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  1. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    Stop following stupid rules...

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by BayView, Feb 8, 2019.

    I really enjoy KJ Charles' fiction, but lately I've been finding I appreciate her non-fiction at least as much.

    In response to some silliness on Twitter, she's come up with a pretty good response to all the stupid rules writers are sometimes told to follow...

    http://kjcharleswriter.com/2017/12/12/writers-stop-doing-this/

    (I don't think there's anything in the article we haven't discussed on this board in the past, but it's nice to have it all in one place...)
     
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  2. GrahamLewis

    GrahamLewis Let me chew on your criticism a bit. Contributor

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    In a moment of weakness years ago I bought a book on writing, written by an agent, called The First Five Pages or something like that. The idea was that for any book to get an agent's attention it must do it in the first five pages, or it will be rejected. The problem with the book was that its first five page were dull and droning. I quit after the first five pages and donated it to Goodwill.
     
  3. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I don't tend to think I break many writing rules, but I think I've broken all of the ones listed there. I guess I don't give these rules too much thought. I like to read interviews and such by industry experts, but all these don'ts send my head spinning. What's left to write or how do you write even if you set out to follow such rules? I think being an avid reader is going to help a writer see things that can work and how they work regardless if they are breaking any so-called rules. Like I said, I don't think of myself as a big rule breaker, but I'm also smart enough to spot bad or stupid advice. There is truth and reason behind some of these rules, but the way they are being delivered as sort of a blanket approach to good writing is ridiculous.
     
  4. GrahamLewis

    GrahamLewis Let me chew on your criticism a bit. Contributor

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    I spent more than a dozen years as an editor for a publisher of law treatises and related materials. Our authors were all volunteer lawyers, so you can imagine both the range of styles and abilities, and the range of willingness to be edited. We had our house rules and our house suggestions, incorporating some of the rules above. Limiting passive tense was (hah!) a big one, and it's a problem for lawyers, who tend to be careful about attribution and to be narrow and precise as possible.

    We often reviewed and updated our house rules, and I worked very hard to enforce most of the rules most of the time, and many of the suggestions, and I must say, with some modesty [no I am not compelled to and in fact I could have just said], that when the authors and I worked together, the pieces and books usually came out better. [this is one of those run-on sentences that I would think twice about] I also worked to respect the author's voice and style. When the rules are generally followed and exceptions reasonably allowed, the system works. I also made liberal use of style books like Garner's Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage. Especially in dealing with recalcitrant attorney authors, who needed to see some sort of authority beyond our own style book.

    Whether a rule makes absolute sense in the real world is one thing (they never do, there are always exceptions); but whether the publisher or agent believes in them is another. I'd suggest seeing what sort of writing guides a publisher or agent follows. If that can be determined.
     
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  5. Fallow

    Fallow Banned

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    Ignoring all the self published books for the moment, I have always wondered how many authors that wrote something that got picked up by a real publishing house would have benefitted from any sort of general rules of thumb. It seems like people writing on that level are likely to have a natural knack with language and ideas that are going to catch the notice of an editor regardless of whatever minor sins they commit. I can't shake the feeling that a lot of people are kidding themselves that they'll graduate from dabbler to published author if they simply get their adverbs under control or stop mentioning the weather. Real control of language doesn't come from trying hard as much as internalizing the kind of vocabulary and flow of well crafted English that comes from being able to digest challenging reading material.
     
  6. Hammer

    Hammer Active Member

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    I think those rules are great; I have edited my 120,000 word novel following them to the letter and come up with
    I am quite pleased with it, but the plot may be a little unclear...
     
  7. jannert

    jannert Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Holy shit. That's an EXCELLENT article. Okay, I laughed in a few places, but geez. How many times have we seen 'debates' turn to fury on this forum over some of these issues? Just silly. I love her overall prescription: Write mindfully.
     
