What it Means When Someone Tries to Tell You THE Rules of Good Writing

Our writing idol gets it right yet again:

Rules

by Charlie Jane Anders (io9.Com)

There’s only one rule for how to write a story, and that’s: “Write a good story.” Apart from that, anything goes, as long as you can pull it off. (And some things are harder to pull off than others.) But sometimes, people will try and teach you ironclad rules of fiction writing. Like, avoid an omniscient narrator, or introduce your main character on the first page.

There’s only a few things it could mean when someone tries to teach you the rules of writing.
1) These are rules that work for this person, and they might work for you, too.
Every writer has rules that work for him or her personally — that’s part of figuring out how to make this crazy anarchic process happen. At the very least, you can’t write any story without figuring out what rules you’re going to follow for that story in particular. So it’s easy enough to go from figuring out rules that work for you personally to deciding that you’ve got the rules that work for everybody — and indeed, these rules might turn out to be helpful for you as well.

And if someone says, “This is the rule everybody should follow,” just try and hear, “This is a rule that works for me personally, and might work for you.” And really, this person is giving you an insight into his or her writing process, which could be super valuable and help you to cop a bit of that writer’s mojo. A rule that works for someone else is often something you should at least give a try.

2) This person is writing in a particular genre where these things are accepted conventions.
And if you want to write epic fantasy or hard space opera or whatnot, then you will indeed have to know what rules people currently writing in those subgenres are adhering to. (Unless you want to be the radical rebel who redefines the genre, or dies trying. Or, in some notable cases, both.)

3) This person knows that some writers can break these rules and prosper — but has decided that you’re not one of those writers.
At least, not yet. Because maybe you need to learn to color inside the lines before you start ignoring the lines. Maybe you need to figure out how to write a pretty standard issue story, where we meet the main character in the first sentence and the conflict is spelled out right away and the action is fully linear and there are no adverbs and everybody learns a lesson — and then once you’ve mastered that, you can start mixing it up.

On the other hand, let’s say for the sake of argument that you’re an absolute beginner like David Bowie. And you’re still writing your first few stories ever — following someone else’s rules, no matter how simple, might make that early learning curve *harder*, not easier. You might be trying so hard to conform to this other person’s formula that you get messed up. Plus, when you’re just getting started, that’s the time you should take the most crazy risks. Try everything. Try everything twice. Don’t look both ways before you cross the street. Make as many and as crazy mistakes as you can. Your early stories are probably going to be epic disasters anyway — although you might break that rule, too — so you might as well make the most interesting mistakes possible. You’ll screw up either way, and you might learn more by screwing up big.

Should you have your own rules?
Should you have a code of honor, like a noble warrior in the wasteland? Or should you just write without any rules at all? This is obviously a super personal decision, and one that probably results from making lots and lots of mistakes along the way.

(Plus if you listen to enough publishing people talk at conventions or whatnot, you’ll hear stuff like, “I hate when a fantasy novel is written entirely in the second person, future tense. That’s an auto-reject.” And you’ll learn a few things that might make your book or story a harder sell. These things aren’t rules, they’re just things to keep in mind if you want to sell your work to a mainstream publisher.)

Just like there are no rules that work for everybody (other than “finish that story”), there are no rules about whether you should personally have rules. But it’s probably true, for most of us, that every story has its own rules.

Our translation: Nobody can teach anybody else anything. We’ve all got to learn for ourselves. But what others have discovered can help light up the road.

Like, if you start writing a story in tight third person, you probably can’t slip out of third person into first person halfway through the story without annoying the reader. You might decide that a story is going to alternate between events in the present and flashbacks, and that means you’re more or less committed to that structure for the rest of the story. If you set a particular tone in this story, you’ll want to stick to it. Don’t write any checks you’re not going to cash, don’t cash any checks you didn’t write. Etc.

(But of course, you can always revise the story from the ground up, and then the “rules” for that story can change.)

So let’s say that for all but the most experimental fiction, an individual story or novel is going to have its own set of rules — in which case the question becomes, “How much do you want the rules for this one story to become the rules for every story you write?”

And the answer to that question, in turn, depends on a lot of stuff — including the trade-off between consistency and freedom. You may want the leeway to sit down and figure out the “rules” anew every time you start to write a piece of fiction. Or you may want to stick to a set of choices that you know work for you. Plus, you may decide that your “brand” as an author includes a set of parameters, like “tight third person narration” or “experimental tone-poem time-slips,” and you want readers to feel confident that they’ll always get those things when they see your name on something. Not to be crass, but part of getting a following as an author is creating a consistent brand — but of course, your brand can be “you never know what to expect with this writer.”

I guess my final thought here is: You don’t have to have any rules at all, at least not rules that apply to everything you write. But if you do have consistent rules, you should at least know what they are, so you’re not applying them blindly — or serving them rather than having them serve you. Rules should work for you, or there’s no point to them.

Oh, and one other thing that’s a more or less universal rule — try to have fun, as much as possible. You’re making shit up. That should be fun, at least some of the time.

