Practical Rules of Writing

These are not practical tips in terms of serious. Lots of readers might be pissed because they clicked on this expecting something that really helps their writing. This is meant to be practically funny. Of course, whether it succeeds or not depends on the reaction of each reader. Some who are humorless will read this and say, “Damn it, this is just a waste of time!” and, for him (or her), this will be correct. When I write this, I’m not thinking, what does the data indicate? I’m thinking, ha, this is funny. I don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of anyone’s humor but my own.

Right off the bat, or, at least, in the second paragraph, I’m limiting this discussion to fiction because, that way, it doesn’t have to be true. So, if it’s not your cup of tea – since it’s fiction, it could be a cup of coffee, or, even, in the event of really vulgar fiction, an urn of urine – then close this window before it’s too late. Me? I want the truth, but I can’t handle it.

Writing fiction involves making up names, unless it’s historical fiction, which means one makes up what real people say, though not, theoretically, what they do. It’s easy to assign a character a name, only to realize, hundreds of pages later, that one once knew someone with that name, or a name like it, and if one names his astronaut Horace Wyatt, then someone, some nut, will claim it was based on Horace Wyatt the basketball player. One way of fixing this is the search-and-replace function, but my advice is to use unconventional spellings. Horris Wyandotte, for instance. Or use the tried and true formula of many screenwriters who assign the names of athletes to, say, private investigators. I realized this was taking place when I noticed TV had shows named Petrocelli, Banacek (the football players were actually Banaszak and Banaszek) and The Montefuscos. This was a while back.

On the other hand, it’s unwise to saddle a virulently racist Klansman with Ziggy Yastrzemski, though it does have a nice ring to it.

Here’s the best argument against writing in first person. One limits his skills of description to the limits of the character, and to the reader, it can seem – no, it is – inexplicable.

Feigning utter contempt for the slovenly habits of the porcine masses, I said, “Y’uns ain’t slopped the hawgs yet, have ye? Them’s some nasty bitches.”

Accuracy is also important. They’re sows, not bitches.

An outline is more important while the novel is being written than it is beforehand. Start with a general outline, then add layers of detail. This comes in handy as a reference tool lest an obscure character run a slaughterhouse by trade in Chapter Three and resurface as an insurance man in Chapter Twelve. That way you won’t be tempted to have Otto Tittle suddenly and for no reason blurt out, regarding his car, “Yeah, Baskerville, I had this beauty painted day-glow orange, and me and Dorsey Testaverde converted that big, old Buick into a li’l Mini Cooper. You’d be surprised at how many parts they have in common.”

The reader will indeed be surprised.

Be aware of absentminded mistakes, such as describing the high school kid with a fake ID as the son of the Catholic priest. Episcopal rector works better, but then the kid can’t be named Vinny DiMaggio. Go with Hastings Windsor instead.

And, by all means, before writing, have a Fresca, provided there is still such a soft drink. That’s what Google is for, but I’m not going to sweat it.

Final words of advice: Sweat it.


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