The Muse Marquee

Marquee Blog
Meet the Editors
Poppacrit's Den
Mother Hen's Bin
Up From Down Under
Worlds Apart
Between Writer and Pen
October 2009 Flashers
Flashers Archives
Poets Corner
POETRY Archives
Marquee E-Book Shop
Interview Archives
Marquee Bookstore
The Muse Marquee Ad Rates
Advertisers Links
Helpful Links
Musings October 2007


Writing Rules – Or Does It?



Writing rules bombard a new writer. From formatting specifications --


“12 point Times New Roman! Double-space! Indent! ““No, no, not for ezines, use Arial! Single-space!” “No way, indent and leave a line!” 


-- to often unwritten, but widely accepted, style regulations.


Some published writers have tried to help by sharing their own rules. Here are Kurt Vonnegut’s eight rules for writing fiction:


  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things -- reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them -- in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

(Vonnegut, Kurt Vonnegut, Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons 1999), 9-10.)


In the three years since I reinvented myself as a writer, I’ve learnt a lot. I’ve read many writing rules and adopted some of them for my own.


I discovered show don’t tell, and lost a love-affair with adverbs. I limited speech tags enjoyed by my old English teacher, and became hypersensitive to creative language. I learnt to write tight. (However, recently I decided my fiction stories have become too lean, so I’m relaxing that rule a little.) I learnt to revise non-fiction articles with Roy Peter Clark’s Fifty Writing Tools. (


It’s easy to obsess about rules. If an authoritative critiquer tells you that you must put thoughts in italics, it can be difficult to reconcile editorial directions not to do so. One respected writer advises you to ditch adverbs; another much-published writer sprinkles them with abandon. Which rules do we writers adopt and which ones do we ignore?


As one of Australia’s most unpublished writers, I believe I can speak with some authority on this subject. My advice? Adopt the ‘rules’ that make sense to you; forget the rest.


Here are three suggestions I worked out for myself. They started out as conscious decisions and have now become ingrained habits. That makes them my kind of rules.


Set the Scene


Before writing, set your mood and the tone of your article or story by reading something by another writer. For instance, if I’m planning to write a light-hearted essay, I find a book, a movie clip, a joke or another writer’s essay at an online humour site. Reading something in a similar style can reinforce the ‘how-to’ of that genre. Giggling at an online joke tweaks my funny bone and puts me in the mood for writing humour.


Personal favourite funny writers on my bookshelf are Bill Bryson, Jerome K. Jerome, and Kerry Cue. Online, I often check Dave Barry or Gordon Kirkland. When I’m about to write children’s or YA, I raid the bookshelf and awaken my inner child with Mem Fox, Jill McDougall or Betsy Byars.


I also play background music to complement my writing. Celtic music is great for fantasy; flash fiction works well with the Minute Waltz.


Choose a System


Work out a system for naming your Word documents, files and folders, and stick to it. Save precious minutes of later searching and spend seconds checking how you saved similar documents. Pay particular attention to any capitals, numbers, punctuation, spaces and duplicate them exactly if you want a tidy filing system.


Writers I admire keep track of their submissions in a spreadsheet. Because Excel and I only have a nodding acquaintance, I have a submissions folder in my word documents. I save stories and articles under their title and destination.


Inside the document, as well as the actual article, the date submitted and the magazine it went to, I paste any correspondence. This includes the cover letter or email, the address or telephone number, and any subsequent communications. When I’m notified that a story has been accepted, I paste in that information, especially contracts signed or rights sold. When I’m paid, I paste that in, too. If I’m notified a submission has been rejected, I copy that into the same document. Then I start a new document for the next destination.


Writers need to be systematic. Recordkeeping is essential, not just for tax purposes, but so you don’t alienate editors. My submissions folder has saved me when an acceptance has come in six months after my initial correspondence and I couldn’t remember the details. However, as my list of submissions grows, it’s becoming unwieldy and the intricacies of Excel grow more attractive.


Ignore the Dust


After months of trying to write and maintain housekeeping standards, (admittedly not high to begin with), I realized something had to give. It was a guilty pleasure to decide on less housekeeping. Can you measure the difference between a week’s dust and a fortnight’s? How about ironed and un-ironed clothes? Girding my loins, I locked the iron away. Then I sublet the vacuum cleaner. Finally, I redistributed household chores more equitably among family members.


The results of my decision were surprising. When I learnt to look at weeds in a different way, they became attractive. The dust bunnies are pets, now known as Nigel and …er…Nigel. My husband and son seemed to grow into their rumpled clothes, adopting matching rumpled hairstyles and sultry looks. I stopped being the Martyr who ran around after others, and became the Eccentric, locked in her study, writing. It worked for me.


Whatever writing rules you follow, remember: Writers Rule!




Joke of the Month


A screenwriter comes home to a burned down house. His sobbing and slightly singed wife is standing outside.


“What happened, honey?” the writer asks.

“Oh, John, it was terrible,” she cries. “I was cooking, the phone rang. It was your agent. Because I was on the phone, I didn’t notice the stove was on fire. It went up in second. Everything is gone. I nearly didn’t make it out of the house. Poor little Fluffy is…”

“Wait, wait. Back up a minute,” the screenwriter says. “My agent called?”





Have you been to these sites?


Jill McDougall’s site has some excellent ideas for children’s writers.


Write Fine’s Monster Verb List


Anthology: God Allows U-Turns

Each book in the series will contain approximately 50 uplifting, encouraging and inspirational “slice-of-life” true short stories written by contributors from all over the world. Stories 500-1,200 words. Pays $30 upon publication, plus one copy of book, for one-time or reprint rights (no returns.) DEADLINE: December 31, 2007



This is  free Content Management System that allows you to build websites.

Common Ties Introduces Quickies (pays around $100)

These submissions should be 300 words or less. Quickies can be on any topic, although we particularly like Quickies that fall under one or more of the following general categories:

1) secrets and confessions
2) moments of extreme euphoria or enlightenment
3) moments of extreme embarrassment, shame, terror, or despair
4) biggest mistakes or regrets
5) turning points
6) random acts of kindness


Contest: Middle Grade Adventure

Entry period is August 1 to October 31, 2007.  Winners are announced in the March, 2008 issue of Children’s Writer.  Prize structure is $500 for first place plus publication in Children’s Writer, $250 for 2nd place, and $100 for 3rd, 4th, and 5th places. 

The contest is for a story about an adventure, small or large, to 1,200 words, for ages 8 to 12. The adventure may take place in another genre, such as historical fiction, or fantasy, or may be contemporary. The antagonist or conflict may stem from other characters, from internal goals, from nature, society, or technology, but the story should balance plot and characterization. Stories will also be judged on age targeting, originality, style, and the overall quality of writing.  Publishability is the ultimate criterion