THE RULES OF WRITING

Earlier this year, I realized 2021is an anniversary for me. Twenty years ago, I decided I was a Serious Writer.

And what a long, strange tripit’s been (apologies to the Grateful Dead).

As a rank newbie, one of the first things I was told was that I needed to learn the Rules of Writing. I kind of shrugged and said “okay.” I knew how to build a grammatical sentence, eventhe ones with dependent clauses (shout out to Miss Liggins). I soon learned that’s not what was meant. It was about the writing craft and the writing life. So, I set about looking up the Rules. Turned out there are scads of them, and alot are contradictory. Over the years, I figured out that each writer makes uptheir own Rules, ones that can serve others depending on the writer’sparticular circumstances. Here are five of mine (I’d give you all of them, but I only have 500 words):

Try to write every day. I’d love to be able to write every day. Unfortunately for me, a day has only 24 hours, and a huge chunk of mine are spent adulting in one form or another. It’s also unfortunate for me that the Bank of Mom and Dad has been closed for decades, and the Bank of Husbands failed. I looked into the Bank of Sugar Daddy, butthe interest rate was waaay too high, not to mention those bounced check fees.

Adverbs are not your enemy, but they’re not your friends, either. Adverbs should be used sparingly(oo! an adverb!). Too many -ly words gets tedious after a while. But if only anadverb will do, by all means use it. Avoid adverbs in dialogue tags. It’s notwrong to use them, but there are a lot more descriptive ways to convey acharacter’s tone to the reader.

It’s okay not to use “said” as adialogue tag (sorry, Elmore Leonard). There are times when a writer wants to convey the quality of a speaker’s voice. Imagine: You and your BFF are hiding from the axe murderer, and you’re discussing ways to get out of your dire situation. Are you going speak in a normal voice? No. You’re going to whisper, right? “Said” implies someone speaking normally. In this case, “said” might get you killed.

Don’t go overboard withdescriptions. This is a big one for me. A description should be just enough to give a reader a sense of place. There are times I do get description-heavy, but only for scenes where much of the action will occur, that is, when the background is almost a character in itself.

Alliterations are not verboten. Alliterations can give a sentence a lovely cadence. Be careful, though. Likead verbs, they can get tedious. But avoid “s” alliterations. You don’t want tocome across like a venomous snake. Or maybe you do.

So, there it is. Use them…or not.It’s all up to you.

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