HALLIE EPHRON: One of my favorite humorists Molly D. Campbell posted a hilarious take-down of writing rules on her blog, View from the Empty Nest. With her permission, today we're sharing it with our world.
CAUTION: Do not read while drinking a cup of tea.
CAUTION: Do not read while drinking a cup of tea.
But since I plan to write more than one novel, and I am actually (another adverb) a third of the way through my next one, I thought I would share with you some of the no-nos in the author game. You know, so you will be a better critic in the future. But be kind in those Amazon reviews—some of them have been so harsh as to cause writers to contemplate becoming auto mechanics and cocktail waitresses instead. But I digress. You aren’t supposed to do that as a writer, either.
A cardinal rule of the writing business is “Show, don’t tell.” It took me about three years to understand what this really means. I am terrible at it. But the following are examples:
TELL: Audrey felt just sick about having to inform Robert that she couldn’t possibly marry him. After all, she still got cold shivers when she thought about Pierre. Pierre was the love of her life, and Audrey believed with all of her heart that he would return from that trip down the Amazon River to discover the cure for arthritis.
SHOW: Audrey woke, her pillow damp with her tears. She put her hand on her forehead, which throbbed from the dream that was so vivid. Pierre was rowing towards her, his eyes full of terror. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a giant boa constrictor reared out of the water, slithered onto Pierre’s tiny boat, and enveloped him in a twisting death grip.See? So much more literary.
“Audrey, Audrey!” Pierre managed to cry, as the evil snake crushed the life out of him. Audrey picked up her cell phone and punched the “Robert” icon. “Hi, darling,” she said. “Oh yes, I will marry you!”
Another writers’ tip is to use dialogue, not description. Readers tire of long passages full of poetic language, no matter how many hours the author spent painting the scene for them and being vivid. Nope. We would rather just move along. Let the characters move the plot, and really, we don’t actually care what color the leaves were on the trees that afternoon. For example:
DESCRIPTION: The sky darkened. The parched, mahogany leaves rattled in the sudden breeze. Flora felt the goosebumps rise on her arms, drawing the thin muslin wrap around her. Thunder rent the air with dissonant anger.
Grant began to pack the picnic things into the basket, but not before the huge, cold drops began to fall. The sky took on a greenish hue as the lightning pierced the clouds. Grant seized the picnic basket in one hand and extended his other out to the frightened and shivering girl. As they hurtled toward the distant farm cottage, a thunderclap nearly knocked them down.
DIALOGUE:Which book would you rather read? I thought so.
“Shit, Flora, I think it’s going to rain! Hurry up and finish your sandwich. We need to get out of here!”
“Don’t be silly. It is just heat lightning. It happens all the time around here. Want a pickle?”
“For God’s sake, are you nuts? My cousin got struck by lightning three years ago at the golf course, and he has been a sniveling idiot ever since—you can stay as long as you want, but I am getting out of here.”
“You are overreacting, as usual. Wait! Damn! My Sierra Mist just blew over! You may be right. Look at the sky—it’s puke green…”
So you see, we authors don’t just jot down whatever comes into our heads. It’s a craft. Nay, an art form! We spend hours just sifting through our heads for the right word. We agonize over those adjectives, and we brutally eliminate those adverbs (oh, right—brutally is an adverb). We struggle with realistic dialogue.
Yup. So right now I have to get back to Flora, Pierre and Robert. Poor Pierre. That anaconda—or was it a boa constrictor—just sealed his fate, and tonight, Robert is going to get lucky…
HALLIE: Did I warn you or what?
What do you think about "writing rules" and which ones do you violate with impunity?
ABOUT MOLLY D. CAMPBELL
Molly writes from her pantry, often in pajamas. She exercises regularly, despite the fact that she has sustained numerous injuries involving barbells and exercise balls. She successfully raised two gorgeous daughters, who both pay their own bills. Molly can also be found at: http://momswhoneedwine.com.
Molly is a two-time Erma Bombeck award winning writer. She hosts her own intelligent and funny blog, www.mollydcampbell.com, as well as writing for the popular international web site "Moms Who Need Wine."
Her latest novel is "Keep the Ends Loose," a wry and witty coming of age novel. Miranda Heath is a quirky fifteen year-old with cinematic dreams and a safe, predictable family. That is, until she decides to pull at the loose end that is the estranged husband that her aunt never divorced. Warm, funny, and uniquely perceptive, Her short story collection began as a Twitter stream of character names that she invented in her spare time, followed by a brief description: "Loretta Squirrels beats her husband and makes moonshine." Molly then decided to write a book about her characters. She teamed up with a fantastic artist to bring them to life. The book soon became an Amazon Pop Culture best seller.
Molly lives in Dayton, Ohio, the home of Erma Bombeck. Molly makes regular pilgrimages to Erma's grave--for inspiration and spiritual renewal. Molly also spends time petting her five cats and plugging her ears. Her husband plays the accordion.