Feeling quite good about myself right now, because I've got feedback from Weathermen and one of my recent shorts rolling in, and the feedback is all positive. Really positive. (Except for that ABNA bullshit).
It's extremely satisfying, because the folk now giving me the thumbs up are the people who have been giving me the thumbs down (and the tentative horizontal thumb wiggle) for the past three years. Sorry, Mum and Dad, but your encouraging reviews will always come with a little bit of parental bias. Meanwhile, the folk in the Writer's Block have been unremittingly harsh and honest, and their advice has been more beneficial than any writing course or degree could be.
What I've learned from the Writer's Block is that there are rules of grammar, and there are rules of flow, and there are rules of language. There are no rules of storywriting. The way a person should construct a story depends on what sort of story that person likes to write and how they write it. Hemingway and Kerouac both write about real people in real situations, but nobody would argue that they should both construct their stories in the same way. They each build their stories in a way that best complements the way they approach language, and nobody would argue that their methods don't work for them.
So, based on my few years of writing, and the way I mangle language, and the sort of stories I like to write, these are the lessons I've learned that work for ME. They might work for other people... but maybe not. I'm just saying, someone could have written these lessons down on a piece of paper and handed them to me three years ago and it wouldn't have helped me at all. You need to discover through application, not through lecturing.
How Ruzkin Should Write (narrated in grandiose 3rd person)
1) Some writers are great at constructing side-scenes that don't advance the story but greatly advance a character or setting. Ruzkin is not. Ruzkin best advances his settings and characters when they're in the thick of the story. Ruzkin should cut every scene that doesn't immediately advance the story.
(eg, Weathermen had almost 30,000 words of unnecessary walking. I cut it all. An Unknown Hunger had 1000 words of tennis that meant nothing. I cut it. Both are much stronger as a result)
2) Ruzkin sometimes comes up with a single great mystery that drags a story along, but he now knows that one mystery isn't always enough to engage a reader for an extended period. A second mystery lying tangential to the first will be much stronger. A third, minor mystery (usually character based) will round things out.
Mysteries cannot clash, twist or become too ridiculous. Ruzkin is not a master of super twisty mysteries and shouldn't try to be.
(eg, in Weathermen, the characters are wondering a) why did our Tower collapse? and b) where did everybody go? Each character also has their own mysteries that don't intersect with (a) or (b) at all, but create ongoing interest. In An Unknown Hunger, we get two mysteries within the first paragraph. a) What are these new memories? and b) who are those folk waiting below my window? In the first draft of An Unknown Hunger, there was no b) mystery. As a result, the story was lacklustre.)
3) Ruzkin can't write sympathetic arseholes. When he tries it just comes out lame. Don't let him try. If he tries, slap his knuckles with a ruler.
4) Some folk (see Stephen King) have a strange ability to describe a scene in vivid, complete detail. In his book On Writing he described it as "writing for cinema", and it's an ability that Ruzkin doesn't share. Ruzkin should instead do what his very smart friend Andrew recommended, and focus on small, specific aspects of a larger scene.
5) Ruzkin loves reading horror. Ruzkin isn't very good at writing horror. Ruzkin should stay away from horror.
6) To write in all-caps at any point is to be a wanker.
7) Not every story needs to contain a full evolution of a character. When Ruzkin first started writing short stories he tried to compress all three stages of the standard heroe's journey into 5000 words. This was a mistake. Some people might be able to do it. Those people are not Ruzkin.
8) Ruzkin read once that the proper way to write was to settle down with a project and not stand up until it was done. 100% focus on a single thing at any time. Well, that might work for some, but not for Ruzkin. Ruzkin gets his best ideas for projects while working on other projects, and so flits between whatever seems to work best for him at the time. Okay, it means I don't get a novel done every 3 months. It means I get a novel done every 8 months, plus short stories and outlines for future novels. That's alright by me.
Shit. I've slipped out of third person.
Gotta wrap up before this post hits novel length, but I'd like to ask: What are the personal rules that you've developed for your writing? I'm especially interested in the ones that contradict specific advice other people have given you. Share your ideas!