Rules of Writing Series | Part 1

Rules-of-writing

Get an accountant, abstain from sex and similes, cut, rewrite, then cut and rewrite again – if all else fails, pray!”

Inspired by Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing, The Guardian asked authors for their personal dos and don’ts.

Set over a series of posts, here are those authors rules of writing. Some are more serious than others, feel free to accept, reject or adapt as required.

Enjoy!


Elmore Leonard: Using adverbs is a mortal sin

1. Never open a book with weather. If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a character’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead look­ing for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways than an Eskimo to describe ice and snow in his book Arctic Dreams, you can do all the weather reporting you want.

2. Avoid prologues: they can be ­annoying, especially a prologue ­following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in non-fiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want. There is a prologue in John Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday, but it’s OK because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: “I like a lot of talk in a book and I don’t like to have nobody tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks.”

3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But “said” is far less intrusive than “grumbled”, “gasped”, “cautioned”, “lied”. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with “she asseverated” and had to stop reading and go to the dictionary.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” … he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances “full of rape and adverbs”.

5. Keep your exclamation points ­under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.

6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose”. This rule doesn’t require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use “suddenly” tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apos­trophes, you won’t be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavour of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories Close Range.

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters, which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants”, what do the “Ameri­can and the girl with him” look like? “She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.” That’s the only reference to a physical description in the story.

9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things, unless you’re ­Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language. You don’t want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.


Diana Athill

1. Read it aloud to yourself because that’s the only way to be sure the rhythms of the sentences are OK (prose rhythms are too complex and subtle to be thought out – they can be got right only by ear).

2. Cut (perhaps that should be CUT): only by having no ­inessential words can every essential word be made to count.

3. You don’t always have to go so far as to murder your darlings – those turns of phrase or images of which you felt extra proud when they appeared on the page – but go back and look at them with a very beady eye. Almost always it turns out that they’d be better dead. (Not every little twinge of satisfaction is suspect – it’s the ones which amount to a sort of smug glee you must watch out for.)


Margaret Atwood

1. Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can’t sharpen it on the plane, because you can’t take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.

2. If both pencils break, you can do a rough sharpening job with a nail file of the metal or glass type.

3. Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do.

4. If you’re using a computer, always safeguard new text with a ­memory stick.

5. Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.

6. Hold the reader’s attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.) But you don’t know who the reader is, so it’s like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark. What ­fascinates A will bore the pants off B.

7. You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you’re on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.

8. You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You’ve been backstage. You’ve seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a ­romantic relationship, unless you want to break up.

9. Don’t sit down in the middle of the woods. If you’re lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page.

10. Prayer might work. Or reading ­something else. Or a constant visual­isation of the holy grail that is the finished, published version of your resplendent book.


Roddy Doyle

1. Do not place a photograph of your ­favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide.

2. Do be kind to yourself. Fill pages as quickly as possible; double space, or write on every second line. Regard every new page as a small triumph ­–

3. Until you get to Page 50. Then calm down, and start worrying about the quality. Do feel anxiety – it’s the job.

4. Do give the work a name as quickly as possible. Own it, and see it. Dickens knew Bleak House was going to be called Bleak House before he started writing it. The rest must have been easy.

5. Do restrict your browsing to a few websites a day. Don’t go near the online bookies – unless it’s research.

6. Do keep a thesaurus, but in the shed at the back of the garden or behind the fridge, somewhere that demands travel or effort. Chances are the words that come into your head will do fine, eg “horse”, “ran”, “said”.

7. Do, occasionally, give in to temptation. Wash the kitchen floor, hang out the washing. It’s research.

8. Do change your mind. Good ideas are often murdered by better ones. I was working on a novel about a band called the Partitions. Then I decided to call them the Commitments.

9. Do not search amazon.co.uk for the book you haven’t written yet.

10. Do spend a few minutes a day working on the cover biog – “He divides his time between Kabul and Tierra del Fuego.” But then get back to work.


Helen Dunmore

1. Finish the day’s writing when you still want to continue.

2. Listen to what you have written. A dud rhythm in a passage of dialogue may show that you don’t yet understand the characters well enough to write in their voices.

