I just finished reading Stephen King's On Writing - which is a part CV part How To guide. He specialises in Science Fiction, but most of his advice to wanna-be authors is about style and form which can be applied to crime fiction. He also offers tips on how to keep focused on the job and avoid writer's block and stale characters. It helped me a lot.

So, I was wondering - what was the best How to Write book you've ever read? Why was it helpful? Have you even read one before?

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Cormac McCarthy does this is BLOOD MERIDIAN. Maybe he's a genius, maybe not, but he's a pain in the ass to read.
Maybe fiction should have no rules, but there are traditions and expectations that people have formed about story-telling across most cultures, and to go against those expectations can cause readers to be turned off. The Writers Journey, for instance, is based on Joseph Campbell's work on the structure of myths.
A novelist friend of mine teaches writing classes and uses the line, "Tools, not rules."
To me rules are tools. Rules really aren't of much use unless you understand why they're rules in the first place, and when you think you might like to break a rule, then you'd best think twice, make sure that what you sacrifice is less than what you gain from the rule-breaking.
Rules limit choices and tools expand choices.

It's against the rules to make a forward pass once you cross the line of scrimmage - but the quarterback's tools come into play and there are still ways to gain yards.

So yeah, grammar has rules and writing has tools.
I do indeed assume that the accepted wisdom as expressed by rules express wisdom by and large. I'm also talking about the set of rules each of us as individual writers develops and adheres to, two separate lists of rules if you will.

But to stay with the first set, the common wisdom, let's go to one of the most basic rules: "Show, don't tell." There is observational data demonstrating that nearly all published mystery/suspense novelists follow that rule at least 75% of the time and usually closer to 90% of the time.

As a newbie writer you might have been more conscious of following that rule, but with practice it becomes largely unconscious. Also with practice one becomes more adept at identifying choice opportunities for breaking the rules. Rules do not limit choices if you give yourself permission to break them. What they do is serve as guideposts.
What is your source for these 75% and 90% figures? And what does it even mean? Does it mean that 75% of published mystery/suspense novelists use the rule one time, or does it mean that they use the rule every time, meaning they never have exposition in their novels? Or does it mean something else?


Also, if you can give yourself permission to break a rule, then it's not much of a rule.
My source is myself, observation based on my understanding of showing versus telling and based on the couple hundred novels in the genre I've read. And another way to put what I mean is that any published work is going to be showing instead of telling at least 75% of the time. Just open a book at random and see what you find yourself ...

If you don't like "rule," then "guidepost" might be better. But this is just semantics to me. The important thing is there is useful guidance in craftmanship available. What craft doesn't have such guidance?
I don't feel it's just semantics because your view was in opposition to Linton's view. He said there were no rules only examples. You said there are rules, but then you also say they are guideposts. If they're guideposts then they're not rules; the two terms are not interchangeable because they mean different things. A guide is a suggestion and a rule is an obligation.

So if they're guideposts, then they aren't rules, and if there aren't rules then I feel you're saying the same thing that Linton is.
I'll leave it to others to have their say, if they will, on whether you're simply playing semantics games, John.

As for Linton and myself, my interpretation of what he seems to be saying is there is no useful advice on fiction writing to be found, that one must merely wing it. If that's the case, then I couldn't disagree more. It seems as though he's boxing himself into a very silly corner, in fact. For what other craft would there be no useful guidelines available?
But how does one become a pro without learning from teachers, critics or peers? Maybe the cited rule itself is worthless - but the idea behind it is what's important.

The 'Rule' of show don't tell covers the idea that describing an action is more interesting from a reader's perspective than just being told what the action was. And use the active voice is the rule that keeps writing fresh and engaging.
There is definitely technique involved in writing, as there is in any art. All arts contain some level of craft; the greatest technicians handle these aspects with such ease those on the outside don't see the work that went into it.

An important, but seemingly minor, techinque in fiction is how speech attributions are handled. Too few, and the reader doesn't know who is talking. Too many, and they're in the way. Too wordy, and they can actively get in the way of the story. Knowing how often, when, and how are matters of technique. Out of sight to all but the most careful reader, but intrinsic to the success of the work as a whole.

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