The One Rule to Writing

Tuesday, September 28

"There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are."

~W. Somerset Maugham

By now, we’ve probably heard plenty of writing rules. Show don’t tell, start with action, the main character must develop, pace yourself, ect.

And then, of course, there’s everyone’s personal rules. According to George Orwell, the six rules are
1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print,
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do,
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out,
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active,
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent,
6. Break any of these rules sooner than saying anything outright barbarous.

Or maybe you’ll prefer John Rechy’s three rules; Show don’t tell, write about what you know, and always have a sympathetic character for the reader to relate to.

If that’s not enough, there’s always Elmore Leonard’s ten rules, Kurt Vonnegut’s ten, Norman Holland’s three, or Steven Goldsberry’s one hundred and one.

I believe that there’s only one rule: Write.

Sure, learn the craft of writing. Study what makes a reader tick and publishers squeal with joy. By all means, follow writing blogs, google images of random people who resemble your characters, and make playlists for your story. But nothing will ever replace the movement of pen on paper. Less talk, more action.

Now, I know this sounds obvious, but a lot of writers (like me) catch ourselves spending more time worrying that we’re not writing instead of actually doing it.

If your butt isn’t in the chair, you will not write a word.

So, Step 1, pull out a notebook and a pencil. Sit down. Comfortable? Good, because you’re not allowed leave. Chain your ankle to the desk if you have to.
Now….write.

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How to Write an Essay: The Conclusion

Friday, September 24

A conclusion is all commentary; no facts. You should have already made your point in your body paragraph. Unless the essay is really long, never use your conclusion to summarize. The conclusion is there to make your reader think. Clarify your theme, evaluate alternate ideas, or explain how the theme applies to the world.

Example:
It is human nature to judge. But a person's heart is impossible to discern. It doesn't matter who they were or what we think they might become, but who they are now. We must judge, but we must do so righteously. As it says in the book, "...what is said about men often has as must influence upon their lives...as what they do." Be cautious of how you label others; the label could become a brand.

The Essay:
Victor Hugo, author of Les Miserables, spent the majority of his life as an exile during the time period that immediately followed the reign of terror. Les Miserables pinpoints the problems in society and the rift between good and evil. Hugo’s masterpiece stands as a reminder to us all that, no matter the consequences, good must prevail.
Jean Valjean, despite being a convict, is essentially noble. After changing his name, Valjean settles down in a small town, always fearful that he will be discovered. When the police arrest another man in his name, Valjean must decide whether to turn himself in, or to keep silent in order to retain his liberty. In the end, Valjean reveals himself to save the innocent man from life imprisonment. Jean Valjean would rather die, abased and despised, then allow someone to suffer on his behalf. Jean Valjean would rather “re-enter into hell and there become an angel” than "remain in paradise and there become a demon!"
It is human nature to judge. But a person's heart is impossible to discern. It doesn't matter who they were or what we think they might become, but who they are now. We must judge, but we must do so righteously. As it says in the book, "...what is said about men often has as must influence upon their lives...as what they do." Be cautious of how you label others; the label could become a brand.

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How to Write an Essay: Body Paragraphs

Tuesday, September 21

A body paragraph needs three things; a topic sentence, facts/examples, and commentary.

Topic Sentence
The topic sentence always comes first and is always an opinion.
My old LA teacher drilled this into my head; "Facts can't be supported. Facts are the supports."
(Jean Valjean, despite being a convict, is essentially noble.)

Facts/examples
Cut and dry; use evidence to support your topic sentence.
(After changing his name, Valjean settles down in a small town, always fearful that he will be discovered. When the police arrest another man in his name, Valjean must decide whether to turn himself in, or to keep silent in order to retain his liberty. In the end, Valjean reveals himself to save the innocent man from life imprisonment.)

Commentary
This is where you have free rein. Write your opinions, clarify statements you've made or make connections between statements.
(Jean Valjean would rather die, abased and despised, then allow someone to suffer on his behalf. Jean Valjean would rather “re-enter into hell and there become a demon” than "remain in paradise and there become a demon!")