  8. jannert

    jannert Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Yes. I reckon just because something is often done badly doesn't mean you should stop doing it altogether. It means you should learn to do it well. Words, syntax, point of view, etc ...all tools in the writer's toolbox. It makes sense to learn to use them all, not just employ the equivalent of a hammer in every instance, because it's easy to use.
     
  9. John-Wayne

    John-Wayne Madman with a pen in hand Contributor

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    Interesting article, I am also told not to use passives @SomeGuy , and it's good to know there will be times when passive will work or at least be a cheap fix. :p .

    Now to go fourth and write how I please, just watching my tenses, sentence framents. and -ings
     
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  10. jannert

    jannert Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I especially like what KJ Charles says about people who apply the blanket 'never use passive tense' rule, when they don't actually know how to recognise passive tense. They think if you just remove every instance of 'was,' you'll be safe.

    So you can't write a sentence like, "I was Homecoming Queen in 1966." :bigconfused:
     
  11. peachalulu

    peachalulu Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Really great article, Tenderiser! Loved what she had to say about was's. That's been something I've been trying to sort out for years wondering where to place and use a was because it feels so stationary. I've tried to stop saying it's passive because I don't think I was/am calling it right. The more I read the less it becomes an overall problem and more individualistic -- is it right for this particular tone and paragraph rather than an automatic - no.

    I especially liked the call to stop frowning on adverbs & adjectives. I noticed on another sites writers have really take this to heart and the effects have made their prose bizarre. Could be that adjectives are also being seen as telling - a disturbing trend that has popped up among critiquers but when the writer follows the advice and takes them out for the next draft of critiques those same critiquers are now confused as to what's going on because the adjectives were actually clarifying.
     
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  12. John-Wayne

    John-Wayne Madman with a pen in hand Contributor

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    Why does writing have to be so complex, can I just story tell and have someone else do the writing for me.
     
  13. jannert

    jannert Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Interestingly, I was just discussing this issue with a friend (face to face) the other day. What if a storyteller told a story verbally, while recording the event? Then went away and transcribed what they'd said. Would this help people who can speak properly, but have trouble 'writing?'

    Hard to say, but it might be fun to try. It might work really well with an experienced storyteller, but if somebody hems and haws and verbally wanders around off track, it probably wouldn't.
     
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  14. John-Wayne

    John-Wayne Madman with a pen in hand Contributor

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    Right, might be interesting. I'm currently transcribing my storytelling but damn it's a bitch to get right. and everytime I think I got it, ti's wrong somehow Passive, -ing, framented scentences. just ready to pull my hair out, dump lighter fluid all over my computer and books and set it on fire and then jump off a bridge.
     
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  15. peachalulu

    peachalulu Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Whoops, just realized I called Bayview, Tenderizer. :rolleyes: My bad. Avatar -switch? I'm terrible when people change their avatars. I'm like who's this - and I know - duh, look at the name.
     
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  16. GrahamLewis

    GrahamLewis Let me chew on your criticism a bit. Contributor

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    I'm guessing it wouldn't work. Story telling in the oral tradition relies so much on tone of voice, facial expression, gestures, expressions, and the like; a plain transcript would lose most of that.

    BTW, grammar police alert here. Every story is told verbally, in that every story uses words. Some are told aloud, e.g., orally, while others are written down. Picky, picky, picky, I know. But it's the truth. "The misuse of verbal for oral has a long history and is still common. Nevertheless the distinction is worth fighting for . . . ." Bryan A. Garner, A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage (2d Ed. 1995, Trade Paperback 2001) at 911.

    You can take the legal editor out of his office, but you can't take out the legal editor.
     
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  17. matwoolf

    matwoolf Contributor Contributor

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    Was like a was like a was like a was and was and was like a was and like a was was was.
     
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  18. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I switched my avatar AFTER the horrific mixup. I was so embarrassed! And hurt, and insulted...
     
  19. Stormburn

    Stormburn Contributor Contributor

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    Thank you for posting this!
     
