1. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    The 'Rules' of writing.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by cutecat22, Sep 18, 2016.

    You all know I hate rules (of writing) ...

    But why is so much emphasis placed on 'rules of how to write' when most readers are not actually taught those rules anymore and could not, in all probability, distinguish from a story written by the rules and one, not?
     
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  2. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think rules are attractive because people want to get better at writing and aren't sure how to do that. I mean, absent the rules, what can anyone tell a struggling writer beyond "git gud"?

    And I think there are lots of people happy to spread the rules or reiterate the rules or make up their own rules partly because they genuinely want to be useful, but too often because they want the ego boost of acting like experts and/or are trying to make money by acting as an expert and/or have been told they need to blog/post/be public in order to promote their books and have no earthly idea what the hell else to blog/post/be public about.

    And, to be honest, I think at least some of the rules have a role to play for beginning writers. "Show, don't tell" is terrible advice except for when you read someone's first attempt at writing that's all "tell" with absolutely no heart or detail or depth, and then all of a sudden it's not the worst advice in the world.

    The problem is, maybe, that it's really hard to know when you've advanced from absolute beginner to apprentice to journeyman to master. Not "master," like, creating masterpieces, but "master" like you've got things figured out and have a grip on your craft. Self-publication has made this self-knowledge difficult, but so have the thousands of fly-by-night e-pubs and e-magazines and whatever else that spring up and will accept practically any writing because they're barely paying anything and are hungry for content. The writing that goes to these places could be pretty weak or it could be great, and how exactly is a writer supposed to know which of those she's producing?

    So beginners and apprentices, I'd say, are probably best off following at least some of the "rules". But it's really never clear when they stage ends, for most of us. So some of us cling to the rules much longer than we should, others abandon them much earlier than we should... it's messy.
     
  3. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    I wouldn't hate the rules just to hate the rules. How can you hate all of them? I don't even think I know what they all are. The thing is, the rules work until they don't. They work until and unless something works better. And then no one in their right mind is going to care at all.
     
  4. tonguetied
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    tonguetied Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am definitely one of those that can't tell whether something is written by the rules or not. However after reading a fair amount of a book it seems to become more apparent where it might fall and I prefer to read from authors who seem to have a good handle on the craft. I see reading even a fictional story as an opportunity to broaden my knowledge and when a story is written well I feel that secondary goal is something I have achieved.
     
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  5. Albeit
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    Albeit Member

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    I believe that you have to learn, know and understand the rules when you decide to seriously try your hand at a craft that has been around before you. And then you may attempt to break a few of the rules in order to create something new and different, but you should know them in your gut before you can go beyond their framework.
     
    Last edited: Sep 19, 2016
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  6. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Think of them less as "rules" and more as "tools." They're meant to HELP you get through to your reader. The more tools you have, and the better you are with those tools, the more you'll be able to achieve with your writing. You can do whatever you want.
     
  7. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    Well there are two types really.

    1. Be like S. King, and be as non descriptive as bloody possible. Mantra: Story, Story, Story... Because the details are for chumps, the story is all that matters no matter how vague and drab the rest of it is. Descriptions and details are for amateurs, story is key to writing. :p

    2. Have a plot, characters, descriptions, subplots, all the trimmings and a freaking turkey! (Mmm... Mashed potatoes and gravy) :p Type out coherent sentences with proper punctuation. (No run on and on sentences are not correct sentences Larry!). Have reasonable dialogue that matches the characters, and have them act according to their personalities. Add some bad shit that happens, add more bad shit that is twice as bad as the first time after short recovery. Then bring all that back down easy (not too fast), to a satisfying conclusion (Happy Ending). At the very least an ending fitting of the story that is memorable. Series Writers do not have this problem as all their work ends in cliff hangers. (Come one guys! Why are you so afraid of finishing anything?) :superlaugh:

    Well then there is the secret type. SHHHH! Not that you heard anything from me, but just keep on writing the way you always have and over time you will get better. SHHHH!:superlaugh:

    (Now you know the secret rules of how to be a writer, but I wasn't here and I did not say nothing. Try and implicate me, I will deny all claims.) (Poof of smoke and gone).:brb::supergrin:
     
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  8. Elven Candy
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    Elven Candy Contributing Member

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    I've read books that followed the "rules" and books that didn't. I have to say, even before I learned the rules I could tell the difference between the two, even though I couldn't give them a name. I just knew this book was boring for some reason, or that book just felt poorly written or less professional. The worst of them were the ones that got published despite horrible info-dumping and no showing. I'm talking one book with both problems here--those can get horrendously boring!