3. Read Keats’s letters.

4. Reread, rewrite, reread, rewrite. If it still doesn’t work, throw it away. It’s a nice feeling, and you don’t want to be cluttered with the corpses of poems and stories which have everything in them except the life they need.

5. Learn poems by heart.

6. Join professional organisations which advance the collective rights of authors.

7. A problem with a piece of writing often clarifies itself if you go for a long walk.

8. If you fear that taking care of your children and household will damage your writing, think of JG Ballard.

9. Don’t worry about posterity – as Larkin (no sentimentalist) observed “What will survive of us is love”.

***

Check back soon for some more writing rules from authors.

Via: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/feb/20/ten-rules-for-writing-fiction-part-one

Bath Novel Award 2018 Shortlist

BathNovelAwards

And the awards lists just keep on coming!

The Bath Novel shortlist has also recently been announced. Here is what they had to say:


We are delighted to announce The Bath Novel Award 2018 shortlist.

The Bath Novel Award is an annual £2,500 prize for unpublished and independently published novelists writing for adults or young adults. This year’s prize attracted 1,201 submissions by writers in 38 countries worldwide with a longlist of 24 novels announced in May.

2018 has proved to be an exceptionally strong year for novels about displacement and the pursuit of truth. We have feared and cheered for: a young Nigerian housemaid; three London schoolgirls; an escapist boater in Tenerife; Ugandan Asian shopkeepers and a secret team of international literary agents fighting a rewrite of the world.

As all our judges read “blind” we’ll be keeping the shortlistees’ identities under wraps until the winner is announced on September 13th 2018, but in the meantime, many congratulations to the writers of these five standout titles:

  • INKLAND
  • KOLOLO HILL
  • THE AUSPICE
  • THE FURIES
  • THE GIRL WITH THE LOUDING VOICE

The winner of The Bath Novel Award 2018, as judged by Felicity Blunt of Curtis Brown Literary Agency, will be announced at a reception in Bath’s Victoria Art Gallery on September 13th. The winning novelist will receive £2,500 and one longlisted writer will also win a place worth £1,800 on Edit your Novel the Professional Way from Cornerstones Literary Consultancy.

Good luck to all 5 authors!

***

Via: https://bathnovelaward.co.uk/the-bath-novel-award-2018-shortlist/

Man Booker Prize 2018 Longlist

Novel-award-2018-long-list2

• 171 submissions • Two Canadian authors • Six authors from the UK • Two writers from Ireland • Three writers representing the USA • Four writers under the age of 30 • Three previous nominees • One previous winner • Four debut novels • Seven women • Six men

The statistics are in. The jury is assembled.

The Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2018 longlist is revealed. Featuring the first-ever nomination for a graphic novel and the electrifying return of a Man Booker grandmaster, the spellbinding search to find the greatest fiction novel of 2018 is on.


Including a work of crime fiction, a noiresque thriller written in verse and a genre-defying graphic novel, the longlist for this year’s award is amongst the most diverse and exhilarating in the prize’s history. Excitingly, it’s also a list that showcases an array of new writing talent. In works that span time and space – from antebellum-era Caribbean to inner-city London and beyond – thirteen authors (the so-called ‘Booker Dozen’) compete for a place on the shortlist, which will be announced on 20 September 2018.

The longlist is:

  • Snap, Belinda Bauer
  • Milkman, Anna Burns
  • Sabrina, Nick Drnaso
  • Washington Black, Esi Edugyan
  • In Our Mad and Furious City, Guy Gunaratne
  • Everything Under, Daisy Johnson
  • The Mars Room, Rachel Kushner
  • The Water Cure, Sophie Mackintosh
  • Warlight, Michael Ondaatje
  • The Overstory, Richard Powers
  • The Long Take, Robin Robertson
  • Normal People, Sally Rooney
  • From a Low and Quiet Sea, Donal Ryan

The final winner will be announced at a ceremony on 16 October 2018.

You can read the blurb and/or buy a copy of the books by following this link: https://www.waterstones.com/book-awards/the-man-booker-prize

Writing Advice: How Fellow Writers Can Help You Get Published

writing-group

An interesting article and insight into how writing groups and feedback from other writers can help you get published (or at least help you improve your work!).

Enjoy.


