Saturday, May 14, 2011

Rules? Well, Maybe to START with...

I came across this on the world wide web. 

V.S. Naipaul’s Rules of Writing for Beginners

1. Do not write long sentences. A sentence should not have more than ten or twelve words.

2. Each sentence should make a clear statement. It should add to the statement that went before. A good paragraph is a series of clear, linked statements.

3. Do not use big words. If your computer tells you that your average word is more than five letters long, there is something wrong. The use of small words compels you to think about what you are writing. Even difficult ideas can be broken down into small words.

4. Never use words whose meaning you are not sure of. If you break this rule you should look for other work.

5. The beginner should avoid using adjectives, except those of colour, size and number. Use as few adverbs as possible.

6. Avoid the abstract. Always go for the concrete.

7. Every day, for six months at least, practice writing in this way. Small words; short, clear, concrete sentences. It may be awkward, but it’s training you in the use of language. It may even be getting rid of the bad language habits you picked up at the university. You may go beyond these rules after you have thoroughly understood and mastered them.

Much of it IS good advice.  But then, I can't get behind all of it fully.
For instance, what about #3?  See this post for more.

As for #4, does anyone actually do that?

I must disagree with #5.  Yes, I've encountered this rule/suggestion before.  But I don't think they need to be eliminated entirely.  Just curtailed.  Every actor will tell you that there's more than one way to read a line.  So in specific instances, writers may want to make sure the reader knows how the character delivered that line.  After all, it's not meant to be interpreted.  It's the author's story and s/he's the one "hearing" it, so naturally an author can/needs to let the reader know how it had been spoken when it's important to the story.

And #6 - avoid the abstract always?  I'm sorry, but for me as both writer and reader I like it when the text makes you use a little effort to figure out what's going on or has been said.  Not to any extreme, of course.  But I don't think every bit needs to be spoon fed without mixing flavors.

And how many times have we heard of a success that broke the rules?

I suppose it all comes down to it being for beginners?  Along with the line in it:  'You may go beyond these rules after...' But still, it seems as if writing produced under these strict laws would be very dry, dull and boring.  It might be effective in getting the point across quickly... but that's not always desirable in storycraft.  Or at least I don't think so.  A good tale needs to be spiced, tasted, savored and digested.

Thus, I prefer to think of them the way the rules are spoken of in the Pirates of the Caribbean series.  They're more like guidelines.

1 comment:

Anon said...

"See Spot.

See Spot run.

Run, Spot, run."