Here, copied from PASSIVE VOICE, is what Lee Child has to say about writing rules.


In his ThrillerFest session “Tell, Don’t Show: Why Writing Rules are Mostly Wrong,” Child battled a few of the biggest writing myths out there, and explained what really keeps a reader reading until The End.

Show, Don’t Tell

Picture this: In a novel, a character wakes up and looks at himself in the mirror, noting his scars and other physical traits for the reader.

“It is completely and utterly divorced from real life,” Child said.

So why do writers do this? Child said it’s because they’ve been beaten down by the rule of Show, Don’t Tell. “They manufacture this entirely artificial thing.”

“We’re not story showers,” Child said. “We’re story tellers.”

Child said there’s nothing wrong with simply saying the character was 6 feet tall, with scars.

After all, he added—do your kids ever ask you to show them a story? They ask you to tell them a story. Do youshow a joke? No, you tell it.

“There is nothing wrong with just telling the story,” Child said. “So liberate yourself from that rule.”

. . . .

“And that’s how you create suspense,” he said—it all boils down to asking a question and making people wait for the answer.

Child added that one thing he has learned throughout his career as a television writer and novelist is that humans are hard-wired to want the answer to a question. When the remote control was invented, it threw the TV business through a loop. How would you keep people around during a commercial? So TV producers started posing a question at the start of the commercial break, and answering it when the program returned.

. . . .

Ultimately, he said writing rules make the craft more complicated than it really is—when it comes down to it, it’s a simple thing.

“The way to write a thriller is to ask a question a the beginning, and answer it at the end,” he said.

Link to the rest at Writer’s Digest 

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I do that too, John.  But it's rarely about plot.  And yet it's plot I'm weakest at.  I'm utterly fascinated by what makes some characters work so well that you don't care if there is a plot.

I agree with him that most writing "rules" are useless. Those skilled and knowledgable enough to know how to properly apply them don't need the rules, and those who the rules are really aimed at (the amateurs) are probably hurt more than helped by the rules as they lack the knowledge to properly apply them. I think his examples, while both "showing" do demonstrate what kind of writing the "show, don't tell" rule has created. Mindless rules are pounded out that are either so smothering in their rigidity, or so vague that they essentially say nothing. That's why I avoid most writing rules. They just never helped ME. I am sure their principles are worthwhile sometimes, but those principles are learned best in seeing how they apply specifically to what I write (and seeing how I could've written it better), and not in mindless "rules" that you "have to follow."

Absolutely agree.

Most lists of rules tend to be self-serving: "write like me, or you suck."  Sometimes there's a nut in them, though.  King's right about the road to hell being paved with adverbs.

That is one I'll adhere to. I cringe looking back at the adverbs in novel number 1. Didn't yet appreciate why they weren't a good thing. Now I do. My writing style has changed completely (d'oh, that's an adverb) since then.

But you can't re-write everything, right?

I think adverbs are like a spice. Potentially useful, but not to be overdone. Kind of like most writing tools.

I like adverbs.  Useful things.

This goes back to my point about avoiding rule lists in that other topic. Adverbs show up on many of them, and few agree to use them or not.

Novel number 2 contains zero adverbs. That's not a rule thing, it's a pacing thing. There also aren't sentences longer than 8 words, with a few exceptions.

See? See!? Rules. Bah.

I expect it's a style thing.

I dislike them.  Better to choose the right verb.  Once in a while you need an adverb, though--but I always think hard about whether I really need them.  And I never, ever use them in dialogue tags.  Well, almost never. 

There you go.  You do what is needful.

It would be a lot more fun for me to read Spinetingler's large submission file if more people wrote their fiction in scenes instead of endless narration: In other words, Show Don't Tell.

One other thing I've enjoyed about Jack Reacher novels: They have a bad guy who really deserves a cruel death, and as a reader I look forward to Jack delivering same.


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