Avoiding Loopholes

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Loopholes. Who doesn't love a good, old-fashioned loophole when it comes to getting a job done just a teeny bit faster? My kids sure do. If I tell them to deal with the trash, they'll empty the trash can but the trash strewn across the bedroom floor will remain untouched. (Or the other way around.) When I say, "Put the milk away.", I hear "I didn't use it last!" and "She got it out first!" *insert fingers pointing around the table here* instead of "Okay Mom!" (an ongoing issue in our house). If there's a way for the three of them to get out of something, to prove I didn't tell them specifically what to do (in order to get out of punishment), they"ll find it. (Hmmm. Maybe Lovemuffin and I should be saving up for law school...)

When it comes to writing, loopholes are a slippery slope - especially for young writers. (I should know. I definitely fall into the "young writer" category.) It's easy to read a book or two by a New York Times best-selling author and think, "See! They didn't follow that rule!" or "Well so-and-so didn't bother writing a hook in the opening scene so why should I? I can get around that rule somehow..." But the thing is, as many people out there in the literary world say, until you're an established writer, it's necessary to follow the rules. (I could share tons of links regarding this very topic, but to save everyone some time I'll just share this one for now, which was actually written by guest blogger, editor Victoria Mixon on Nathan Bransford's blog back in July of 2009. Victoria lists some great points regarding the plot, scene and exposition.)

For those of you who read my "I Have No Idea What I'm Doing" blog on Wednesday, this was supposed to be last Wednesday's post. Then it was going to be Friday's, but I had a bit of inspiration once Robert Downey Jr.'s voice *swoon* entered my ear canals the other night, so this post was moved to today.

Today I'm going to share five basic writing rules that I'm still trying to put into use - rules most of us already know, yet important ones nonetheless.

1.) Write for the reader. We already know the backstory, the reason each character behaves the way they do, the time of year the story begins (or ends). But the readers don't. Those facts need to be explained in your story, without boring the reader or taking away from the overall story line. Don't assume your readers know everything. Instead, assume they know nothing at all. (I think some people would debate this point, because we're also not supposed to treat our readers as though they're clueless. But there's a fine line between setting up your story line with necessary details and going over the top with too much information.)

2.) Make it worth reading. (This could actually be part of #1, but I wanted to go into more detail.) One of the worst things we can do is make our readers wonder why they're reading what we've written. Tie everything together. Each piece of the puzzle needs to fit by the end of your story, down to the smallest of details. (I've been called out on this one myself.) Does the fact that your main character wears only red socks have a bigger part in the overall story? If so, tie in it throughout - explain the reason behind his/her obsession with red socks. If not, maybe that part should be cut.

3.) Consistency is key. Is your character scared of being in a crowd? Then why is she dancing her feet off at a club two pages after freaking out that people were looking at her in the grocery store? Stay consistent to keep your readers hooked. Things that don't make sense or conflict with a part you wrote earlier will turn the reader off. You want them to keep turning pages, not close the book and set it down somewhere, never to be opened again.

4.) Pay attention to the flow. It's important to keep your flow nice and interesting, not so much because otherwise it's boring otherwise, but because nothing is worse than making a reader go back; and, not understanding or remembering what they just read, have to read it again because the sentence is so wordy that they already forgot what the heck you were talking about, don't you think? Long, confusing sentences or paragraphs are my pet peeve. I can't tell you how many times I've had to turn back a page and start a paragraph over, or read a passage more than once because the flow just isn't there. Make sure not to trip up your readers - getting confused during an important part of the story is an event they won't soon forget.

5.) Stay true to yourself. Don't let the stress of following rules stifle your writing voice. Regardless of the many guidelines we need to follow, our stories should still sound like us. We leave a little thumbprint on everything we write, a signature on our work that tells people "I wrote this - this is my style, my point of view, the way I chose to share my story." The story you tell gives the reader a glimpse of who you are - that's what makes you different from everyone else out there.

I'll leave you with a true, yet comical version of common rules for writing. I'm sure some of you have seen this before, but I wanted to share it anyway.

Happy Monday, my readers!


Lydia Sharp said...

Thanks for the tips!
Number one is definitely a tuffy, especially for SF writers. Difficult to find that perfect balance.

VR Barkowski said...

#3 is so important in bringing characters to life. Readers want to feel as though they know a character. If character behaviors are inconsistent or incompatible, then the reader won't be pulled into the story no matter how engaging the plot.

Jessica, there's a blog award for you on my site. It's a Happy Award, so it's very appropriate because reading your blog always puts me in a good mood. :)