rules-header-fullA notebook for fiction writers and aspiring novelists. One editor’s perspective.

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Welcome to the blog!
……Here’s what’s what.

My name is Dave Workman. I’m an acquisitions and content editor for Muse Harbor Publishing. I began writing Rules of Engagement for beginning (or curious) writers, based on what I perceive to be fundamental obstacles that many of us confront when starting, or struggling through, a new novel. Perhaps I can offer useful advice—or maybe not—although I certainly know what excites me as a reader, and what excites me as an editor who accepts or rejects manuscripts. Thus, the following comments (it’s a work-in-progress at the moment) may be worth a look.

1. Good Writing, Bad Advice. Ultimately, it’s your book.
Rule #1: Finish your book.
Rule #2: Don’t listen to anybody’s advice if that advice doesn’t resonate.

2. Simple, But Exciting. Juggle precision with passion.
Rule #7
Write in clear, precise sentences. Communicate to your reader in intelligent thoughts, carefully constructed, while providing a constant, continual procession of relevant information.
Rule #5: Continually scene set, character build or move the plot forward. (Nothing else matters.)

3. Exciting, But Simple. Juggle passion with precision.
Rule #3.
Write to please yourself, first and foremost. If you’re not fully engaged in your writing, potentially dull and tedious prose won’t thrill readers. But excited writers tend to produce exciting prose.

4. Active Writing (Part 1). Active Voice. How to find it. How to keep it.
Rule #8:
Keep characters in motion. Either through action or dialogue, you’re continually pushing characters toward drama or pulling them away from action.

5. Active Writing (Part 2). Active Language (Grammar).
Rule #6:
The Jumping Cow Rule (Active vs. Passive Voice).

6. Active Writing (Part 3). Active Composition (Plotting)
Rule #14:
Develop your story from A-to-Z. Know where you’re going.

7. Where To Start. Discover your story’s core elements.
Rule #11:
Get acquainted with your story.
Rule #100:
Get Over Yourself. Creativity is often messy, incomplete and open for revision. Don’t begin to write with the assumption that you’ll immediately write a best seller. Don’t assume you’ll never change a word, a thought, a plot structure. If something’s not working, try different methods, styles, a new subplot or two. Have fun. If you’re not having fun writing, you’re doing something wrong. Perfection (as you’re about to discover) doesn’t exist.

8. Perfection. Do your best, and then move on.
Rule #25: Perfection in writing doesn’t exist.
Rule #4: Do the best you can. That’s all readers can ask.

9. Action/Reaction. A novel is an endless series of relevant connections.
Rule #10:
In fiction, for every action, provide a reaction.

10. Show, Don’t Tell. We’ve all heard this advice a thousand times before. And it’s still relevant.

11. What’s Your Intention? A brief guide to rational writing.
Rule #29:
Your characters may remain mysterious, elusive or distracted, but your prose must remain clear and concise.

12. Focus on the Now. Stay in the moment.
Rule #16:
Focus on the now.

13. Hammering It Out. When writing a novel, patience is truly a virtue.
Rule #28:
Write one thought at a time. (And don’t worry about the rest.)

14. My Favorite Films About Writers and Writing. A personal aside.

15. Finding Your Voice (Part 1). Find a style and stick with it.
Rule #9:
A great novel is not so much what you tell, but how you tell it. That’s a writer’s unique style. Finding one is imperative.

16. Finding Your Voice (Part 2). Do your characters speak to you?
Rule #12:
Shut up and let your characters tell their own stories.

17. Finding Your Voice (Part 3). Point of View: Narrative vs. Authorial Voice.

18. Basic Plotting (Part 1). Right Brain (creative thinking) vs. Left Brain (critical thinking). Unfortunately, we need both halves.

19. Basic Plotting (Part 2). Plot Ahead.

20. Basic Plotting (Part 3). It’s all about the drama, dahlings.
Rule #27.
Make drama your novel’s constant companion.

21. Action vs. Information. The Oil & Water of Novel Writing.
Rule #26:
Don’t mix Action and Information scenes. Keep these two incompatible concepts (relatively) separate.

22. Dialogue (Part 1). Writing Great Dialogue: An Absolute Necessity.
Rule #30: Create dialogue that—like narration—accomplishes one of three specific goals: 1) Sets a scene; 2) Develops a character and/or; 3) Moves the plot forward.

23. Dialogue (Part 2). Writing Great Dialogue: Balancing reality and fiction — two very distinct realities.
Rule #39: Never reveal too much relevant information too quickly.
Rule #39A:
…but relevant or not, always keep dialogue witty and compelling.

24. Dialogue (Part 3). Writing Great Dialogue isn’t about epic plotting. It’s simpler than that. Rule #41: Great fiction isn’t about ‘what happens.’ It’s about ‘what happens to people.’

25. Dialogue (Part 4). Dialogue vs. Monologue. The key to precise communication with your readers is knowing when to use what.

26. Dialogue (Part 5). Writing Great Dialogue in First Person (POV).
Rule #45:
First Person POV readers aren’t expecting absolute authenticity so much as absolute personality.

27. Dialogue (Part 6A). The Q. & A. page.
Rule #48: Don’t use dialogue as an alternative to directly depicting action or drama.

28. Dialogue (Part 6B). The Q. & A. page (Cont’d).

29. Dialogue (Part 7). Attribution. The ‘he said/she said’ of writing dialogue. Because sometimes visual subtleties matter.
Rule #55:
Don’t just write dialogue, write active dialogue. Avoid ‘talking heads’ scenes by maintaining visual stimulation or plot momentum during scenes of intense dialogue.

30. Dialogue (Part 8). When not to use dialogue.

31. Confronting Criticism. Sooner or later, we all confront criticism. How we regard such feedback can be crucial to our eventual success.
Rule #99:
Knowing the difference between constructive criticism and nonproductive criticism is crucial.

32. Scene-Setting. Scene-setting is often the most overlooked of the three essential components of novel writing.
Rule #17: Every scene we write, before we begin (or before we continue) to propel our plot forward, we must establish a viable setting for our characters, and a firm grounding for our readers.

33. Fundamentals. Discovering the ‘pillars’ of a successful novel.
Rule #98: Make a hard copy (paper) back-up of your manuscript every now and then, even if you’re still working in draft mode. (See Finagle’s Law. But brace yourself.)

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