Example:
(Les Misérables)
Jean Valjean, despite being a convict, is essentially noble. [Topic Sentence] After changing his name, Valjean settles down in a small town, always fearful that he will be discovered. When the police arrest another man in his name, Valjean must decide whether to turn himself in, or to keep silent in order to retain his liberty. In the end, Valjean reveals himself to save the innocent man from life imprisonment. [Example] Jean Valjean would rather die, abased and despised, then allow someone to suffer on his behalf. Jean Valjean would rather “re-enter into hell and there become a demon” than "remain in paradise and there become a demon!" [Commentary]

Part 1: The Introduction
Part 2: Body Paragraphs (You are Here)
Part 3: The Conclusion (Coming Soon)

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How to Write an Essay: The Introduction

Saturday, September 18

At one point or another, we’ve all had to write an essay. For most, they’re dull to write and even duller to read. Luckily, a formula exists that will produce a professional thesis.

The intro must include five things; Speaker, Occasion, Audience, Purpose, and Subject. The order doesn’t matter, as long as you include them. We call this a SOAPS intro.

Speaker
The Speaker is the figure you are focusing on.
For example, if you were writing about a book, the speaker would be the author and the title of the work. (Les Miserables, Victor Hugo).
If you were writing an analysis of Einstein’s works, the speaker would be Einstein.

Occasion
The events surrounding your speaker.
If you were writing about a book, this would include the events in the writer’s life that inspired them to write said book. (Victor Hugo spent the majority of his life as an exile during the time period that immediately followed the reign of terror. He undoubtedly hated society and spoke against it in Les Miserables.)
If you were writing about a person, Occasion would pertain to the time period in which they lived. (Einstein was hated by Nazis and became an American citizen. His works aided the allies in constructing the atomic bomb and ending World War II.)

Audience
Who did the artist direct their work towards?
(Victor Hugo’s works were directed at society.)
Audience doesn’t always apply. (Einstein’s works were not directed toward anyone.)

Purpose
What is the purpose of their works?
(Why did Victor Hugo write Les Miserables? To pinpoint the problems with society and demonstrate the difference between good and evil.)
(Einstein developed his theories for the sake of knowledge and for the end of the war.)

Subject
This is your thesis statement. This usually appears at the end of the intro and details what your essay is about.
(Hugo’s masterpiece stands as a reminder to us all that, no matter the consequences, good must prevail.)
(Einstein’s genius served as a launching pad for the twenty-first century, providing us with a greater understanding of the universe around us.)

Example:

Victor Hugo, author of Les Miserables, [speaker] spent the majority of his life as an exile during the time period that immediately followed the reign of terror [occasion]. Les Miserables pinpoints the problems in society and the rift between good and evil [purpose]. Hugo’s masterpiece stands as a reminder to us all [audience] that, no matter the consequences, good must prevail [subject].

Part 1: The Introduction (You are here)
Part 2: Body Paragraphs
Part 3: The Conclusion (Coming Soon)

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J.K. Rowling Tribute: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Stills

Tuesday, September 14

You've all heard of Harry Potter. The world-wide phenomenon that sparked a generation of fanatics to whom everyone else is a "muggle."

J.K. Rowling's personal story satisfies our hunger for real-world miracles; a poor, single mom scrawls the origins of a novel on a napkin, and becomes insanely wealthy and famous.
It's every writer's dream.

So, as tribute to the most successful writer of all time, here are stills from the upcoming movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (click on it for a larger view);

I'm guessing this is the Lovegood home. Which would explain the death eater wafting through the background.

Ron is unconscious in the foreground, his shirt off (naturally) with Harry by his side. Oh, and Hermione's casting a spell.

Obviously a death eater stopping a train (I'm assuming it's the Hogwarts Express). He looks more like a jedi.


A gathering of Death eaters, presumably the scene from the prologue. Voldemort is sitting at the head of the table (figures), with Snape to the right and Bellatrix the second person on the left. The Malfoys on the left look squeamish. Nagini is coming straight at the camera.

Ron is terrified for some reason and is pursued by a blurry figure wearing a scarf that resembles Lord Beckett from Pirates of the Carribean. Hagrid watches unperturbed on the sidelines.

Dumbledore's ghost.

Hermione looking scared and aiming her wand. Nothing new there. But who is the black figure in the background?

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How to Write an Epic

Friday, September 10

At one point or another, we've all wanted to write something epic. One that encompasses the struggle between light and darkness, tells of a hero who saves the world, and makes people read them over and over again.
Luckily, there's a template for that. All epics (Lord of the Rings, The Odyssey, Les Miserables) share key elements.

