writers / writing

#IWSG–Follow writing rules?

writers groupThis post is for Alex Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writers Support Group (click the link for details on what that means and how to join. You will also find a list of bloggers signed up to the challenge that are worth checking out. The first Wednesday of every month, we all optionally answer the monthly question or post our thoughts, fears or words of encouragement for fellow writers.

JANUARY 4TH QUESTION: What writing rule do you wish you’d never heard?

“Show don’t tell” comes to mind, not because it’s a bad rule, more because it’s quoted ad nauseum. How about ‘Huck Finn meets Les Miserables‘ (you fill in both sides of the equation). Or ‘deep dive‘ to describe a thorough description.

How about ‘as unlikely as a bus hitting you in the shower while being attacked by a shark‘. This is used to describe the chances of finding an agent. Not quite a rule, but might as well be.

Then there’s Mark Twain’s rule about ‘very’:

“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

This brings to mind a related idea: “If you add a b***sh** filter, it’s amazing how quickly things come into focus.” This to explain much of the writing advice you get from non-writers.

How about “It’s complicated” to explain why you didn’t follow rules. Well, I actually like that one. Much like that great aphorism from Yogi Berra: “If you come to a fork in the road, pick it up.”

I think that’s it. I’ll be over to see what annoys you.

More IWSG articles:

None of My Marketing Seems to Work

Beta Reader? Or not?

Should I use my first name or an initial?

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, and the thriller, To Hunt a Sub. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. The sequel to To Hunt a Sub, Twenty-four Days, is scheduled for Summer, 2017. Click to follow its progress.

62 thoughts on “#IWSG–Follow writing rules?

  1. While I enjoyed this article, I have a question unrelated to it. How do you write signing (ASL) dialogue? Rita is a deaf character who doesn’t like to talk because she was made fun of as a child. Her best friend is hearing and became fluent in ASL to talk with Rita. Italics seemed to be for the character’s inward thoughts. Single quotes? Still use regular quotes? I’d like the reader to know who’s talking without using “she signed” all the time. Quora recently had a post addressing this, but all the deaf person’s response was to tell the writer she was committing “an act of linguistic appropriation” and had no right to exploit sign language for a book. I wrote back a response, but haven’t heard from her. I’m hearing and know some ASL. I learned so I could relay the preacher’s sermon to those deaf in church plus I thought it would come in handy with being a nurse. I didn’t know it would make me such an evil person!!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I too have a non-speaking character in one of my books. I’ve asked ‘experts’ (at writer conferences and they say treat it as you would a character speaking in a foreign language. Which ASL is so this makes sense to me.

      I don’t understand that Quora response. Rather than ‘exploiting’, I see your use of deaf character as mainstreaming: They are simply a facet of our community.

      I’ll be interested to see what anyone else says…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Now I really have to show my stupidity. How is a foreign language done? I thought it was just regular like “Buenos dios, mi amigo.” So, I should do sign language the same way? My example: “I didn’t let on that I could read his lips.”
        I’ll keep you posted on other responses from that article. I’m curious also. I saw nothing wrong with having a deaf character; like you, I thought it would be more realistic. That book is titled “A Sign for Love.” Another one I’m working on, involving sight, is titled, “A Glimmer of Love.” I wanted to do a series with all 5 senses, but can’t think of what to do for the other three.
        Thank you for your input. I’ve had those two books in the works for years and need to get them finished. I regret waiting until I retired to start my writing career. For as slow as I am, I’ll never get all the books written that I have started in my folder!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Sorry–here’s how it’s recommended you do foreign languages: Use the foreign language maybe a few times and translate it (maybe through another character). Once you’ve established that your character speaks in the foreign language, just write in the native language (meaning, if I’m writing in English, write the foreign language in English). Readers are expected to remember.

          For ASL, I’d probably throw in a few, “she motioned” or “she said with hands ***.”

          Liked by 1 person

  2. “I do not over-intellectualise the production process. I try to keep it simple: Tell the damned story.”
    —Tom Clancy, WD

    Jacqui I love and hate this one, because when I started writing thats how I use to write, with no other purpose then to tell the story. Then I educated myself, followed many successful writers, read many books on writing and I learned so much. But I lost my way. Lost my will to write, it all got too complicated and the writing vibe stopped visiting me. So reading too may books on writing can be damaging too. But we need to do both, tell our story and also learn how to get better and better at the craft. And I guess the only way to do that is write more and read lots.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Haha I liked your metaphors. Sarcasm is my favorite type of humor. I like the ‘show, don’t tell’ rule, but it is seen everywhere! Also ‘your character must want something.’ Really? Why I had no idea. I thought my character could wander around aimlessly with nothing to do and with no desires 🙂

    Keep smiling,

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Jacqui, this is one of the funniest posts you’ve ever written – I love it! And it echoes much of what I feel about rules of writing. My personal favorite is not to use the word “was” or any iteration of the word. Tell that to Hamlet – “To be or not to be.” Let’s see: “To exercise the right to life or not to exercise the right to life.” Hm, doesn’t have the same dazzle.

    Many years ago, someone in my writing critique group did me the gigantic favor of correcting my chapter by crossing out every single “was” he located. He didn’t replace the word with another, just scooped them out, leaving the chapter with, well, holes! It might have been funny but he was (oh there it is, the word “was”) serious and thought he’d improved my story. Of course there was (again) no arguing with the guy because he was (sigh) certain he was (I’m giving up) right!

    A good way to start the New Year – write with your heart and employ rules that improve, scoop the ones that confound.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thanks for the support. Writing stories is a living in a closet with your imaginary friends who want the world to know who they are. Insane don’t you think?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hilarious! Mark Twain has some of the best words of advice, doesn’t he? I like your rule. I hate it too. When I tried to switch to show, I seemed to cut out all the character emotion too, the pieces we yearn to know to discover who is telling the story. Boo on that rule. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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