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Old 02-21-2010, 07:26 AM   #1 (permalink)
 
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how to write fiction

the guardian published lists of 10 rules for writing.
the exercise was inspired by elmore leonard's rules. there's alot of responses and alot of interest. i liked this list so copy it as a teaser:

Quote:
Anne Enright

1 The first 12 years are the worst.

2 The way to write a book is to actually write a book. A pen is useful, typing is also good. Keep putting words on the page.

3 Only bad writers think that their work is really good.

4 Description is hard. Remember that all description is an opinion about the world. Find a place to stand.

5 Write whatever way you like. Fiction is made of words on a page; reality is made of something else. It doesn't matter how "real" your story is, or how "made up": what matters is its necessity.

6 Try to be accurate about stuff.

7 Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you omgfinish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die.

8 You can also do all that with whiskey.

9 Have fun.

10 Remember, if you sit at your desk for 15 or 20 years, every day, not omgcounting weekends, it changes you. It just does. It may not improve your temper, but it fixes something else. It makes you more free.
here's links to the whole piece:
Ten rules for writing fiction | Books | guardian.co.uk

the writers whose responses are in part 1: Elmore Leonard, Diana Athill, Margaret Atwood, Roddy Doyle, Helen Dunmore, Geoff Dyer, Anne Enright, Richard Ford, Jonathan Franzen, Esther Freud, Neil Gaiman, David Hare, PD James, AL Kennedy

Ten rules for writing fiction(part two) | Books | guardian.co.uk

the writers: Hilary Mantel, Michael Moorcock, Michael Morpurgo, Andrew Motion, Joyce Carol Oates, Annie Proulx, Philip Pullman, Ian Rankin, Will Self, Helen Simpson, Zadie Smith, Colm Tóibín, Rose Tremain, Sarah Waters, Jeanette Winterson



i like this piece. i'm pleased the guardian put it together. i cant really imagine it happening by way of an american newspaper. while that is a bit sad, it's not why i post this.

do you write? what genre do you work with? do you find any of these rules to be helpful or interesting or provocative? which ones and why?

do you find this sort of thing to be useful in general?

personally i dont generally but there's something about some of these that seemed a bit different, like they were actually written not as a how-to thing but as process notes. and alot of them are about the same basic questions--you edit and edit some more. things feel finished but it's hard to say if anything you do is "good" or not because, well, who decides that? so you make procedures and try to be disciplined about them and you keep going. and something happens. it makes you a little crazy at times, it seems, because when the Something that Happens happens, it doesn't resolve any of the every day questions. it just couldn't happen without your having pushed through the every day questions.

so that's why i like some of these: they're about not knowing but continuing anyway.

what do you think?
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Old 02-21-2010, 07:47 AM   #2 (permalink)
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While I don't mind it being framed as "how to write fiction," I think writers need to be careful with "rules for writing fiction." New and emerging writers can easily fall into the trap of seeking out the "rules of writing"--whether secret or not---so that they can apply them while they do their thing.

The problem with this is that it can stifle or otherwise ruin that art of the new writer. I myself am guilty of this. I was a much freer and self-propelled writer as a teenager and in my early twenties. As I went through college and university, working several part-time jobs, I stopped writing fiction. Most of my writing was functional and non-fictional.

Now, as I sit five years into a career as a book editor, working mainly on non-fiction and poetry, and with fiction only on occasion, I find myself wandering back to the curiosity I had in writing fiction. I have many story fragments in my head, but no structures upon which to apply them. And so I've had many false starts where I attempted to apply rigid systems to them, through the use of books on writing.

I have one in particular that is supposed to help with the writing of short stories. It is a systematic approach using index cards and categorization of elements. For some reason I find this excruciating to follow, and my energy tends to fizzle out.

On the other hand, short fiction isn't an easy genre to write. Novels have more flexibility in that if they're more sloppy, it's either more difficult to notice or people don't mind.

Either way, if I attempt to apply a rigid structure to writing, it chokes me out. But at the same time, free-flowing approaches are so ungainly that it eventually chokes itself out. I need to find a balance of elements that works for me.

I like Enright's rules. The first one made me laugh, probably because it's true. But what I like about them is they aren't rigid rules; they aren't prescriptions. In a way they are rules that flout rules as many new writers may think of them.

