K.W. McCabe: I recently was in touch with Richard Bylina, author of, “One Promise Too Many,” and “A Matter of Faith,” who graciously acquiesed to my pestering and begging and agreed to guestpost for the blog. Check out his blog here: http://rickbylina.blogspot.com/ Thanks Rick!
Rick Bylina: Let me make this perfectly clear from the onset. There is only one rule when writing: writer’s write! Everything else is a guideline. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get back to writing.
La la. The cow…no.
La di la. The moose…no.
La di la la la. The Tasmanian Tiger crept out of the jungle with an
emaciated koala bear in his mouth. He stopped and eyed me. Was I a threat or
a bigger meal?
Kareen informs me that this is too short for a guest blog, so let me expand
upon my original point. Any rule someone flops down in front of you as you
begin your writing career, can be and should be, broken at some point in
your career. Why? Well, without breaking the “rules,” writing entropy sets
in, that is, the degradation of the matter and energy in the universe to an
ultimate state of inert uniformity. Inert uniformity of story kills more
writers than agents. It’s boring for the reader and deadly for your career.
If there are no rules, someone might argue, then what guides us? Conventions
and guidelines are the answer. As a writer, you must explore. You must push
the story’s edge. That gets you readers. “OMG, Tiffany! I never saw that
happening.” And this is no secret that I’m telling you. Successful writers
Conventions. You must understand the conventions of the English language
that binds us together before you decide to write a novel without quotation
marks when characters are speaking. If you know why question marks are
supposed to be there, you’ll know why you’re leaving them out. I’ve
critiqued too many stories where someone tries to be “unbound by rules” and
ends up writing inconsistent crap that dribbles off the page into the trash
can of rejection. Grammar conventions count, but they should not bind you
like a 15th century Chinese princess’ foot.
Guidelines. Yes there are some. Things the reader almost universally expects
the write to do in order to craft a good story. But there are no absolutes
here, just intelligent exercises you should attend to in order to improve
your story. I have all nine of them on my blog and have cleverly titled
them: THE GUIDELINEZ. Abbreviated they are:
1. Tighten, tighten, tighten. No one likes quicksand and that’s what loose
writing is. Stay in it too long. You’re dead.
2. Use the five senses, plus two. Use them to make flat fiction come to
3. Unclear grammar confuses readers. See “Conventions”. Best guideline: be
4. Reveal something in each sentence. Like #1, if the reader isn’t engaged,
they might go back to removing belly-button lint instead of reading.
5. Don’t lose the reader. If you start a new scene/chapter, give us a clue
who’s doing what to whom, unless obfuscation is a plot element.
6. Avoid unnecessary dialogue tags. Good characterization and solid writing
virtually kills the need for dialogue tags.
7. Check your word choices. Many words are filler, some don’t advance the
scene, some are just not correct. My blog has some words you should
double-check to make sure your choice is best and meets the #1 guideline.
8. Feel and felt filter emotion. If you want the reader to feel what the
character is feeling, avoid feel and felt.
9. Scrutinize every use of “was.” Was is a perfectly good word, but lazy
writing often makes the page look like a minefield of wases making it sound
repetitive and a dumbing down of the text.
Many others have lists of do’s and don’ts. I enjoy reading them. Most famous
might be Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules. It’s funny he calls them rules and then
breaks almost everyone of them. You can have fun with them as I do when you
want to get the writing juices flowing. Here’s all ten of his rules broken
in a single sentence.
– – –
“Twas raining cats, dawgs, fillin’ the hollar, and then suddenly, all hell
broke loose,” Billy Bob ejaculated excitedly then relaxed his Icabod Crane
body into a well-worn hickory rocking chair and picked with a dogwood branch
shive at a piece of pork, stuck on his broken front teeth, jagged, naked
like the inverted snow-capped mountain tops in winter out back yonder, which
hid a truth not as easily dislodged as yesterday’s supper!!
– – –
Now, y’all get out there and write, because that is the only rule.
The Tasmanian Tiger crept out of the jungle with an emaciated koala bear in
his mouth. He stopped and eyed me. Was I a threat or a bigger meal? He
dropped the koala bear. Damn, I’m a meal. I froze. Terror closed my throat.
I couldn’t yell for help. He stepped closer then sprung. The noise was
overwhelming as two dozen or more koala’s tore at the tiger. In less than a
minute, it was over. A large koala eyed me, and I thought I was next. He
raised a hand to his mouth holding a bloody portion of the tiger. He tore
off a portion with teeth better suited for eucalyptus leaves. He held the
remains of the piece of tiger out to me. “Er go, mate! Tastes like chicken.”