26 June 2007

REPOST 12/17/2006 The rules of writing...

There's an old saying that there are three unbreakable rules about writing, but no one knows what they are. That's about right.

Everyone has an opinion about what the rules are, and nearly every one of them can be refuted, because X author does it and gets away with it. Without getting into the "what a famous author can get away with isn't what a newbie can" argument again, let me state that nearly any of the "rules" people spout can be broken, if they are broken skillfully. The "rules" exist to keep rank amateurs from writing poorly, not to stifle a creative genius who can do nearly anything well.

That said, there ARE some common sense rules, and I'll lay them out for you.

I loathe writing how-to books. They always claim to have the answers
that will work for everyone. Yeah, in their dreams. The truth is that the words come for you as they come for you. The truth is that publishing is fluid. What is acceptable at publisher A is forbidden at publisher B. What is popular today is forbidden or frowned upon tomorrow.

The only standards are:
Good grammar, spelling and punctuation...at least in the narrative.
Character voice can cancel a lot of that out in dialog.
A professional presentation to whatever guidelines the publishers ask for, and that includes POV they will accept, formatting, etc. (See exceptions below.)
A professional demeanor.
An engaging story.
A cohesive and believable plotline.
Consistent, believable characterization.
A good flow.

Beyond that:
Even a publisher that SAYS they won't take X will sometimes do so, if the presentation is strong enough. I've found that, in many cases, they say "no X," because they encountered some poorly written books that include it, and they don't want to wade through those again, so they make a blanket statement when they will still consider books that include it, if it's well done. This doesn't include FORMAT. Their format should be absolute. This is about things like POV.

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