Will Marathon Viewing Become the TV Norm?

We think this is an issue worth discussing. We also think that the answer to the question will be “no,” at least in terms of the general – as in casual – audience. But true believer fans have always been marathon viewers. And now it’s become so much easier!

television2

by John Farier (Neatorama.Com)

I used to watch new episodes of my favorite shows every week on television. Now I watch one show, episode by episode, in sequence and on a computer screen. Then the next show. According to New York Times reporter Brian Stelter, that’s become normal:

Binge-viewing, empowered by DVD box sets and Netflix subscriptions, has become such a popular way for Americans to watch TV that it is beginning to influence the ways the stories are told — particularly one-hour dramas — and how they are distributed. […]

On Friday, Netflix will release a drama expressly designed to be consumed in one sitting:“House of Cards,” a political thriller starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright. Rather than introducing one episode a week, as distributors have done since the days of black-and-white TVs, all 13 episodes will be streamed at the same time. “Our goal is to shut down a portion of America for a whole day,” the producer Beau Willimon said with a laugh.

“House of Cards,” which is the first show made specifically for Netflix, dispenses with some of the traditions that are so common on network TV, like flashbacks. There is less reason to remind viewers what happened in previous episodes, the producers say, because so many viewers will have just seen it. And if they don’t remember, Google is just a click away. The show “assumes you know what’s happening all the time, whereas television has to assume that a big chunk of the audience is always just tuning in,” said Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer.

Television producers now have to grapple with customers who won’t even start watching a series until it’s over:

Some hoarders wait years: Mr. Mazzara, for instance, said he’s waiting to watch HBO’s “Girls” until the whole series is over, several years from now. This stockpiling phenomenon has become so common that some network executives worry that it is hurting new shows because they cancel the shows before would-be viewers get around to watching them.

Economist Tyler Cowen reflects on this trend and notes where immediate sequentialization does and does not work:

You can buy an entire book at once, as serialization — while not dead — has ceased to be the norm for long novels.  At MOMA they do not run an art exhibit by putting up one new van Gogh painting each day.  Coursera, you will note, still uses a kind of serialization model for its classes rather than putting up all the lectures at once; presumably it wishes to synchronize student participation plus it often delivers the content in real time.  Sushi is served sequentially, even though several cold courses presumably could be carried over at once.  Still, a plate in an omakase experience typically has more than one piece of fish.

For TV I do not think upfront bingeing can become the norm.  The model of “I don’t really care about this, but I have nothing much to talk to you about, so let’s sit together and drop commentary on some semi-randomly chosen TV show” seems to work less well when the natural unit of the show is thirteen episodes and you are expected to show dedication.

See the WGAw Awards Show Livestreamed on the Interweb

Yeppers, you can watch the show this Sunday even if you aren’t a member.

Here’s how:

Livestream WGA Awards Capture500

Love & Money Dept – TV Writing Deals for 2/13/13

Latest News About Writers Who Are Doing Better Than We Are
  •  Roseanne Barr (don’t try to pretend you don’t know who she is) has signed a development deal with NBC, although we don’t know if she’ll put on her writing hat.  (Hey, don’t be sad. The network wanted her to play a part on THE OFFICE and this is just part of her payment. Oh, wait, maybe we should be very sad.)
  • Lena Dunham & Jenni Konner (both of ROBOTS GIRLS) are writing an HBO pilot based on Betty Halbreich’s upcoming memoir All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go,  about the trials and tribulations of a Bergdorf Goodman personal shopper. (Yeppers, it’s a fact of life that all HBO subscribers know all about that particular store and even what personal shoppers are. Maybe they even all have them. America, we love you.)
  • Speaking of books, Nathan Bransford’s new book, Jacob Wonderbar and the Interstellar Time Warp is coming out this week, and we’re going way out on a limb to recommend that everybody read this latest installment in his Jacob Wonderbar series.  (Who knows? Maybe he’ll get a TV deal out of it, and we can move into the limelight and claim it’s all because of us. Yeah, we’re adorable that way, hmm?)
  • And, speaking of people who don’t write TV,  MTV has named Mina Lefevre, formerly of ABC Family, head of scripted  programming. If you know Mina, you should give her a call and start pitching. If you don’t know her, you should find a way to wangle a meeting and start pitching. (And if you’re Mina herself, you should start writing your own stuff cuz then you’ll get TVWriter™’s ultimate honor: We’ll put your name in bold the next time we mention it here.

Aha, we knew there was something else. In honor of the fact that we think Nathan Bransford and Jacob Wonderbar are both way cool, here’s the trailer for the new book:

The Doctor Puppet is Now on Facebook

“…Loud sing, huzzah!”

Or something like that.

Here’s his announcement:

Doctor Puppet wants approval

I made a Facebook page! Like me and you can see my travel photos and get news about my animated adventures.

Did I also mention I’m on Twitter?

And YouTube?

What’s that? You aren’t sure what the correct reaction to this is? FWIW, We’re going with “Gloriosky!” and clicking away at the links above.