Saturday, December 10, 2011

Creating: The Real Rules of Fiction Writing by Randy Ingermanson

Good morning. The coffee is on, the blueberry muffins are done.

Virtually, the sun hits the lake creating glares and glows as it does off the hills in the background. Sigh. Virtually, it's what I envision. My virtual lake is one of the Finger Lakes in Upstate New York. Above is a photo I took from my sister's cabin.

This morning I'm posting the second installment of Randy Ingermanson's wonderful E Zine. The topic is: Creating: The Real Rules of Fiction Writing.

Creating: The Real Rules of Fiction Writing

Ever wished somebody somewhere would give you a
complete guide to writing a great novel? Then all you'd
have to do is follow the steps and out would pop a
best-seller. All you'd need to know are the rules of
fiction writing.

Maybe you've bought a book or two on fiction writing
that promised to do exactly that. But then, after a few
chapters, you suddenly start chafing at all the rules.
Point of view. Showing, not telling. Eliminating
backstory. Gack! All you want to do is to write a great
story, so why should you have to follow a billion
irritating rules?

I hear both sides of this, all the time. I hear from
writers who want me to teach them the equivalent of
paint-by-numbers. And I hear from writers who don't
want to be stuck coloring between the lines.

Let's be clear on one thing. There aren't any rules of
fiction writing. At least none that are universal. For
every rule I've ever heard of, I can think of some
writer somewhere who's violated that rule while writing
a great novel.

And yet.

And yet every one of those rules can be helpful to you
in writing your novel.

The key thing to get here is that all those "rules" you
hear about are actually rules of thumb. They're
guidelines to use in figuring out what's wrong with
your story. They're NOT for telling you how to write
your story in the first place.

This might be a good time to talk about the two hats
you wear as a writer -- the Creator hat and the
Analyzer hat.

The Creator hat is the one you wear when you're
creating. Creation is the act of inventing something
new. This is a chaotic process, and it doesn't sit very
well with rules. Rules don't help you when you're
wearing the Creator hat. They stifle you.

The Analyzer hat is the one you wear when you're
analyzing. Analysis is the act of sorting through all
the stuff you created, separating the good from the
bad, throwing away the bad, and putting the good into
some kind of order. Analysis is an orderly process.
Rules of thumb can be very helpful when you're wearing
the Analyzer hat.

The brutal fact is that, unless you are some kind of
Mozart-like genius, most of the stuff you create is
going to be lame. Some of it will be downright awful.
And some of it will be excellent.

Let's remember what we mean by "excellent." Your goal
as a novelist is to give your reader what I call a
Powerful Emotional Experience. Do that and you win.
Fail to do that and you lose.

Excellent fiction gives your reader a lot of Powerful
Emotional Experiences. Bad fiction gives your reader
hardly any.

When you wear your Creator hat, you are creating stuff
that either works or doesn't work. Either it gives a
Powerful Emotional Experience or it doesn't.

When you wear your Analyzer hat, you are sifting
through your novel, word by word, paragraph by
paragraph, scene by scene, to decide what works and
what doesn't. If it works, then you keep it. If it
doesn't work, then you have to figure out why and
either throw it away or make it work.

If it's really hopelessly lame, then throw it away,
whether it's a word, a paragraph, or a scene. Don't
waste your time trying to fix something that can't be
fixed. It's dragging your story down, so slit its
throat and throw it to the wolves.

Most of the time, you don't have to throw it away. All
you need to do is fix it. But how?

That's where those pesky rules of thumb come in. If you
know something is broken, check out some books on
writing to see if any of them might bear on your
problem. You'll probably find all kinds of advice, some
of it contradictory.

What you're looking for is something that explains why
this particular chunk of fiction isn't working. Some
rule of thumb.

Once you find one, it's time to put on your Creator hat
and try again. The rule of thumb will suggest a way to
fix your problem. It may work, or it may not, but you
won't know until you try. Do some creative work. Have
fun. Don't overthink it.

After you've finished, switch hats back to the Analyzer
hat and go through the whole process again. You've
either fixed the problem or you haven't. If you have,
then you're done. If not, then you get to try again.
And maybe again.

Let me emphasize one thing. When you're wearing your
Creator hat, don't think about the "rules" (or rules of
thumb or guidelines or whatever you want to call them).
Forget about them completely. Focus on creating.

Haul out the "rules" only when you need help analyzing
something that isn't working. Don't expect any one
"rule" to ever work all the time. None of them do.
You'll find that some of them become second nature to
you and some of them just never click for you. That's
fine. Different writers are different.

This shouldn't be complicated, and yet somehow it is
for a lot of writers. Don't let the "rules" drag you
down. Use them for analysis, not for creation.

And have fun! If fiction writing isn't fun, then
something's wrong.

Permission is granted to use any of the articles in
this e-zine in your own e-zine or web site, as long as
you include the following 2-paragraph blurb with it:

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the
Snowflake Guy," publishes the Advanced Fiction Writing
E-zine, with more than 29,000 readers, every month. If
you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction,
AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND
have FUN doing it, visit

Download your free Special Report on Tiger Marketing
and get a free 5-Day Course in How To Publish a Novel.

Randy Ingermanson
Publisher, Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine

So that's it for today's writing section for Cottage of Blog. Tomorrow we tackled marketing. If you have comments, please go to the end of this post and click on "comments." I'd love to hear from you. Also please leave your name. No flamming, spamming or comments that attack. If you have varying points of view, great. Love to heart them.

Again, if anyone has an article concerning the holidays, Christian, Jewish or Muslem (or other?) please email me at


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