When I finished National Novel Writing Month this year, I completed a novel. Its manuscript weighs in just under 85,000 words. It is ready for a clean-up and a potential run for the slush pile. I’ve done this for twelve years.
After I finished this particular novel, I was awestruck by what had happened to me. Only blank pages existed a month ago; now, an entire new book exists. I re-read page after page after I reached the end, stunned that a story formed from nothing.
It’s readable, too, even with my marks and notes.
That doesn’t seem too anarchistic. It’s not rebellious, is it? Maybe not, but it came from nowhere and formed from nothing. It was a Big Bang, a creation that defied logic. I outlined it, but it didn’t stick to the script. It evolved on its own, tossed on a pair of 20-eye Doc Martens, slung on its Sex Pistols tee held together by safety pins, and shrugged on a beaten-up leather jacket with its hand-painted circle and jagged-drawn A. Then, it left me behind with a, “S’long, Mum.”
So, here are 10 Rules I follow (and break) when I write. Take ’em and break ’em as needed. This is anarchy. This is writing chaos theory. This is rebelling against whatever they got.
1. Let me be who I am.
The point of anarchy or rebellion is to decisively say no to the status quo. Some people may not like what you have to say, but some will. My voice evolved over a couple decades, after I knocked out page after page until it became easier just to tell it in my own voice instead of trying to emulate “the greats”.
If people can’t understand you, then that is your problem. You have something to say, so why let readers write you off because you misuse something as basic as you’re and your? It’s = it IS. You’re = You ARE. Apostrophes are safety pins which hold two words together.
If you can’t remember that, then go watch Schoolhouse Rock. It’s fun. It even has ducks at Conjunction Junction.
3. I predict a riot.
Rebel writers can outline all we want to, but the story is going to get out of control. Develop your own tricks to keep editing chaos to a dull roar. I drop date markers into my stories to keep consistent timelines. If I write in a hero item, then I make notes as to who has it when. If I want something foreshadowed, then I make notes during a back-to-front pass. In the thick of things, the plot can become bedlam. With date stamps and bracketed notes added as the story is written, I save myself editing headaches in the long run.
4. Mind the bollocks.
Writing the opposite sex is a challenge. The first draft of the Dome Trilogy was criticized by a test reader because most of the men sounded like women. I had to observe and listen to real people interact in everyday life to learn how to write men. I learned men don’t talk much compared to women. This isn’t really a huge discovery, since it’s the number one complaint I hear in relationships. Men transmit information and avoid chatting about feelings; women transmit sensory perceptions and discover their true emotions through sharing feelings. Men will joke; women will sympathize and empathize. Is this a hard-and-fast rule? No, but knowing what motivates men and women by watching people as an uninvolved observer can help.
5. I can’t control my fingers; I can’t control my brain.
In real life, people don’t stand still when the have conversations. They gesticulate. They emote with facial gestures. They move around. Describing characters’ body language and actions during dialogue can cue the reader in on what’s really happening. For example, I had a character in my NaNoWriMo 2014 book have a secret crush on another. The reader could tell by the character’s actions long before the big revelation. Tense and terse dialogue, discomfort, and hints not picked up by the object of the crush told the truth to the reader even as the characters lied to each other.
Personality quirks which differentiate characters can be expressed through body language during dialogue time, too. In the Cryptid Series, one of the characters obsessively and semi-consciously fidgets with a ring in the first book. Physical movement are tells, letting a reader know something is up.
6. There is no rule number six.
It’s your story. Only you can tell it. Moving on.
7. I’m gonna smash it up til there’s nothing left.
Friction drive stories and evolves characters. If there’s a lull that’s dragging the entire plot down, then I create conflict. Most often, I take two characters who have discordant personalities and make them interact.
8. We’re the people you don’t wanna know.
I am guilty of the bad habit of writing casts of thousands. Even I get confused. Sometimes, I will just take an established character and give them a scene previously owned by a walk-on role. If a character is part of the literary chorus line, then I don’t give that person a name. They’re only there to add to the background of the actual scene.
9. It’s just a personality crisis, please don’t stop.
The main character has a life lesson to learn in every one of my stories. I tend to have one overarching personality issue which has to change over the course of the story. The denial of the problem evolves into a fight not to change until the character has to change. Sometimes it’s gentle; sometimes, abrupt. The person on page one, however, is not the same one on the last page.
10. It’s all the same thing, no new tale to tell.
People always say, “Write what you know.” That would limit us to memoirs if that advice was taken literally. The human experience, the inner journey, is what I write. Where I falter or have seen other falter, characters do. Where I evolve or have seen others evolve, characters do. I love to read because I learn how other authors express the same human journey. Imperfection is a gift, an opportunity to evolve and grow and learn.
No writing rules can make a writer of someone who isn’t, just like no amount of knowing the mechanics of poetry will make me a poet. Everyone has talents which grab hold of them and will not let go for love nor money.
Writing isn’t what I do, it’s who I am. If you’re a rebel writer? Then write your own rules, too, and kick out your jams.