I was so such a newbie when I started to do the thing that I’d wanted to do since I was 12 – write and publish a book!
When I picked up the pen many years later (!) to write the story that was begging to be told, I got stuck after Chapter 1. I realised that if I was going to be serious about writing I needed something to help me with the structure. I found models and began to use one I particularly liked. This was good. I was able to get beyond Chapter 1 and further until I’d finished my book – I was so proud at 44,000 words.
But while I was writing and researching the craft of writing I discovered that not only did there tend to be a formulaic model for writing, but that there were also rules!
The first one was:
Apparently adverbs were bad. And I had adverbs everywhere! I went back through my manuscript to hunt down and kill all adverbs. This was a momentous task. But I must have learnt something because I’m three-quarters of the way through my second WIP and there’s hardly an adverb in sight.
This is a subject that appears to be hotly debated. I think the numbers are slightly skewed towards not having either. I’d started my first novel with a Prologue. In the end the Prologue went.
3 Showing not telling
This was just as big as adverbs. I was telling everywhere. This one I struggled with much more than the adverbs. Back through the manuscript again. I tried to rewrite everywhere where I was telling and not showing.
Was/Were seemed to be a culprit here too. And, yep, I was doing a lot of that. Out came as many wases and weres as possible (I think I just made up some new words).
4 Character description
Many websites I read suggested not describing my character all at once but peppering descriptions throughout the story. Right. But I rebelled against this a wee bit. I’m a very visual person. When I’m reading I need to know quickly what a character looks like. Tall? Short? Eye colour? Age? Hair – short, long, colour?
5 Don’t use ‘very’ or ‘suddenly’
Can’t remember why you’re not supposed to use ‘suddenly’. But ‘very’ is supposed to be redundant eg It was very hot. The premise is either it’s hot or it’s not. So you could say instead: The heat was scorching (I know, I’ve used ‘was’ but work with me!).
6 Don’t begin a story with the weather or a character’s physical description
I think the weather thing is because it’s a bit of a cliché.
7 Use writing models
There are heaps out there and they follow the same formula albeit using different names for the different stages. The model has been a God-send and has been so helpful in moving my story on and figuring out what happens at each stage. Now having used the model three times, I’m allowed to say it’s really formulaic. What if I want to do something different at a certain stage? Can I? But I might get told off because I’ve broken a rule.
So being the good observer and wanting to do things right I’ve been studying these rules and applying them with a vengeance. But then it why is it that these rules seemed to be applied half-heartedly. The more I read and was aware of what I should or shouldn’t be doing the more I found published authors were breaking those rules!
Markus Zusak used ‘very enthusiastically’ together. Two no-nos.
Maria Barrett’s Elle, was full of adverbs. I particularly noticed them because I’d just finished reading heaps about eliminating adverbs. I still liked her story and didn’t feel in any way that the adverbs let the story down.
James Patterson’s 10th Anniversary – I counted four adverbs by page eight. He tends to describe his characters straight up.
Robyn Carr’s The Wanderer used adverbs and ‘very’, and The Newcomer, in some places, told rather than showed.
Wulf by Steve Harris – full of adverbs and ‘very’.
I decided that all these rules were a conspiracy. I did a further exercise. Over a period of a month browsing through my local bookstore I would pick up a new release at random either turn to the front page or somewhere random. And what did I find? Adverbs, telling and not showing. I counted four wases and weres on the first page of a very (oops!) prolific writer. Two books had prologues. Arrgh! How do these get past an editor if these are supposed to be the rules? Or is it that once you’re so well known the rules don’t apply anymore?
I’m currently reading Fiona McIntosh’s The French Promise This book starts with a prologue (a long prologue too at over 25 pages long). Her character descriptions appear all in one paragraph – great! I quickly have a clear picture of what the character looks like. Fiona is a new author I’ve just discovered and I love her writing.
I’m much more relaxed now about the so-called rules. I do my best to not use adverbs and show not tell etc but you know what? Rules are made to be broken and the best advice I’ve come across is as follows:
And my favourite one:
What do you think? If you write, do you play by the rules? What do you think when you see a rule being broken by a writer?
Rachel McKee said:
Such good advice Casey, thank you.
Rachel McKee said:
Which story model do you like, where can I find it? Thank you.
I’m using Michael Hauge’s one at the moment http://www.storymastery.com/story/screenplay-structure-five-key-turning-points-successful-scripts/ in combination with http://jamigold.com/2012/11/write-romance-get-your-beat-sheet-here/. Jamie’s is more for romance but basic concepts can be followed. I would also like to try Blake Synder’s Save the Cat model.
Rachel McKee said:
Thank you for sharing Casey, I can’t wait to check these out.
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Oh dear, I actually had a laugh at some of these. Those poor adverbs, what have they ever done to you? My favourite author did almost everything you mentioned as a no-no, even epilogues, and I still think she’s the most awesome ever.
There’s nothing wrong at all with any those rules — just that it doesn’t really mean all or nothing! Killing all the adverbs is a bit excessive, but putting too many of them in isn’t a good idea either. Everything in moderation, I think that’s the key.
(I completely agree with Maugham, by the way.)
I’d love to meet your writer friend! Thanks for commenting – you’re right about not taking them to the extreme. In fact, I’ve just put in a couple of adverbs in my latest WIP, just because I can!
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