Like the great cats, or giant pandas we labor alone at our craft, at least most of the time. Oh, we may venture out occasionally to find a mate as do the majestic beasts, but we have no colleagues with whom to shmooze, to bounce off ideas, or to complain about the frustrations of publishing.

I sometimes wonder why this is so. At first the answer seems obvious. Writing is the product of our own unique brains. It contains our ideas, or creations and our take on the world. Mixing in someone else’s views may distort our intent or our meaning.

But wait! Aren’t we all the sum of influences all around us? From our earliest days, we are surrounded by people and experiences that leave a mark on our brain, however unconscious.

Later in life we read books, listen to others, see films and watch television (gasp!). These also imprint their mark on our thinking, want to, or not. So if we can come to terms with the idea that nothing that appears on our blank pages is totally pure of influences, why not make a conscious effort to acquire positive influence on our writing?

Many writers, in fact, do participate in various sorts of writing groups, though I’ve heard that some big name authors discourage it. I have also heard nightmare stories about some writers groups: members insulted for the quality of their writing to the point of quitting writing altogether, members shirking their responsibilities to provide serious, high quality critiques to peers and sometimes general time wasting in idle chit chat. As unfortunate as such cases may be, I’d attribute it to human nature, not to the personalities of authors in general.

If we are willing to open ourselves up to the thinking of others and have the inner resources to analyze and not glom on to their words, writers groups can be helpful, especially for those in the early years of their writing careers. I will share some of my experience in the hope at least some of you may benefit.

I participated in an outstanding online course on memoir writing at Gotham Writers Workshops. I enrolled with a great deal of trepidation being a bit wary of Internet relationships. But I had been so satisfied with my in-person instruction at Gotham that I took the risk. To my great surprise I found the online class superior. It took me a while to figure out why, then it hit me. Both the instructor and participants had to write down their critiques and comments. When we write something, especially something a number of others will read, we tend to give it more thought, more attention; after all our professional persona is at stake.

Consequently, I found the comments in the on-line course of much higher quality than those casually tossed out during an in-person class. What a delightful surprise!

At the end of the course I could easily assess whose comments were most incisive, well written and offered with tact and sensitivity. I decided to ask those few participants if they wished to continue after the end of the course in the system we used in class. They all agreed readily.

Each spoke of how helpful it was to hear an outside opinion on how their words were being heard and interpreted by others. So, we set up our goals to critique a certain amount of words per week or month; decided on the rotation and added a new twist. We would each select a reading of something outside our own writing, a piece we thought especially well written, or interesting and we would discuss it on a particular schedule agreed to by all. The intent here was to get a bit outside our comfort zone.

Five of us continued to exchange comments for six or seven years. We became online friends, getting to know each other’s families and life stories. All of this was particularly helpful as we were critiquing memoirs. We were scattered throughout the United States and for many years never met one another, yet we relied on these members for their steadfast support. Eventually we accepted a new member who came highly recommended by one of us.

The adjustment and shifting of schedules took some time, but we stuck together though thick and thin. When any of us suffered a personal problem, a broken leg, or a serious family illness, trays of food and bouquets of flowers made their way to homes we had never seen. But we celebrated happy occasions too: children’s graduations, awards and publication of our works. We exchanged suggestions on where to submit our work and held our friends’ virtual hands when the inevitable rejections arrived.

One of the side benefits, but one that proved enormously helpful, was that we had male members whose perspective was somewhat different and they saw things we may not have noticed with our female eyes. We did the same for them. I do not believe that such mixed-sex writing groups are very common.

Eventually, for me, a point came when the time it took to comment with depth and insight into the writing of others impinged too much on my own writing time. I began to feel resentful that I had to put my work aside right when I felt in the groove and felt reluctant to switch gears into someone else’s story. That was the time to say goodbye to my writing buddies with regret, but with a feeling each of them too, could eventually feel they could take off the set off training wheels.

I am grateful to each of them. My book may not have found a publisher without their wise advice. One of my fondest memories is the warm speech one of our male members made at the launch of my book in New York City. Now I look forward to the day I will raise a glass of champagne at his launch.

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Article By Annette Libeskind Berkovits

See the original here: http://booksbywomen.org/writing-advice-how-fellow-writers-can-help-you-get-published/