The Hero
Most heroes fall into the same archetype. He/She;
  • Performs feats (Frodo gets the ring to Mordor.)
  • Is essentially noble (Frodo's unselfish.)
  • Leaves behind temptations (He leaves behind the Shire and the enticings of the ring.)
  • Is committed to heroic role (He volunteers to take the ring to Mordor.)
  • Has a difficult goal; They suffer dangers and agonies (Frodo must destroy the ring in the center of the villain's territory. He is slowly being poisoned by the ring.)
  • Acts alone/with very few people (Frodo tries to do it himself but is joined by Sam. These two hobbits are a small force in comparison to the other seven members of the fellowship.)
  • Has something in common with ordinary people (Frodo is a simple hobbit with no training.)
  • Functions as a role model (What we learn from Frodo; grit your teeth and do it.)
  • Reassures the audience of potential ("Even the smallest person can change the course of the future".)
The Hero's Journey
  • They are of obscure origin, free to move, or are detached from petty concerns (No mortgage, bills, or family)
  • They are called upon to make a journey (The calling doesn't have to be subtle. The villain holding them at gunpoint is calling enough.)
  • They realize that they are not invincible (The hero must stand to lose something.)
  • They have a goal (Epic or not, a goal should be present in the story.)
  • Their way is uncertain and unclear.
  • They meet guides (servants, friends, or oracles provide them with information or assistance.)
  • They are tempted.
  • They leave their familar world.
  • They descend into darkness.
Descent into Darkness
This is the ultimate test. This is the point when Frodo gives in to the ring, Oddyseus journeys to the underworld, and Jean Valjean must decide whether to let Marius die.
It can be either literal or figurative. In a literal sense, the character must journey somewhere hellish. Figuratively, they become evil or have inward turmoil. (Kudos to Frodo for doing both.)
Their suffering renews the vigor of society and cleanses them of their own sins.

After Descent
They change as a result. They discover something better than their original goal. In other words, they grow up.
But the hero must not escape unscathed. They sufffer a wound, such as Frodo's bitten-off finger or Jean Valjean's loss of Cosette.

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Archetypes: Images and Motifs

Tuesday, September 7

To recap: archetypes are universal symbols used in literature, whether they were put there intentionally or no.
Imagery both foreshadows and represents.

Water: purification, boundaries
(You'll notice that when water is murky or dark, it is the exact opposite of purification; it is evil.)
Sun: Life, deity
(Polytheistic cultures usually had a sun god such as the Egyptians Horus, the Greek's Apollo, and the Aztec's Huitzilopochtli.)
Wind: change
(Every time the wind carries something from the character's grasp or a windstorm shakes the town, there will be change.)
Earth/soil: source of life
Garden: rebirth, cycles of life
Circle: unity, infinity
Desert: death, infertility

Dog: loyalty
Cat: craftiness
Fox: trickster
Pig: unclean, greed
Donkey: stupidity
Snake: evil
Swan: grace, good luck
Ant: industriousness

Zero: eternity
One: unity, individuality
Two: duality, conflict, separation
(Good against evil)
Three: cycle, balance
(The three fates, birth/life/death)
Four: organization, symmetry
(Four elements,four quarters of the moon, square)
Five: man
(Five fingers,toes, senses.)
Six: balance, love
Seven: otherworldly, supernatural
Eight: conscious
Nine: harmony
Ten: spiritual achievement
Eleven: creativity
Twelve: the universe
Thirteen: death, evil

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Archetypes: Color

Friday, September 3

An archetype is a universal symbol. Whether on accident or on purpose, every story holds traces of archetypes. Colors are especially potent. They can represent emotion and ideas.

Clear/Transparent: Open, nothing hidden, no secrets, no privacy, pure. (For example, Snow White's casket.)

Pink: Spring, gratitude, femininity, innocence. (Valentine's Day)

Blue: confidence, stability, harmony, cleanliness, wisdom, trust, nobility, eternity.

Gray: Lifelessness, humidity, boredom, decay, neutral, dullness.

Red: Violence, passion, excitement, danger.

Green: Life, growth, intelligence, youth, nature, wealth.

Black: Mystery, death, evil. (Black riders/Ring Wraiths, dementors, Voldemort, ect.)

White: Purity, rebirth, wholesome. (Unicorns)

Yellow: Enlightenment. (Certain sects of Buddhist monks wear only yellow)

Purple: Royalty, personal growth. (In ancient Egypt, only royalty could wear the color purple.)

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