Dave's Guide to Guides to Writing
copyright 1998 by Dave Van Domelen
There's a bunch of very good guides out there about how to write,
especially how to write heroic fiction online. I'm not going to try to
repeat everything they say, much of it good advice. Rather, I have two rules
to offer that should help you make sense of all the other rules.
Back in my senior year of undergraduate study, I took the required
speech course. Having competed in debate and public speaking in high school,
I already knew most of the material to be covered, and concentrated more on
having fun with my assignments.
- This is writing, not physics...no rule is absolute.
- Still, there's generally a very good reason for a rule. Don't break
a rule until you understand that reason.
After one speech, where I campaigned for Pat Paulsen's presidential run,
the teacher turned to the class and said, "Now, class...David just broke
almost every rule in the book, but while he managed to do a good job anyway,
please don't try to copy him." It was true. I'd broken eye contact, turned
my back on the audience, wandered about the room, leaned on the table, done
just about everything you're not supposed to do according to the rules of
speechifying. I also got an A on the speech. Why? Because I knew WHY the
rules were in place, from experience, and knew how to break them without
suffering the consequences. You maintain eye contact to keep from looking
down at your notes (I had no notes) and to make sure the audience knows
you're talking to them (I was campaigning at them, I think they were glad for
a break in the attention). You face the audience so they can hear you, among
other reasons (I knew how to project). You stand still with good posture to
avoid slouching and other things which make you look like you don't want to
be there (I was haranguing the audience, and very into it).
When you're starting out, don't assume that because great writers never
follow the rules that you don't have to either. You're not e.e. cummings, so
hit the shift key once in a while. You're not Christopher Priest, so try to
keep more or less to a linear storytelling style. And so forth. Once you've
been at it a while, you'll have a feel for where you, personally, can break
the rules while still turning out good stories. It varies for everyone,
according to their strengths and weaknesses as writers, so I won't bother
going into detail.
Following the rules will not guarantee good stories, and almost
certainly guarantees you won't write a great story...great stories frequently
break the rules in some way that leaves the reader amazed. But it *will*
improve the chances you aren't writing a BAD story. Learn the technical
aspects of the craft first, then experiment when you feel ready. Don't
expect to be an ace stunt pilot without first putting in a lot of time on
routine take-offs and landings. If you do, you WILL crash.
Dave's Philosophical Natterings
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