Some time ago, I had a wonderful writing instructor who introduced me to these Rules of being a Writer. The art of writing usually has rules that can be bent once you’re proficient enough, but these eight rules are so important that no one who writes should ever forget them. So here they are.

Rule 1: Have Fun!

Usually that’s the last one in the list. You know: do-all-this-to-write-oh-and-don’t-forget-to-have-fun. But really it should be first. If you’re not having fun, why are you writing? Many people seem to think that writing is an arduous process wrought from the depths of a suffering human soul.

Haha, that’s a load of Barnacles. Seriously.

Writing isn’t about being sad and depressed.  Though I do love Edgar Allen Poe, I don’t want EVERYTHING I read to be like him. Writing and Creating should be a fun thing. If it grates on your very being to write or to even think about writing, you’re probably doing something wrong. “The fun should be bigger than you.” It should be so much fun that you can’t help laughing or screaming to let it out. Think of little kids playing outside. They’re having too much fun to stay quiet.

 Rule 2: Become a Super Spy

As a Super Spy, you have to pay attention to how real people act. When a friend reacts to something a certain way, you learn why so that you know how your characters would react in various situations. Pick up the little things that people do.

One thing that is most often said about Jane Austin is that she was a careful observer of human nature. We have to do the same. Sitting in a public place and watching how people act is one of the best exercises a writer can do.

Rule 3: KNow Why You Write 

Why do you write? Do you write because you want to tell a story? Do you write because you have these amazing ideas that other people should know about? Do you write because you have to, or else you will explode?

Do you write because you want to be rich? Because you want to write the great American novel? Because you want to be remembered?

Why do you write? Without understanding why you write, you lose something in your writing. Sometimes your reasons change, and that’s fine, but if you don’t know why you’re writing, you may just stop.

Rule 4: Let Go of Myths 

There is no cabin on a lake in New England where you will get to sit and write all day on a typewriter. It just doesn’t work that way. Other myths include: publishing will solve all your problems; you’ll automatically be rich and famous; and everyone must like what you wrote because your mom or your friends do.

Holding on to writing myths can cause disappointment, distort our expectations, and worst of all, even keep us from writing. Let them go.

Rule 5: Be Nerdy

Nerds and Geeks have intense passion for whatever they do. You have to be passionate about what you do. You have to love it. If you don’t love it, you won’t do it, and if you try to make yourself do it, you won’t do it 

well. Why do anything you’re not passionate about?

Rule 6: Read

Every good writer has to read. We love words. We love stories. If you want to write well, read that which was well written. I was once advised to have a list of your 20 favorite living writers. The “living” part is important because that will help you know the world you’re trying to break into a little better. If you only read dead authors, you probably will write like them…and you won’t ever be published.

Reading also helps prime the well of creativity. When you’re in a writing slump, go read something that you love. Or read something new. Chances are, you’ll get the juices flowing and ideas will come.

Rule 7: Accept Criticism

It can be hard to let someone read something you’ve written—especially if they find a lot of problems. But writers need feedback. We need to let others read our work, and we need them to tear it to pieces. We will never improve if everyone we hand it to says, “Wow, that’s great!” That may stroke our egos, but it doesn’t help us write any better.

Find a writer’s group, whether it’s in person or online. Find your people. Workshop together and get used to giving and getting criticism. Don’t be harsh—there’s good in almost everything—but don’t be too soft either. Practice taking criticism graciously; they probably have a point.

Rule 8: Learn the Craft

No one wakes up one day with the ability to write well; it takes time. It’s really a never-ending process. The moment you say you’ve learned everything you can learn about writing, you stop progressing and actually get worse.

In all likelihood, your first drafts will be terrible. Read books on craft, take classes, read articles, practice. You’ll improve bit by bit, but never stop learning.

 

 

As I mentioned a while back, it’s important for you to know and understand your characters. It’s your job to bring these people to life, to show the world who they are. How do you do that? How do you create characters that are more than just puppets on your hands, or shadows on the wall?

Basic Characterization: Character Roles

Every character has a place within your narrative. Whether they’re your hero, the mentor, the king, the villain, the helpful peasant, or whoever, they have a role to play. This is the most basic part of your character. These roles are based somewhat on archetypes, so though they sound mostly fantasy-like, you can apply them to any genre.

Figuring out the role your character will play is likely pretty easy. It’s the whole reason you’re creating characters. What are they there to do? However, knowing what archetype they fill doesn’t make them realistic. In fact, people usually play many archetypal roles throughout their lives. It takes more than putting your character in a box to have create living, breathing people.

Get-to-Know-You: Character Questionnaires

I see character questionnaires as a kind of get-to-know-you game for creating characters. They’re all over the internet if you’d like to find one (I like the one Gail Carson Levine supplied Writing Magic). They usually ask basic questions like “What’s their name?” “How old are they?” “Where did they come from?” “Where will they go?” “Where did you come from, Cotton-eye Joe?”

When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature. - Ernest HemingwayAnd so forth.

These are the most basic of ways to introduce yourself to your character. They WILL NOT GUARANTEE a well-rounded character. They’re just a helpful tool to get you started. If you’re stuck on a character, they can help loosen the mud around the tires to get you going again. They can show you little quirks that characters may have—such as carrying a good luck charm or having a personal saying that they repeat often. The character can go from being completely one-sided to having a small amount of dimension to them.

But if Larry’s good luck charm leads to him being nothing more than the Superstitious One, he still won’t be an effective character. So what else can you do?

Go deeper: emotions and inner conflict

Real people have vastly varying emotional reactions to the same situation. Creating characters that demonstrate this takes some work. Throw something at your characters and see how they react. One may bristle and fight. Another may burst into tears. Yet another may simply roll their eyes. There are as many possible reactions as there are people.

When I have similar characters from different novels, I often throw them together in a fake scene (which would never happen because they’re in different universes/countries/times/whatever) and see what differences emerge. I have two female warrior-type characters from two different stories. How do I keep from writing the same person over and over? Well, If put against each other in a challenge, one of them would take it incredibly seriously, as though her life was on the line. The other would likely laugh about it. In their own stories, these differing traits lend to them a life-like quality.

In addition to emotion, we have inner conflicts, often caused by conflicting desires. It’s a very human thing to want two (or more) things that you can’t have at the same time. Struggle and conflict are part of the human experience. It brings out parts of your characters’ personalities that would otherwise remain hidden. Beyond their basic role and likes and dislikes, inner conflict shows who they really are.

Break Out Your Cubes

The more you get to know me, the more you’ll realize that I have a million Rubik’s cube metaphors. Creating characters that live is also about remembering that they have more sides to them than you can see. A Rubik’s cube has six sides and six colors, but you can only see at most 3 of them at any given time. The other sides still exist and they influence which sides you see, but they aren’t on display.

Once you’ve figured out the various sides of your character, remember that trying to force too much of that forward at any one time will make your character back into a caricature. It will make them flat again—because that’s the only way to see all sides of a cube at once.