I remember thinking, at 16-years old, “I can rebuild that carburetor. How hard can it be?” Or there was the time I said to my wife, “We don’t need to spend money on a driving school; we can teach the kids to drive ourselves.” And I’ll always remember, “Remodel the kitchen? Sure! No problem!”
Skinned knuckles, hurt feelings, and a lot of cursing later, I always discovered my optimism was sadly misplaced.
But somehow, when it came to writing, the same bit of nonsense dribbled through my mind, “I can write a novel. How hard can it be?”
Flashback to 2010
A fresh Word document is open. The little blinky cursor line (I call it a curse line today) is mocking me. I want to write a story. A novel. With characters and whatnot. Words. Sentences. Explosions, sex, violence.
Okay. Go ahead. Start.
“Chapter One” I type. Good. What next? I indent the words. Then I center them. Then I change it to read “Chapter 1.” I hit enter, enter. Tab.
Ready for the first paragraph.
So I think, “What do I want my story to be about?”
Without going into a painful recounting of that whole mess, let’s jump forward a little to the point where the first draft is complete, which is when I learn how truly bad it sucked. I was fortunate enough to fall into a critique community chock full of people who ripped my writing to
It was at this point, I learned “The Rules.”
Thou shalt not commit adverbary. It was revealed unto me that adverbs are tools of the devil and their usage would condemn me to everlasting hell. Based on that advice, I dutifully (see what I did there?) purged my work of anything ending in LY. Period. If it modified a verb,
Thou shalt not write in passive voice. The rule itself, I later learned, is bogus. Passive voice doesn’t mean what they think it means. What they mean to say is: Don’t use weak verbs to convey meaning. Was is the biggest offender, and too much wassing is a mortal sin. So I went forth and rid my manuscript of all the “was” verbs I could, rewriting entire paragraphs in order to
Thou shalt not tell, thou shalt show. This one was trickier. Instead of saying: Johnny felt sick to his stomach, one should say something like: Queasiness made Johnny dizzy. I was supposed to show the action/result rather than tell the reader what happened. Sometimes a simple show can result in a two-dozen word rewrite. But them’s the rules, chump.
Thou shalt not infodump backstory. In my first weak attempts at novel writing, I created all these cool characters and I wanted to share them with everyone. So I told readers all about the character’s history, starting from when dey wuz babies and carrying on trew dey adultness. That earned me the scarlet letter of N for novice, newbie, nincompoop.
So after learning these rules (and many more, like: Don’t eat peanut butter and type at the same time.) I rewrote my story.
And it still sucked.
Now we must fast forward another few months, during which I had a number of epiphanies. Call them codicils to The Rules.
One, it’s about the character, stupid. People read stories for the characters. Period. They like your character, and care what happens to him or her, they’ll turn to page two.
Two, it’s about the plot, dimwit. People continue to read stories for the plot. Are the things happening to the character interesting, unique, challenging, and/or thought-provoking? If it is, the reader keeps turning the pages until the end.
Three, it’s about the journey, moron. People will enjoy what they read, and tell their friends to read it, if the journey was fulfilling in some way. They followed the character through the plot and had a good time doing it. The journey made them happy, sad, angry, or whatever. They learned something, or laughed out loud, or got a thrill from blowing up the container ship full of pirates.
The Cow Patties
So these days, what I try to do is avoid the cow patties in the trail. Trust me, if you’ve ever walked barefoot in the country, you know the feeling of fresh cow dung squeezing between your toes. Pretty much what it feels like to me when I realize I’ve over-adverbed a scene. Or used too many wasses. Or told instead of shown. These are the mechanics of writing and it’s good to know what they look like.
All of The Rules have their place, but strict adherence will not help your writing, IF you fail to create an interest cast of characters and send them on a satisfying journey.
I know when I do that, I win.
Scott Bell has over 25 years of experience protecting the assets of retail companies. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice from North Texas State University.
With the kids grown and time on his hands, Scott turned back to his first love—writing. His short stories have been published inThe Western Online, Cast of Wonders, and in the anthology, Desolation.
When he’s not writing, Scott is on the eternal quest to answer the question: What would John Wayne do?
Author’s Blog - http://snapshooter4hire.com/
Yeager's Law is available on Amazon!