Sunday, March 23, 2014

Rules - Schmules - Recognizing Problems by Ginger Simpson

Every publisher has their own rules, and remembering which applies where is harder than writing a book.  After releasing over a dozen novels, novellas and stories, I've decided there is no way you can adhere to every guideline.  One must pick and choose what makes sense for your writing style.  For example, one house strictly forbid the use of 'ly' words.  I try to avoid using many of them, but sometimes you need to use one to modify your verb and make it stronger when you can't find one that exemplifies your meaning.  Another house disapproved of "ing" words.  Well, I' prefer them over using constant "he/she" beginnings and ending up with a manuscript that reads like Dick and Jane, the book that taught reading.  I hate 'stilted' writing, and when you follow every rule you think you know, that's exactly what you end up with.

So, I'm listing here, the rules I absolutely try to follow because they make the most sense to me.

1  RUE = Resist the Urge to Explain.  If you tell the reader something in the first paragraph, there is no reason to repeat it again.  Reader's are smart and can figure out things if you've written good descriptions.  Example:  He clapped the baseball against his glove several times, then spit on the mound.  Cocking his arm, he zeroed in on the 'strike' zone and prepared to throw.  "Prepared to throw" is not needed.  You've already shown the reader he has cocked his arm and aimed...I doubt anyone will think he's going to knit a sweater.  *lol*  Adhering to the RUE rule also keeps you from being redundant.

2.  Useless beginnings.  What pray tell, you ask, are they?  POV is extremely important in writing.  The reader needs to know who is talking, thinking, seeing, hearing, etc., and if you are expert at POV, then there is no need to say things like "She watched him," "He felt" or words that also apply to the RUE rule.  Start your sentences with what actually is happening and don't narrate for the reader when they don't need it.

3.  SHOW versus TELL.  This is one of the most important rules in writing.  Utilizing your best showing techniques differentiates between telling a story and writing a novel.  Showing moves the reader into the story, puts them in the character's shoes and lets them experience all the sights, smells, sounds, and most importantly emotions.  Which would you think is better?  
1.  Her stomach felt upset. (hint: telling)
2.  Her stomach churned.  She swallowed the taste of bitter bile. (hint: showing)

I'm working very hard to remind myself that when I give the reader a ton of facts to set up the scene, I'm telling.  It's so much better if you  pepper the information into dialogue between your characters.

4.  Use your Thesaurus.  There is no need to repeat the same word over and over in the same paragraph.  One, it shows a lack of word knowledge, and two, your writing becomes predicable.  Here's an exaggerated example:  He looked at his wristwatch.  The bruises on his knuckles had finally turned a  pale yellow, but were healing.  His watch showed it was almost time for his appointment.  Thank goodness he'd remembered to wear his watch.  He'd only just replaced his pocket watch with the watch on his wrist.  Time to get with the times, he'd thought.  

Better:  Bob fished in his pocket then remembered he'd finally given in to modern times and switched to a wristwatch. Checking the time, he noted the bruises on his knuckles had turned a healing yellow.  Not wanting to be late, he grabbed his jacket and....

5.  DON'T start sentences with 'it.'  This is a big bone of contention for me.  I absolutely detest this word and try to use a solid noun rather than this particular pronoun.  To me, "it' is the most confusing word an author can use.  Most instances raise the question, "what is IT?"  Example:  If you're reading along and stumble on a statement such as, "It felt strange," isn't the first question in your mind...what felt strange?  If you absolutely must use "it" make sure you've clued the reader in on what "it" is.  

There are others I try to follow, but these are some of the things I find most annoying as a reader and try to avoid when I write.  I hope you find this post helpful....and feel free to share your "dislikes" in the comments.  It always helps an author to know what pitfalls to avoid.

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