Ceinwen Langley’s Ten Utterly Unbreakable Writing Rules
Originally posted on ceinwenlangley.com (RIP) on the 5th of February, 2017.
There is a LOT of writing advice in the world/on the internet. Mostly on the internet. Message boards and facebook groups and sub-reddits are full of advice – often asked for, often… not – about what to do about adverbs (the road to hell), prologues (readers always skip them so don’t bother), present tense (ew), first person (are you a teenage girl? Because otherwise no), love triangles (stop immediately) and so on. Stephen King’s On Writing is cited roughly eight times a topic, occasionally Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat, and a whole lot of ‘personally, as a reader, I’s.’
So to be incredibly helpful, I, a person who wrote a book in first person present with a prologue and a bit of a love triangle, have decided to compile my own list of ABSOLUTELY AND UTTERLY UNBREAKABLE WRITING RULES (you can trust me, I have an IMDB profile and I didn’t even make it myself), drawn from a lifetime of reading and some years of writing.
- Your first draft will probably be horrible. Don’t get upset, lean into it. Be as terrible as you need to find the bones of your story.
- Your second draft will probably suck too. That’s fine. This is why we drink.*
- Prologues are terrible infodumps that all readers skip. Except when they are good, well written, and offer a perspective outside the flow/POV/time period of your narrative.
- You should never write in first or second person point of view. Unless it suits your story and character, in which case definitely write that. I mean, there are only three points of view to choose from, unless you invent a new one. And if you can do that in a cool way that enhances your story, please do.
- Present tense is weird and belongs in screenplays, not novels. Except that screenplays are exciting and really easy to read. And present tense actually works really well in heaps of literary and genre fiction. So present tense can be great and actually does belong in novels. Snobs are weird and belong in screenplays. As, like, the guy/girl the protagonist’s love interest is dating instead of them even though it at no point makes any sense why someone would date someone like that, y’know? And also at no point does it explain why Kate Winslet would go for Jack Black who is at his least charming and most bland. The Holiday is such an odd movie.
- The road to hell is not paved with adverbs. It’s paved with doing crappy things to other people. A poorly placed adverb will hurt your reader, momentarily. Too many poorly placed adverbs might make them put the book down. Some adverbs used in the right spot are quite good. There will be lots in the wrong spots in your first draft, but less in better spots in your third, because that’s how drafting works.
- Write what you know. But also you should make an effort to know more because books about uninspired writers are not that interesting. Also you can use what you do know and adapt it into a whole new scenario because we are writers and we are supposed to have imaginations.
- Be nice to yourself while you’re writing. Be tough on yourself while you’re editing. But also drink lots of water and take pleasant walk or video game breaks while you’re editing.
- Write every day. Unless you can’t. But you really should try to write most days, because then drafts get finished quicker and it becomes easier to write more in shorter amounts of time because endurance training or something.
- The most helpful writing advice** comes from yourself through practice and experience. So please feel free to ignore these VERY IMPORTANT AND HELPFUL GUIDELINES and go searching for your own.
*Alcohol/tea/coffee/green cordial. Whatever gets you through.
** Oh, but always read submission guidelines when you submit your work. That actually is an utterly unbreakable rule.