    Learning the rules made my writing 10x better. Learning they aren't rules but only guidelines we need to know made my writing 10x more fun.
     
  9. Crybaby
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    Crybaby Contributing Member

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    So glad you put this part in because this is me and will always be me. Rules yes, I try. I really do, to learn and follow some, but not all. Why? Because I don't understand half of them. o_O

    I spend a lot of time reading up stuff to help me but always come back to doing it the way I do it...right or wrong :D
     
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  10. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    This is something I have oft repeated here in the forum. Tools, not rules. I have often used the analogy of the apprentice in a woodworking or cabinetry shop. Design is what sets the master crafstman free to be an artist, to create what did not exist before. But in order to do that the artist needs to know what each tool can do to help achieve the vision. This is why, as apprentices, they spend long hours cleaning the shop to learn to appreciate and care for their workspace, long hours of service as an assistant whose only task is to get and put back the tools so that each tool becomes familiar, longer hours caring for those tools to learn to respect them and appreciate the art that goes into making them, not to abuse them. Hours learning the different kinds and qualities of wood and what each kind of wood can do*. All of this before the apprentice ever lays a tool to a piece of wood.

    * Wood with a visual effect like birdseye, tigerseye, and burl make for beautiful surface finishes, but the very thing that makes them dance and refract light makes them structurally poor. You would never make a whole drawer out of tigerseyes, not just because it's ridiculously expensive and wasteful of material to do so, but because the structural panels would eventually fail and break. You make the structure of the drawer out of stronger wood and veneer the drawer-front with tigerseye to make it beautiful, both for reasons of economy and for reasons of durability.

    I think if you take the tools, not rules approach, it will make more sense to you. For every one of those don't do this or do this not that rules you see bandied about, you're going to find uncounted examples of enjoyable published work that broke one, some, or all of those rules. Clearly there's a disconnect, right? The disconnect is in thinking the author "broke a rule". That's not, in fact, what happened. The author knew his or her toolbox well, knew what each tool could do, knew when to use each tool for a given effect. That's what happened.
     
  11. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I absolutely think that readers would notice if a story isn't written by certain rules. They wouldn't say, "Oh, I couldn't handle the head-hopping; the POV changed every two sentences." They'd say, "I had no idea what was going on," or "I didn't like it." They wouldn't say, "It was all tell and no show," they'd say, "It was really boring. It felt sort of like a documentary. I couldn't get into it."
     
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  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    ...but when an author breaks the rules the right way, and does it really well, the reader may say, "I love him. Nobody writes the same way. I've already got the next book pre-ordered."
     
  13. hawls
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    hawls Active Member

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    It's like cooking. You want to make a certain dish, and have it taste good, you need the right ingredients, in the right proportions and combined in the right methods.

    Follow the recipe and people will just happily eat without knowing or caring what the hell went into it. Ignore the recipe and people are gonna notice. They may even spit it out.

    Sure, you can ignore the recipe slightly. Add a bit of your own flair, substitute ingredients etc. So long as it compliments the other ingredients and the overall results are more or less the same, go for it. But substituting 2 eggs with 6 bananas is not going to end well.

    It's the same with writing. You got your ingredients; characters, setting, so on. You got your portions; short story could have 1 to 3 characters, novel could have enough to feed a packed stadium (I don't know I'm hungry and my cooking analogy is getting away from me). And you combine them in certain methods; genre, tone, pacing, such and such.

    There's a lot of room for experimentation but don't be surprised if people take one bite and spit it back out cause you decided not to follow the recipe damn I'm hungry sorry if this made no sense.
     
