Lately, I’ve been hearing some writers have rules for their novels and writing in general. This got me thinking––what are my rules? Sure, I’ve got some set in the worlds I create, but that isn’t what they are referring to. Someone pointed me in the direction of a Brandon Sanderson lecture where he talks about tone and making promises. I was intrigued, to say the least. Armed with this, I turned inward and mulled over my own list of criteria.
Disclaimer: These rules are for me, what I go by. They may not apply to you. If you see something you like, take it, make it your own. If they don’t, share your own. A side note: this is approached from a pantser/gardener perspective.
- Set the tone, get to the point, and slow down––Ambivalence isn’t an enduring trait when setting up a story. Intrigue? Yes. Mystery? Absolutely. You want these elements but not at the expense of toying with your reader. So, get to the point. Set the tone with prose, character action/reactions, dialogue, and setting. Setting plays a vital role. If the story opens up at a church, it gives a stark contrast in tone to an opening in a brothel, a movie theater, or gladiatorial games. Once these two are met, now its time to delve a little deeper, set up the world and characters, and to do this, it’s okay to slow down a bit.
- Whittle, chisel, sculpt––Write everything, write it all, even stuff you know you probably won’t need if it will help you as a writer get your head around it. And when it’s done, butcher the hell out of it when editing. If it’s not necessary, carve it out. If it gives some insight to the plot, character, culture, etc., whittle it down to the bare essentials. Use fewer words to get the same meaning across.
- Establish one of the following early in the story: physical, cultural, magical, spiritual, or morality (mores)––This ties back into rule one. Give the reader something to latch onto and expand from there. Once they can begin to understand your world, they can feel they’ve become a part of it. Give them something to root for or hate.
- Ground your character in a relatable aspect––I’ve talked about this at length before, you can find that blog here. The main categories are money, power, sex, family, knowledge, religion, etc. You can always find more out there. Everyone is motivated by something, find your character’s motivation, and make it the backbone––it’s there, it’s essential, but not the forefront. See rule 3.
- Don’t control your characters/story, let them go where they need––Again, this comes from pantsers/gardeners perspective. Adhering to a rigid outline can stifle creativity. For this reason, when I outline, I mark the tentpoles, the big parts that I know I need to hit. The journey from there is just that, a journey. When you are finished with your draft, if you find it meandering too much, see rule 2.
- Let it sit––When you finish, put it aside. If it’s the first book, go on to craft an outline or flesh out ideas for your next book and beyond. Go write another story. Whatever you do, don’t go back into your draft and start the next round. You need to approach it with fresh eyes. Six months would be a reasonable amount of time, long enough for you to be knee-deep in another project. Maybe edit one while writing the other.
So, what are your thoughts? Do you have rules? Share this post and your comments down below.
If you enjoyed this content and you’re an avid, epic fantasy reader or a sci-fi junkie, check out my books, The Bearer of Secrets and The Demon’s Fate on Amazon. All works are available on Kindle Unlimited, eBook, and print. Reviews can be found on Goodreads and Amazon.