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Ten rules for writing fiction

I came across this link today – it is one of the best articles I have ever seen about writing fiction.

Inspired by Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing, The Guardian newspaper asked authors for their personal rules for writing.  The rules often apply not just to writing long novels, but also to writing short stories…some of the rules are hilarious, and some are applicable to life in general, not just to writing!  (Make sure you click through to the second part of the article as well – loads more ‘rules’)

I would love to do an activity with these – perhaps a jigsaw group activity, or something where students were given a random selection to read and discuss.  They could make a poster of their favourite rule/s for the classroom wall.  They could form their own sets of rules…

Here are some of the rules that I like best:

  • Forget the boring old dictum “write about what you know”. Instead, seek out an unknown yet knowable area of experience that’s going to enhance your understanding of the world and write about that. – Rose Tremain
  • Do keep a thesaurus, but in the shed at the back of the garden or behind the fridge, somewhere that demands travel or effort. Chances are the words that come into your head will do fine, eg “horse”, “ran”, “said”. – Roddy Doyle
  • Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can’t sharpen it on the plane, because you can’t take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils. – Margaret Atwood
  • Description is hard. Remember that all description is an opinion about the world. Find a place to stand. – Anne Enright
  • Marry somebody you love and who thinks you being a writer’s a good idea. – Richard Ford
  • The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator. – Jonathan Franzen
  • Never complain of being misunderstood. You can choose to be understood, or you can choose not to. – David Hare
  • The nearest I have to a rule is a Post-it on the wall in front of my desk saying “Faire et se taire” (Flaubert), which I translate for myself as “Shut up and get on with it.” – Helen Simpson
  • Remember writing doesn’t love you. It doesn’t care. Nevertheless, it can behave with remarkable generosity. Speak well of it, encourage others, pass it on. – Al Kennedy

Love it 😀  Good writing IS hard work, and students need to understand this if they want to refine their abilities.  It can also be a lonely task, solitary and isolating, and remembering that there is a whole community of writers out there, bunkered down at their desks and struggling to keep themselves in check, is a comfort.

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Why do we read?

A very insightful comment from one of my Year 10 students this week.  Writing about what she likes about English (their first piece of blog homework) she writes:

I like reading because its like tv in your head! I think writing stories is very cool too because you can write about ANYTHING in the world, you can use your imagination and write wonderful stories.

English helps to get what’s inside of you, out.

From the mouths of babes, huh 🙂  In response to this, I’d like to share a quote that I recently found, by Mexican poet Octavio Paz:

Literature is the expression of a feeling of deprivation, a recourse against a sense of something missing. But the contrary is also true: language is what makes us human. It is a recourse against the meaningless noise and silence of nature and history.

Any other thoughts/quotation out there people could share on the question of why we read?

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Twilight backflip

Well, it didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen.  Actually, when it happened, it did happen overnight…there I was, (un)happily hating Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight, when the book finally picked up.  And yes, I stand by every ounce of my frustration that any writer would wait until halfway into a book to get interesting – if I were a less patient reader there is no way I even would have made it to the middle of the book.  And yes, I also stand by my view that the writing is bland, and that Bella is one of the most two-dimensional protagonists this side of Neighbours.

But, when you put it that way, my sudden fandom makes a bit more sense…as an avid Neighbours watcher, I am more than comfortable in the role of loving texts for reasons other than their literary merit.  And so I am now, as my Year 9 friends would say, a ‘Twi-hard’.  Yes, I love Twilight.

So much so that although I should have written a blog post well before now about my reflections on the National Curriculum Forum in Melbourne (I’ve tried to write a post three times now, never quite finishing…), here I am instead, updating you all on Twilight!  What this says about my subconscious priorities…?



Twilight: update

After some good reading time on the plane, am now up to chapter 14 of Twilight and can see why all the year 9 girls are passing this book around!

The writing is still seriously killing me.  There is a great part about half way through the book (so don’t read on if you don’t want to know anything about the book), where Edward is talking about having to read Jessica’s mind and he laments: “her mind isn’t very original, and it was annoying to have to stoop to that…it was all extremely irritating.”  I wondered if this is a little joke on the writers behalf, because she knows how boring it can be, reading Bella’s thoughts…

But I have to admit I am definitely caught up in the story, and although I still suspect it is trashy, I’m loving the trashiness!  Not teenage Mills and Boon after all, but perhaps teenage Jackie Collins, or Virginia Andrews…that I can live with 😉

(I also do agree with Leah’s point that one of the good things about the story is the way magic exists in the real, everyday world.  This is one of the reasons that I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I am now enjoying comparing the character of Bella to Buffy in the back of my mind!)

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I wanted to like Twilight.  I really did.  But seven chapters in (about one third of the book) and I’m still waiting for it to give me something to like.  Anything.

I don’t know about any of you reading this blog, but at my school you can’t pry the students away from their Twilight books.  The girls especially!  Some have been banned from reading it by their parents, so are reading their contraband at school, keeping it in their friend’s lockers.  The school librarians are even making students in years 7 & 8 bring in a note before they are allowed to borrow Twilight, such is the hype around this book.

I volunteered to read Twilight, if for no other reason than to see if we really need to be getting permission notes for lending it, but also because I love a good YA fiction series.  But so far the writing is so dreadfully bland, and the plot has barely moved.  Here is a rough idea of what is covered in the first 7 chapters of the book, told through they eyes of female protagonist Isabella (Bella) Swan:

  • She has moved to live with her Dad – the town is small, boring and cold
  • There is a boy at school called Edward Cullen. He is mysterious, and very good looking
  • Many other boys like Bella. she doesn’t see why, but is happy to use them
  • Sometimes Edward talks to her, and sometimes he doesn’t…boy, he is mysterious!
  • Sometimes Edward’s eyes are black, sometimes they are ‘honey coloured’…this is a mystery
  • Sometimes Edward is at school, and sometimes he is away. This is agonising. And mysterious.
  • …did I mention that Edward is good looking, and the town is cold?

Paragraph after paragraph of this.  ARGH!  And because it’s told in first-person (and because Bella is so boring and such a bad storyteller), we aren’t finding much out about any character other than her.

It is excruciatingly like being trapped in the mind of a love crazed 16 year old girl.

It’s like Mills and Boon for teenagers.


(seriously…have ANY adults read and liked Twilight?  Can ANYTHING redeem seven straight chapters of tripe?)

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