Friday, May 28, 2010


In a world where being free-spirited and thinking outside the box are constantly praised, where it's no longer hip to be square, or even hip to use the word hip, I have a shameful confession. I'm a square. It's true, I've always been somebody who likes to know and follow the rules. I was never the kid that worked at the movie theater and snuck her friends in, or the fast food employee who slipped people a free order of fries. In fact, when I was younger I worked for a dry-cleaner one summer. The official policy was that employees got 30% off the price of cleaning. However, the unofficial policy was that if you brought your own clothes in and cleaned them yourself, it was free. So all summer I brought in my clothes. But after a couple months, the guilt was too much for me. Right before the summer ended I went through everything I'd cleaned and totaled the bill and paid it. Of course, everybody thought I was crazy. But I just couldn't break the rules.

I think that's come in handy with writing however. The more novice writers (like myself) that I get to know, the more I realize that many are much more free-spirited than I am. Many of them chafe against being so restricted by writing tips and guidelines. But the more experienced writers seem to thrive on them. They are always studying the art of writing, always learning how to perfect the craft and follow the rules more effectively. The best ones even know when to break the rules-- which is a lot more difficult. Although I know that seems to go against common logic, it's true. The rules are basically tips for what works in writing, so breaking the rules means going against what works. You must be very good to do that effectively.

Having said all that, I have another good writing tip that one of my writing friends gave me. If you are struggling with pacing (which seems to be a problem for most novice writers like myself), then pick a book you really like and make a copy of 10 pages. Go through and highlight dialogue, internal thought, and action, so you can see how that author balances each of these elements. Then, take 10 pages of your story and do the same thing, so you can see if yours has the same proportions.

As you might imagine now that I've explained my penchant for rules, I've taken this idea and kind of gone crazy with it. Since I'm writing a fantasy for Middle Readers, I've collected a handful of my favorite books in that category. Now I'm going through each of them and highlighting not just what I mentioned above, but how often the authors refer to their villain (especially at first), how quickly the details of their magic worlds are unfolded, and how often their protagonist gets put in danger (among other things).

I feel this has been really helpful, so I thought I'd pass it along.

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