I haven't read the article yet, but I'll be sure to make my way through the other rules. This could be the kind of thing I need to get back into the writing habit. The one thing I am going to attempt is to write fantasy stories. The reason for this is because that was the first genre I wrote in as a teenager. It was through these stories that I received my first praise as a writer. And so I look at this as a way of "going back to my roots."

Maybe I'll cobble together a set of "rules" from these authors. This is how I look at rules now. Rules are what you apply to yourself based on what you know that works to keep you chugging along. If you allow others to apply rules to you, it can easily do more harm than good, especially if it is an entire set of rules applied to you entirely intact.

There is more than one way to write fiction. Actually, there are countless ways.
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Old 02-23-2010, 05:04 AM   #3 (permalink)
 
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the guardian link was down last night, but this morning appears to be intact and working.
so this post as a bump.
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Old 02-23-2010, 02:22 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Baraka_Guru View Post
The problem with this is that it can stifle or otherwise ruin that art of the new writer. I myself am guilty of this. I was a much freer and self-propelled writer as a teenager and in my early twenties.
I was also free in my writing in my younger years.

I pumped out 4 books of poetry in one year at 29, it wasn't until I tried to get published and the "Rules" were shoved down my throat did I lose a chunk of that innocent feverish midnight writing desire.

I still write but felt cheated that poetry had rules and regulations, my belief is that poetry is passion therefore has no laws to live by....but that's just me.
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Old 02-25-2010, 04:56 PM   #5 (permalink)
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These rules remind me
of the Desiderata
& Monty Python.

(I particularly like #s 8&9)
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Old 02-25-2010, 06:22 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Seeker72 View Post
I still write but felt cheated that poetry had rules and regulations, my belief is that poetry is passion therefore has no laws to live by....but that's just me.
Well, there is a distinct difference between writing and publishing. Unfortunately, you had to learn that the hard way.
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Knowing that death is certain and that the time of death is uncertain, what's the most important thing?
—Bhikkhuni Pema Chödrön

Humankind cannot bear very much reality.
—From "Burnt Norton," Four Quartets (1936), T. S. Eliot
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Old 02-25-2010, 07:04 PM   #7 (permalink)
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do you write? Yes.

what genre do you work with? Fiction, specifically science and speculative fiction.

do you find any of these rules to be helpful or interesting or provocative? I like the fourth point a lot. It's been difficult for me to really create full characters, and when you're describing things you're often doing so from their perspective.

do you find this sort of thing to be useful in general? To a certain extent, I guess. I'm a truly atrocious writer, so I never turn down advice.

I strongly perfer this article's points:
Get to know them as individuals, rather than types.
Try making your characters scientists.
Base them on people you know.
Give them a thought-out world.
Figure out what they love, and what they fear.
Don't aim for larger-than-life — and overshoot.
Don't obsess too much about setting and toys.
Find out who's hurting.
Keep your characters grounded.

The list is meant for science fiction stories, but a lot of the points apply to any fiction.
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Old 02-25-2010, 07:40 PM   #8 (permalink)
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I've been browsing the other lists in the two-part article linked in the OP. There's some good stuff in there. Good for various reasons, much of which is simply entertaining. Others are ones I think I'll borrow.
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Knowing that death is certain and that the time of death is uncertain, what's the most important thing?
—Bhikkhuni Pema Chödrön

Humankind cannot bear very much reality.
—From "Burnt Norton," Four Quartets (1936), T. S. Eliot
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Old 02-25-2010, 11:11 PM   #9 (permalink)
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I like Jim Lehrer's advice on how to write a book. He gave this to a Wichita State kid on a visit to his Kansas hometown.

"Write a page a day. At the end of the year, what do you have?"

I only write articles for promised money, and darn little of that these days. I'm so out of practice I resented having to write up some scripts recently and went through more trouble to try to cut and paste than it was to just re-type it.
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Old 02-28-2010, 12:33 PM   #10 (permalink)
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I have just finished reading the preface of John Gardner's Art of Fiction. I read most of his On Becoming a Novelist while in university, but I was overwhelmed by studies, work, and my future career prospects, that little of it was taken seriously. I will revisit it at a later time.

The difference here is that The Art of Fiction looks at writing on a more theoretical level, followed by a few practical applications. The other book looked at more of the bits and bites of what writers do in practice on the micro level. I figured starting at a different angle would help me think about these things more.

