Now that we've trashed Elmore Leonard's rules (what does he know anyway ;) I'm wondering if people here have their own rules or guidelines for writing?

My main self-imposed rule is kind of one of Elmore Leonard's, guess, I want everythng in my books to be from the point of view of a character and have no authorial voice at all - if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

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Rhythm, pace, paint pictures in the mind and automate them into a mental movie. Don't jar the movie with commercials (words too obscure, sentences out of place, extensive monologues). Keep it flowing in ebbs and tides.

Bob has the right rule--pacing. If the pacing is fast and smooth, there is no authorial interference. ('authorial' what a brutal sounding word).

I work by only three rules:
1. begin the novel with a scene that completely captivates the reader.
2. make sure the middle-game (the middle of the book) stays fast paced and
believable. (do this and the end takes care of itself)
3. Do not be afraid of mixing a little humor even in the most grueling emotional
scenes. Humor--done correctly--is always a suprise and welcomed in almost
any book.
1.Get a really good chair and plan on parking your ass in it for long stretches, even when you'd rather be outside doing something fun.

2.Try not to drink too much; it's hard to work when you're hungover.

3.Marry a rich person. Failing that, inherit a good deal of money. Failing that, don't quit your day job.

4.Forget writing what you know. Writers know about writing, and chairs, and drinking, and marrying rich people, but usually not much else. Write what you like, or what interests you. If you don't know something, do a little research--that's why God invented the internet.

5a.Read. The biggest problem my writing students have, and it's almost universal, is that they don't read, so they have no idea what good writing looks like.

5b.Read good books. If you read crap exclusively, there's a good chance that you will write crap.

6.Don't waste your time formulating lists of rules; they're all bullshit anyway, and they're really about trying to demonstrate your personal or intellectual or artistic superiority. Just shut up and get back to work, already.

Oh, wait--these are rules for writers. Not quite the same thing...
Actually, those seem like really good rules for writers to me!
Jon's 5b and 6. Especially 6. Every part of it.

When it comes to writing, I make no rules. I don't believe in them. I want to be able to break every rule ever made when it suits me (especially Leonard's rules). And then I figure it's nobody's business but mine. The book dictates the rules.
That may mean the book won't sell, but what the heck, if it doesn't, I'll start another one. You can't get too hung up on writing best sellers. That eats up your mind.
Jon--I like your rule No. 4. Few people know how to truly work a crime scene--or fly a fighter plane--or step into a ring and slug it out in a boxing match. But many of us dream about such stuff.

I'm glad you came out with that rule. Somebody had to sooner or later.
Jesus H., rules? I guess I have some, but they change from moment to moment. The only thing I do with enough regularity to call a rule is 'write every day.' And I even break that one from time to time.

1. Never drink until the writing is done.

2. Get the writing done fast.
I disagree, you never know what might come out of that drunken stupor. Edgar Allen Poe wrote often when he was stoned. But I don't recommend it, the liver tends to revolt.
My rules:

#1: Get it done.

#2: Edit the royal living hell out of it.

#3: Do #2 again, several times, then repeat.

#4: Get started on the new project and get it done.

I hereby adopt these rules as my own.

Here are "The Six Most Common Mistakes That Thriller Writers Make," lifted from
David Montgomery's summary of Joseph Finder's presentation at ThrillerFest a while back. This was posted at David's excellent Crime Fiction Dossier blog. I could have saved myself a few rewrites of my first thriller if I'd kept these pointers in mind from the beginning:

MISTAKE #1: The Passive Hero

Too many thrillers have heroes who don't act; they remain passive while events take place around them.
The hero must advance the plot; s/he must take action. The hero can't simply investigate what's going on -- he must do something about it.

MISTAKE #2: The Long Setup

The story takes too long to get moving. Authors shouldn't just dump story on the reader; they should reveal it through action. Too many books start with a good opening, but then slow down to a crawl. One way to avoid this is to start the story as late as possible. If necessary, you can then go back and fill in details later on.

MISTAKE #3: The Weak Second Act

Too many books bog down in the middle, degenerating into repetitive conflict and simply regurgitating the same plot points over and over. The characters aren't progressing and changing. The conflict of a plot must progress and escalate; the plot points must change and vary throughout the narrative. This escalation of conflict, as well as variance of conflict, will not only keep the reader's interest, but help to develop and reveal character as well. The introduction of subplots will also help keep the second act moving. Whenever things start to get dull, remember: REVERSE, REVEAL, SURPRISE. Every scene must advance the plot.

MISTAKE #4: Predictability

Authors should never underestimate their readers, most of whom have read a lot of books and seen even more movies and TV shows. Readers know the tropes and cliches of the genre. If the story is predictable, they'll see where it's going a long way off and get bored. The key is to surprise them. Veer off from the expected course.
If the obvious development is to take the plot in a certain direction, consider taking it in a different direction instead. One way to avoid this trap is not to over-outline. Be spontaneous in your writing. Allow the characters and the plot to surprise you.

MISTAKE #5: The Lousy Ending

Too many books send the reader off on a sour note by finishing with a lousy ending. A great ending is second only to a great beginning in importance. The ending should not consist of explaining everything that happened before or tying up all the loose ends. You should explain as little as possible; let the reader figure out the smaller details on his/her own. Great endings off have symmetry to the beginning.
Twists can be good, but they must be earned. They must be set up earlier in the book and prepared for.
When you finish the book, get out of there ASAP. Don't draw things out.

MISTAKE #6: Showing Off

Too many writers make the mistake of: "I've done the research; I'm going to cram it all in there."
You should tell the reader the minimum they need in order to understand the plot; just the tip of the iceberg.
Pare it down, leaving only the juiciest nuggets behind. Too much info will only slow down the story.

BONUS MISTAKE #1: Overly Explicit Dialogue

People don't narrate a story when they speak; they don't dump details and information.
People speak elliptically. Watch out for expository dialogue.

BONUS MISTAKE #2: All Plot, No People

The story won't matter if we don't care about the characters. On its own, the plot is abstract; it requires the characters to make it real and make it matter to the reader. Also, the stakes of the plot must matter to the characters in order for us to care as readers.

BONUS MISTAKE #3: Action Is Boring

Unlike in film where action scenes can be exciting, in books they too often are boring. What is interesting to the reader is how the characters react to the action and how they interact with each other. There should also be variety in your scenes; don't follow an action scene with another action scene and another action scene. Vary the pace, vary the types of scenes, slow down and speed up in order to give the reader a break and keep them interested.

BONUS MISTAKE #4: Backstory Dump

Don't make the mistake of dumping the characters' backstory on the reader all at once. It will bring your plot to a halt and bore the reader. Reveal the backstory slowly, in pieces, as necessary.
Drop references in here and there; include mentions in dialogue; intersperse little details throughout the plot.
There is always a trade-off of CHARACTER vs. PACE. It's important to find the balance of revealing enough about the characters in order to make them interesting and make the reader care about them, versus the need to keep the plot moving.


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