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.

  1. This is writing, not physics...no rule is absolute.
  2. Still, there's generally a very good reason for a rule. Don't break a rule until you understand that reason.
    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.
    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).

    The point?

    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.

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