For those unfamiliar with Gardner, he's arguably the best teacher of the craft in recent history, and I'm sure I've taken a lot from him already. I just need to fill in some gaps and apply more of what I've learned. I hope this new approach will give me more confidence.

Anyway, the first paragraph of the first chapter (entitled Aesthetic Law and Artistic Mystery) in The Art of Fiction contains this interesting bit, which I thought fits perfectly well with what we see in this thread:

Quote:
[...] on the whole the search for aesthetic absolutes is a misapplication of the writer's energy. When one begins to be persuaded that certain things must never be done in fiction and certain other things must always be done, one has entered the first stage of aesthetic arthritis, the disease that ends up in pedantic rigidity and the atrophy of intuition. Every true work of art—and thus every attempt at art (since things meant to be similar must submit to one standard)—must be judged primarily, though not exclusively, by its own laws. If it has no laws, or if its laws are incoherent, it fails—usually—on that basis.
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Knowing that death is certain and that the time of death is uncertain, what's the most important thing?
—Bhikkhuni Pema Chödrön

Humankind cannot bear very much reality.
—From "Burnt Norton," Four Quartets (1936), T. S. Eliot

Last edited by Baraka_Guru; 02-28-2010 at 12:37 PM..
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Old 03-01-2010, 03:43 PM   #11 (permalink)
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From Politics and the English Language (1946), George Orwell's six rules for writing:

Quote:
"Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print".
"Never use a long word where a short one will do".
"If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out".
"Never use the passive voice where you can use the active".
"Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent".
"Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous".
I think they're a good starting point for solid no-nonsense prose but following them wouldn't seem to allow for very much fun and games, technical trickery or deliciously florid verbosity. John Updike and Vladimir Nabokov (who was, if I remember right, derisive of Orwell) would have (had) trouble sticking to them.
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Old 03-01-2010, 04:39 PM   #12 (permalink)
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Orwell's rules are particularly applicable in writing nonfiction.
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—Bhikkhuni Pema Chödrön

Humankind cannot bear very much reality.
—From "Burnt Norton," Four Quartets (1936), T. S. Eliot
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Old 03-02-2010, 05:36 AM   #13 (permalink)
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Some of the items are good reminders. Orwell's list sounds like Journalism 101--more people should follow these.
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Old 03-03-2010, 03:35 PM   #14 (permalink)
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One of the best pieces of advice I've read/been told (by Steven Brust) to help get started writing was something along the lines of: "Write what seems cool to you." He of course went into more detail and said it more elegantly but ya, something just clicked when I read his advice. I got into several hundred novel pages before some medical stuff hit, and I had to stop writing sadly. I hope to take it up again someday and it is my goal to be published (self-publish if I need to.) Well technically I already am published, but I don't count my poetry for some self-deprecating reason.
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Old 03-14-2010, 12:19 PM   #15 (permalink)
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I think the general rule set I want to use right now is the following:
  1. Read a lot.
  2. Write a lot.

It's simple, and open. I've seen several variations of it, but most recently I read it in Stephen King's On Writing. Of course, he has much else to offer as advice, but this, he contends, is the most crucial foundation. He quantifies it with the suggestion of writing 1,000 words per day, every day, and then getting up to 2,000 eventually.

In terms of reading and writing, he himself takes 4 to 6 hours a day, and he reads up to 80 books a year, mostly fiction. Considering the average American watches 4 hours of TV a day, I can't see how one couldn't fit somewhere near that, even if they had a day job. Even half of that is better than nothing.
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Knowing that death is certain and that the time of death is uncertain, what's the most important thing?
—Bhikkhuni Pema Chödrön

Humankind cannot bear very much reality.
—From "Burnt Norton," Four Quartets (1936), T. S. Eliot

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Old 03-14-2010, 02:56 PM   #16 (permalink)
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I've read that in writing the cardinal rule is to show, don't tell. Show through movement, dialog, action what is happening, as opposed to telling the reader what is happening.

I'm not a writer, so I have no clue but it sounds good to me.
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Old 03-25-2010, 08:09 PM   #17 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Baraka_Guru View Post

In terms of reading and writing, he himself takes 4 to 6 hours a day, and he reads up to 80 books a year, mostly fiction. Considering the average American watches 4 hours of TV a day, I can't see how one couldn't fit somewhere near that, even if they had a day job. Even half of that is better than nothing.
Jim Butcher wrote half his Harry Dresden series while working a full time job. The funny thing was that he never told his coworkers about it.
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