Posts Tagged ‘writing rules’

A few weeks ago I told you that I registered for a number of writing courses, to bring me back into a more structured way of thinking about writing.

I have completed the first one, which focussed on plot, and it was both extremely interesting and slightly perturbing.

I try to take in all the rules and suggestions but sometimes I struggle to see writing as an academic exercise.  I wonder why we have so many rules in place for our work, creating artificial barriers and sections, when many of the most successful and prolific writers we read never once went to a lecture on narrative structure!

Still, it makes me think a little more about what a publisher is looking for, and there is definitely a structure which is considered less ‘risky’.

My first novel does not fit this, or at least it doesn’t cleanly fit it.  I debate the benefit of trying to force my story into a new structure simply to meet some short-hand standard, and I don’t know that I want to edit with that standard in mind.

However, for future works this is a good way to manage the planning and plotting process.

The benefit of rules in writing is that they provide the foundations on which to hang the clothes of your story. There is a controlling element that can be utilised to pull you back into line or show you where there is room for growth.

Rules are the corsetry of your story.

Some writers are confident and skilled enough go be free but at this point, with the writing market as it is and the unwillingness of agents to take on first time writers, rules make sense to get past the first hurdle and at least be read.

Interestingly though, the rules I am learning now are not those I was taught before – in a relatively short space of time the focus of writing has changed.  I am not sure if that is partly to do with the audience – my first course was via a UK university, the current courses are via a US university – or if the writing market really has changed so much in a few years.

I have been told that agents are moving out of fiction into non-fiction, read that unknown authors are too high risk for significant numbers to be taken on, and that the amount people can expect to earn from their writing is diminishing.  It would not surprise me at all to learn that agents look for a specific structure in the work they receive because they have to limit their own risk.

I wonder if it’s true that a reader will be dissatisfied if the rules aren’t followed, as is the message.  I need to read with the rules in mind, see how they affect my experience of a story.

Mostly though, I need to understand them fully because unless I do, I won’t know whether to risk breaking them!

Happy writing,





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This week I have written, and done other stuff, and it’s that point in the cycle when I get a sense of deja vu as I type.  It’s not interesting to keep saying the same thing and I’m sure it’s not interesting to keep reading it.

Instead, I’m going to talk about haiku.  Because – why not?!

I think that trying to write a haiku is great way to become comfortable with poetry.  There are loads of reasons for this, but here are a few key reasons:

1. They are short.  A haiku is only 3 lines long, 17 syllables – compare that to something famous like Funeral Blues, and it’s less than an eighth of a more ‘standard’ Western poetic style.  Compare it to something you might have read at school, like I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud and it’s less than a twelfth.  For an aspiring poet, this can relieve some of the pressure!

2. They have clear rules.  You can choose to ignore them, or play around with them, but the rules are there as a starting point.  For some writers it is hard to know how to go about writing poetry.  People don’t always know where to start, or what sounds right, or feels right, or what constitutes a poem.  I personally find it difficult to explain myself, except by expressing  it through a sense of feeling and rhythm so I completely understand their frustrations!

And once you have more confidence, you can break the rules – which is very satisfying!

3. They are fun.  Although traditionally there is a seasonal link to them, that doesn’t mean they have to be staid.  For example:

Pollen fills my nose.

I sneeze, louder than thunder:

Welcome to the spring!

(and thanks to my partner for the inspiration here; he wrote a rather cheeky haiku about how loudly I sneeze when we were on retreat as one of his first ever attempts at poetry!).

And ok, it’s not sophisticated, but it took about a minute to write so at least it shows they don’t have to be heavy-going.  In fact, for anyone interested in writing on a regular basis, this style of poem is a good daily or weekly exercise; I was encouraged to write them regularly when I did my second writing course and it did help form the daily writing habit which is so important.

So there you have it – I’m progressing ok with the book but a haiku is more interesting right now!

In other news – last week I missed Kim by Rudyard Kipling on the 100 novels list, and this week we have The Call of the Wild by Jack London.  I haven’t read either, although I have another Jack London book in my reading pile, and I’ve read other Kipling.  Maybe I’ll add these in, but my reading pile is getting a little too big at the moment, with everything else I’ve got going on, so I’ll see how things are doing later in the year before I make a decision.

Also – And completely randomly, I saw a politician on TV today with a brooch on made from a page of Alice in Wonderland.  I only knew this because I’ve been looking at a website selling literary items (and I can’t link because I was looking at a present for someone!), but it entertained me!

And finally – I saw this article recently; I’m not sure how I missed it because it’s the kind of thing I look out for, but there you go. I love the idea that you can write an algorithm to define, with an 84% accuracy, whether a book will be a success or not.  Who cares about how the reader responds to the story, writing, characters, setting and so on – if I just write ‘and’ and ‘but’ more often, I’ll be published in no time… The computer said so!

Until next time – happy writing,




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