  14. Elven Candy
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    Elven Candy Contributing Member

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    This made me laugh!
     
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  15. Crybaby
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    Crybaby Contributing Member

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    Your right. I need to change my way of thinking. :superagree:
     
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  16. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I'm unclear why you think the readers need to know writing 'rules'?

    Now that I know more about writing techniques, I recognize more specifically why I do or don't like a book, but I would have liked or not liked the book all the same without knowing why.

    I want the story to be unique, and the writing well done. I don't necessarily need the writing style to be unique. If it is and it works, great, but unique writing style probably isn't on the top of the list of things most readers are looking for. Maybe that's not what you meant?

    This ^

    Tools is a much better label for most of what we are talking about, but some remain rules, like grammar, consistent tense and POV, etc.

    Some writers naturally put pen to paper already knowing how to create beautiful prose. But for those that have yet to learn, we tend to make a certain set of mistakes which are hallmarks of poor writing. Given those mistakes are seen time and time again with new writers, they can be identified and described in ways that then become said 'rules'.

    The reason for 'show more, tell less' isn't because you have to show everything, it's because new writers tend to tell to the point of being dull. When trying to change sentence cadence and structure to be interesting, we often run afoul of starting sentences with present participles much too often. We try too hard and end up with purple prose.

    As an experienced writer reads the new writer's work, one has to be able to put the issues into words. How else could the new writer perceive the problem were it not verbalized?
     
  17. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's definitely not on the top of the list. I just meant that sometimes breaking the rules very well adds value, rather than being neutral or negative. But only sometimes.
     
  18. Johnattan Goodboy
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    Johnattan Goodboy Member

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    If you dont know the rules of your craft how can you break them? I believe that it is important to know how your craft works if for nothing else you have a notion of what you are doing as an artist...
     
  19. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    I agree, but like you said, they may find the story boring, repetitive or confusing, but they wouldn't think "oh, those dangling participles really got my back up and don't get me started on the way the author told me the moonlight was shining rather than showing it glinting of the MC's wet skin ..."
     
  20. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    It's not that I don't know them, it's that I don't always abide by them.

    Spelling and grammar/punctuation is a different matter - I'm all for those rules staying firmly in place!
     
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  21. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    I'm on the fence where 'show not tell' is concerned. I think you need a balance of both in a good book. There are times when you want to engross your reader in the magical world you've created from nothing and then there are times when you need to tell your reader so you can move onto the next part of the story in one page rather than six.
     
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  22. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    No, but that doesn't make the rules unimportant. If the food I'm eating is flat in flavor, I don't need to know that the reason is that the chef failed to season it before the cooking process and instead just tossed salt on at the end. I just know it's flat. The chef still needs to know why.
     
  23. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    I'm on the fence where 'show not tell' is concerned. I think you need a balance of both in a good book. There are times when you want to engross your reader in the magical world you've created from nothing and then there are times when you need to tell your reader so you can move onto the next part of the story in one page rather than six.
    I totally agree.

    That being said, do you think more emphasis on the 'tools' of writing should be done at school level learning? (It's late, and I know that sentence is wrong, somehow ...)
     
  24. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    And that's because once you're good enough and established, there are no rules. Well, there are, but you've earned the right to toss them out of the window.

    Then there's people like me, who aren't good enough and haven't earned those rights, but who still ignore most of them anyway because otherwise I wouldn't write at all.
     
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  25. Elven Candy
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    Elven Candy Contributing Member

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    From what I've read here, every experienced writer will tell you you're right. Showing and telling are about balance, not one or the other. A book with all telling can become very boring very quickly (I know, because I've tried to read plenty of them), but a book with all showing can become just as boring and also redundant (I know because when I first heard of the rule, I tried to make my book all showing, and let me tell you, it was a major disaster). I think the rules are there to help balance out our more artistic side. Without them, the balance becomes lop-sided and difficult for the reader to enjoy.

    I have no idea if that made sense, but it sure was fun to write!
     
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