Writing Tips, Part I: Some Rules Are Relative

The thing about rules is that they often are relative. While there is a reason for their existence and one definitely needs to know them, there often are exceptions to the rule. I looked up lists of writing “rules” and picked a few I do not personally agree with.

According to Elmore Leonard, one should “never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue”. I assume this is directed at fiction as a whole, but I do not think this should just be accepted as the truth. While it is true that these interjections are the author’s voice, sometimes it is needed to mention who is saying what. Often, the word “said” is not sufficient to carry the entire meaning of a spoken sentence. Imagine two characters are huddled together behind a haystack, fearfully waiting for the villain to pass by. One of them tries to “say” they are sorry for their former mistakes, just in case they will end up getting killed. Would they really say that? I do not think so. To me, the word “say” implies stating something in a neutral voice at a neutral sound level. If someone is so close by, you would not say anything. You would whisper it. Of course, many writers abuse the power of the words by using anything they can think of at the moment. I believe Leonard is right in thinking that words like “lied”, “cautioned” and “asseverated” (whatever that may mean) are unnecessary. They do not imply anything in tone that is not already mentioned in the speech itself – hopefully. However, never using any other word than “said” is nonsense. At the very least, allow them to scream and whisper, and do not take that ability away from them. The thing about lists like the one I took this advice from, though, is that they only state very black-and-white rules. I doubt the writer himself meant it to be taken to extremes.

Another example about rules I do not agree with is the following, by Rose Tremain: “In the planning stage of a book, don’t plan the ending. It has to be earned by all that will go before it.” Maybe this works for seasoned writers who know how to create a story of which the beginning, middle and end go together perfectly, but I personally would not advise this. A story without ending might as well never end – and the Neverending Story has already been written. I would actually say, start in the plotting phase with two important aspects: one of these is the beginning… but the ending is more important. Of course, the beginning is what grabs the reader’s attention. However, the ending is what makes reading worth the time it takes. If the ending is not thought out properly, it probably is not going to turn out to be satisfying. Think before you write, especially for those without experience. If you know the ending of the story, you know what needs to happen to get there. Start from there, not the other way around.

Writing fiction is a very personal business. Everyone has their own tactics to make it work. Some write even when they do not know what they should write, others drop it for the day until they know how to further the story. Whatever works for them is the rule that fits. Rules are personal as well, therefore. Do not feel limited by rules imposed on you by others – unless those others are part of a publishing house you signed a contract with.


Works Cited

Dyer, Geoff, David Hare, AL Kennedy, Neil Gaiman, and Anne Enright. “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction.” Theguardian.com. Guardian News and Media, 19 Feb. 2010. Web. 23 May 2014.

Mantel, Hilary, Michael Morpurgo, Andrew Motion, Philip Pullman, Rose Tremain, Jeanette Winterson, Will Self, Annie Proulx, and Ian Rankin. “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction (part Two).” Theguardian.com. Guardian News and Media, 19 Feb. 2010. Web. 24 May 2014.

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