On Writing Rules & Conventional Wisdom

I repeatedly see people posting “writing tips” or “rules” online about such things as “words that create distance from the reader.” Or “Don’t use prologues and epilogues.” “Avoid Author Tracts,” and of course, the ubiquitous, overused, “Show. Don’t Tell,” and ‘Don’t use adverbs.”

Now, let me say at first that I know that ‘writing rules’ get to be the way they are because they are, more often than not, correct. It often is wrong to use ‘think/realize’ in 3rd person contexts instead of describing the process. And nothing is more painful than reading adverbs in every sentence. And of course, I’ve done my fair share of skipping prologues that don’t seem to add anything to the narrative.

But, for every rule, there are exceptions. Neil Stephenson wouldn’t be nearly as famed as he is without his author tracts. And there is nothing wrong with using an adverb as a contrary manner. For instance, to indicate sarcasm or irony that otherwise would be missed by a reader. And to say “think” creates distance from the reader depends entirely on how it’s used. If we draw the reader into the internal monologue of the character, how is this creating distance?

And then there is this discussion I had with Ilona Andrews, author of The Edge and Kate Daniels series on Twitter yesterday.

And there’s the truth. “Do what works for the story.” Conventional Wisdom is often wrong, and very often unwise as well as wrong. If, when looking at the story, the right answer is to include a prologue, then Do it. Let the chips fall where they may.

Yes, readers will often skip a prologue. But if you write it with all the intensity a proper 1st chapter should have, then that’s their loss. They’ll realize that when they go back and read that crucial, exciting material you included. Or go back and see the hint you left at the beginning. (See the prologue for Larry Correia’s Warbound on how one should be done.)

Now that doesn’t mean always do the opposite. But everything in your story should be calculated to advance the narrative and its conflict. If it isn’t, then scrap it. If it is, then you’re doing right. The story is what matters. Not the style guide or the creative writing class tips.

A writer is an entertainer. So do what’s best to entertain the reader.

Salvaging August

A host of real-life issues kept kicking me in the head all month long. They call them the dog-days for a reason.

But I finished the first book of my Sword & Sandal series. And I like the story and all three main characters. (There are, of course, a host of additional characters, as befits any Epic Fantasy.) I went straight into the second book, tentatively titled Chosen in War. I’m into the second chapter of it, even though I didn’t have a great week writing.

I also finished reading two books this week, and I can safely say I recommend them both. Of course, one of them, The Tyrant’s Law, by Daniel Abraham, is the third in the Epic Fantasy The Dagger and Coin series. It’s a bit slower than the first two. But it develops the characters well and sets up a promising confrontation for the last two books. The other book was It was the Best of Sentences. It was the Worst of Sentences. It’s a simple, pithy grammar and style guide. I’ll recommend this over the style guide you’ve probably seen in classes and celebrates a half-century of telling people WRONG grammar advice.

I’m going to try to set up a Table of Contents for The Iron Conqueror to set it up for epub this weekend. Then I’ll give it a final once-over before sending it off. I wanted to get this done before now. But formatting is about as far from what I wanted to do with all the other stuff as I could imagine.

For a bad month, it wasn’t unproductive. That has to count for something, right?


Because Grammar is Fun

Because Grammar is Fun

Editing The Iron Conqueror, I’ve danced on this question a few times. I own several grammars, and none of them have agreed on this. One of them even makes the amusing contradiction “As a general rule, use ‘s.”

Unless, and then the exceptions come. One of which was “If pronunciation becomes awkward.” (Arguably always true.) Another was, “If including the ‘s would create another syllable.” *facepalm* You either hiss it and sound like a snake. Or it’s another syllable!

So that source just threw out its own ‘rule’ in practice. Even the Grand Dominatrix of Grammar: Kate Turabian imposes multiple variations. And that’s all well and good if you’ve had the misfortune of writing a Thesis according to her slide-rule calculated form, as I have. But most of us, as AUTHORS are not interested in such self-flagellation for non-academic purposes.

So at the end of the day, what do I say on this? Meh. I use James’. But whichever way you do it, be consistent. It’s the only sane approach.