren’t necessary. In short, I could quote “the rules” backwards and forwards, but I wasn’t showing I knew what I was doing.
I remember being at a workshop with a group of ten people from my writer’s group. I’d known them all for at least five years. As we were all critiquing each other’s stories, by the time it got to the pro “leading” the workshop, there really wasn’t anything left to say. The group of writers had all pretty much nailed exactly what was wrong with every single story in the pile. Of the ten people, though, there were only two of us, not including the pro, who were selling. Not routinely, of course, but often enough that I thought I had a handle on this writing business. As for the others, there was little to no growth over the five years. Month after month, they submitted the same type of stories to the group with the same problems. Fixing comma errors and typos were easy. Reworking a story so that every scene, every paragraph and every sentence pushes the plot forward is a lot of hard work.
With all the levels of “knowing” something, some writers get stalled at the point of recognizing or recalling the rule. My friends hadn’t progressed to where they could apply the rules in their own writing and they weren’t rewarding their readers with scenes that gave an emotional reaction throughout the story, not just the ending.
The path of least resistance is easy. Writing that pushes limits is hard. But if you are not willing to go that extra mile, hundred other writers will. You’re not just asking for a reader’s money, you’re asking them for their time. Your writing should be worth both. Your first attempts aren’t bad, they’re just beginning attempts. Show, don’t tell from the sentence level to theme. Cut anything that doesn’t work for the story, no matter how cute or how witty. Context is everything. Likeable or not, characters have to be empathetic. Your characters have to fail or success costs nothing. They can take it.
Books by Barbara Geiger: here