Archives: stupid writing rules

The Alchemy of Place

Thursday, April 2, 2020, Lockdown continues until April 30, or beyond.

Think of the places you habitate in a day. You may be drawn to the kitchen by aromas, bread baking, chocolate in cookies or a roast as it nears completion. Each of those dishes is common or foreign to you. You might be vegan and wretch at the thought of what is in your world a dietary travesty. None the less kitchens are important whether you cook or store your shoes in the oven.

We spend more time in the bathroom than we like to admit. I’d say more than ever in lockdown.  With the advent of Zoom as an instrument of communication, my mirror time has increased. I hear Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, “I’m ready for my closeup Mr. De Mille.”

My office, once a place of isolated sanctuary, is ignored. As a writer, I believed that I had to be in the right chair at my desk triggered by a never defined bio-rhythm. My office now reeks of further confinement. Lockdown has proven my iPad and any flat surface will do.

The bedroom has become a nest. Clean sheets every other day, fluffed pillows, a heated mattress pad, and stacks of books at the ready to fit the mood of the moment. It waits for me at the end of the day as eager as a lustful paramour.

Place in writing is as important as the protagonist. He or she is shaped by where they have been, where they are and where they want to be. Place adds depth, drama, and emotion. It incorporates all the senses. As a former Chicagoan, I exited my el stop each morning inundated by chocolate perfume, thanks to Blommer’s Chocolate Factory. I greedily inhaled its exhaust before continuing to work, the perfect start to my workday. Others at the same exit covered their noses in disgust describing the smell as overwhelming, cloying, gross. They never longed for the Golden Ticket on offer by Willy Wonka. They are fodder for different characters thanks to their contrasting emotions and triggers, protagonists perhaps? Same place plus different drivers equal diverse characters and opportunities for story.

Suffer from Writer’s Block? Place is the perfect Ninja to crack writer’s block. Have your character go to the kitchen. Why? Have him make a sandwich or get pissed off the milk is gone. Have her go to the bathroom and find his sock on the floor inches from the hamper. Emotion will spring up and the words will flow. Characters, like us, require moments of the mundane to be read as real. 

Too many Rules — Too Little Confidence

Too many Rules — Too Little Confidence

Pick an author who has had publishing success and you will find an article or post with his or her 5, 7, 8, or 10 rules of writing. A few showoffs go for 10 or 12. Each post is the holy grail of the current silver bullet to writing success. Margaret Atwood takes a no-nonsense slant: No excuses –leave no words behind.

  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…

The list continues to point 10 as a practical guide to help you, writer, to stay out of your own way.

Hilary Mantel’s rules open with, “Hire an accountant.”Cheeky but good advice because at its core it implies believe in yourself and your success and you will need an accountant.

Writers who are trying to spread their wings seek advice. Why? Comfort. Growth. Validation. There are as many reasons as writers. There is a lot of advice that does not bear consideration. But how do you know? Do the rules begin with the word Don’t? Avoid them in 75% of occurrences. Better yet understand the DON”T; become comfortable with it and confident enough through your practice to question and break the rule.

What do I mean? I have four words for you Elmore Leonard & Good Writing. Leonard famously wrote 10 Rules of Good Writing:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why are his nevers and don’ts acceptable? Easy, read the full text, not the bullets. He wisely gives examples of writers who broke each rule and succeeded. How? They understood the dont’s and nevers with enough depth and confidence to break them when necessary, and to advantage.

If you need more convincing I suggest you read the excellent post from Anne R. Allen in 2016.

12 Stupid Writing Rules Currently Making the Rounds

Sadly, they are as current as ever. Another consideration for another time is how rules can become a form of resistance.

 

Happy Writing

© 2020 Lee Heffner – Author