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  20. jannert

    jannert Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    You're so right about 'verbal.' I don't know why I said that. Brain fart. Criiinge.... :bigoops:

    I thought about the storytelling thing because I remembered going to an event here in Glasgow, featuring Garrison Keillor. While he was onstage he told a few of his stories that I'd actually read, but he told them as a storyteller would, without reading them at all. It wasn't till he was partway into each one that I realised 'hey, I've read this before.' I honestly thought he was straightforwardly telling a story, not reciting one he'd written. It was interesting. Of course he is a pro at both, but it did make me think ...I wonder which came first. The storytelling or the writing?

    I was a huge fan of Prairie Home Companion back when I still lived in Michigan, and was delighted to finally get to see him in person. I spoke to him afterwards, during the book signing bit of the evening, and when I told him I was from Michigan, he got animated, and asked me if I would mind sticking around a while longer—so I could translate the Glasgwegian accents for him! He said it was really embarrassing to be spoken to so kindly, and not to be able to understand what was being said. I agreed ...although he didn't seem to have too much of a problem after that.

    He was very popular with the Glasgow audience, by the way. Which surprised me a bit. I thought his work was so local-specific, it might not go down well outside the upper Midwest. But his humour and insight about human nature is, apparently, universal.
     
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2019
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  21. Rzero

    Rzero Active Member

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    Just so long as you follow these three rules:

    1. Passive voice shouldn't be used.
    2. A preposition is the wrong word to end a sentence with.
    3. Complete sentences, always.
    4. Redundancy is unnecessary, unneeded and superfluous.
    5. Don't use run-on sentences, because they feel disorganized, and they sound like rambling, or worse, they come off as ranting, and anyway, run-ons can almost always be reworded into multiple sentences, or they can be restructured in other ways, if you prefer, and no, I don't care if Charles Dickens constantly wrote sentences with more clauses than this one, because I don't think he knew any better, or maybe they were rationing periods in Victorian England, for all I know, though I can't imagine why, and besides, he had a vast enough vocabulary, not to mention a talent for simile, that causes most people to overlook it, even if I can't stand it personally, and I mean it really drives me crazy, but then again, you probably shouldn't trust my opinion; I use semi-colons.
     
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2019
  22. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The word "rules" doesn't sit well with creative people, and what are writers if not creative? Proofreaders. Memo mills. Instruction manual scribes.

    Still, writers need a starting point, and I prefer to label them guidelines. There are principles more likely to set a writer on a reasonably rapid development track, and reasons why these principles are recommended. Following the principles won't make you successful overnight, and maybe won't make you successful at all. But they will bring you closer to competence.

    Anyone starting out in writing, or parenting, or any skilled endeavor, needs a solid foundation before developing signature skills. With a solid basis in conventional approaches, you have a better sense of what readers, and editors and agents, expect, and why these conventions work. Then when you deviate from a guideline, you know what it is you are attempting to accomplish, not just making random changes to be different and unique.

    Uniqueness doesn't come from throwing gimmicks into your writing. In fact, gimmicks are generally the first thing new writers try in order to make their writing stand out. It places them squarely in the mainstream of "never made it." Uniqueness comes from discovering your natural, expressive voice, and nurturing it. With a solid background of conventional guidelines, you can deviate from them where it really makes a specific statement, accepting the truth that such deviations are also a distraction to the reader. So you only deviate when doing so earns you a greater advantage than the cost of disturbing the reader's flow.
     
  23. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    About rules:
    How many "rules" does this break?

    Not a complete sentence. Don't split infinitives. Avoid adverbs. Don't end with a preposition.

    And yet, just about attempt to reshape this to absolve it of writing sins would weaken it beyond redemption.
     
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  24. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    Did you read the article, though? Most of the "rules" she's citing are stupid, and wouldn't bring anyone closer to competence at all.
     
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  25. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Spitting .45 caliber grammar.... Contributor

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    Yeah, and now you're a Nazi with a melting wax-face. I'm sensing a bit of an identity crisis.
     

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