Category Archives: Writing

If You Want to Write, You Need To Blog

Whether you’re self-publishing or in the power of a publishing company, Bob Dylan’s lyric “You gotta serve somebody” applies. It’s even worse if you are working for yourself. Then your boss is a jerk.
That means, in my case, that I WILL blog regularly because my boss said so. It’s not so hard. I rather enjoy throwing out a few lines now and then. Blogging is to a writer what finger-exercises are to a pianist.
Yesu's Baboon hardcover book
Yesu’s Baboon will be available in hardcover

My novel, Yesu’s Baboon, is at 130,000 words. I’m looking forward to mercilessly cutting them by around 50%. If you cut all the crap and redundancy out of a novel you’re already pretty proud of, you get an even better book, right? That’s how I’m going to force Hemingway’s 80% of the iceberg underwater. There’s already a lot of stuff under the waterline.

The combat phase is almost over. I’ve got three or four scenes to finish, then the revisions begin. Towards the end, the timeline gets really complex. The court case concludes, Isidora escapes, she’s got business to attend to at the law office, Koyati experiences a riot and conducts a funeral — lots of stuff.These events must occur in exactly the right sequence. That gets tricky. I use a professional-grade timeline sequencing app called Aeon Timeline. Here’s a small section of its screen:

A section of Yesu's Baboon timeline
A section of Yesu’s Baboon timeline.
Now if you think that this level of detail is going to make the book hard to read — it’s just the opposite.  The principle is straightforward: Write hard, read easy. Or like Steven Taylor said: “It costs a lot of money to look this cheap.” Or, “A writer is someone for whom writing is harder than for other people.”
Anyway, stay tuned. I’ll be keeping you up to date.

Finally … Gerhard’s 8 Rules of Writing

Now for the event you probably thought you wouldn’t see in your lifetime: Gerhard’s writing rules! Who is this Gerhard, you ask? Well, never mind. Let’s just say he’s smart enough to summarize all the big writers’ rules for you. However – there is a little concession to my own unique situation in my rules. Here they are:

  1. Write when you can
  2. Don’t write when you can’t
  3. Don’t fret when you can’t write.
  4. All work except writing is a form of procrastination
  5. Work in the present. There is no future or past when you’re writing.
  6. You’ve read and internalized the rules. Now forget about them.
  7. However, keep on reading about writing.
  8. Writing is life. The rest is slow death.

Once a word has been allowed to escape, it cannot be recalled. Horace

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Chekov’s Gun

“If there is a gun hanging on the wall in the first act, it must be fired in the last.”

Russian playwright Anton Chekov understood the art of setting up important scenes early on in his plays. His famous “gun” rule is the perfect encapsulation of the fact that a writer places subtle hints in his work to build up to dramatic events later. A novelist who wants to describe a tragic tire blowout might start off a chapter showing a man checking his bank account to see if he has enough money to fit new tires on his car. This technique is known as ‘foreshadowing.’

If you do want to spring a surprise on your readers, understand that it can never be a complete and utter surprise. When your reader thinks back on it, he or she must think: “You know what, I should have known that Gerry guy was a crook. Didn’t Sally say he was smiling too much and talking too fast?” Sprinkling crumbs, like Hansel and Gretel, is an important part of the writer’s craft.

I believe in getting into hot water; it keeps you clean.Gilbert Keith Chesterton

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Ernest Hemingway’s 4 Rules

In my series of blogs about the writing rules of famous writers, we now visit Ernest Hemingway, the big daddy of them all. He didn’t describe; he punched with words. Here are his rules:





“Those were the best rules I ever learned for the business of writing,” Hemingway said in 1940. “I’ve never forgotten them. No man with any talent, who feels and writes truly about the thing he is trying to say, can fail to write well if he abides with them.”

Quote of the Day:
In this world, it is not what we take up, but what we give up, that makes us rich.
–Henry Ward Beecher

John Steinbeck’s Rules

Here are 6 rules I condensed from blogs and posts about his writing rules. You have to love his rule #1. Enjoy!

1.  Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish.
Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps.

2.  Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper.
3. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm.

3.  Pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.


4.  If a scene gets the better of you—bypass it and go on.

5.  Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you

6.  If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it.

An atheist is a man who has no invisible means of support. John Buchan

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The Writing Rules of Stephen King


In my blog series on the writing rules of some famous writers, I’m looking today at what Stephen King has to say.

I can safely say that we’re still in the territory of the big guns here! I’ve super-condensed his rules into 10 big ones:

1.  Be talented
2.  Be neat
3.  Remove every extraneous word
4.  Never look at a reference book while doing a first draft
5.  Know the markets
6.  Write to entertain
7.  Evaluate criticism
8.  Observe all rules for proper submission
9.  An agent? Forget it. For now
10. If it’s bad, kill it

These rules are so straightforward and succinct that I don’t want to weigh them down with a huge blog post. They speak for themselves.

Now listening to Led Zeppelin: Kashmir (from Led Zeppelin [Disc 1])

To wear your heart on your sleeve isn’t a very good plan; you should wear it inside, where it functions best. Margaret Thatcher

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The Writing Rules of Annie Dillard

In my series of blog posts featuring the writing rules of famous authors, I now come to Annie Dillard. In other words, we are now firmly in the area of mystical, other-worldly talent.
If you haven’t read any of her books, Holy the Firm might be a good place to start. The book is about beauty, horror, and holiness. My life would have been poorer without that book.

Annie Dillard

Annie Dillard’s writing rules are quirky: things I would never have thought of are universal laws to her. But that doesn’t matter – if Annie Dillard says “never write with a red sweater on,” then that’s how it’s going to be.
Here are her rules:

  1. Put all your deaths, accidents and diseases up front, at the beginning.
  2. Don’t ever use the word ‘soul’
  3. Vivid writing comes from precise verbs.
  4. All of the action on the page happens in the verbs. 
  5. Narrative writing must be in sequence and make the reader feel what you felt.
  6. Avoid emotional language.
  7. Take a draft and delete all but the best sentences. Fill in what’s missing, making the rest reach for those best sentences.
  8. Count the verbs on a page; tally the count for each page and average them.
    Now see if you can increase the number of verbs per page. In each case, have you used the right verb? When did this happen in relation to this?

Living is like tearing through a museum. Not until later do you really start absorbing what you saw, thinking about it, looking it up in a book, and remembering – because you can’t take it in all at once.
Audrey Hepburn

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Now listening to Sonja Herholdt: Môre Sal Die Son Weer Skyn (from 50 Grootste Geestelke Treffers (Disc 1)) through my favorite media player, MonkeyMedia.

Arthur Miller’s 10 Rules of Writing

In my ongoing series on famous writers’ ‘Rules for Writing’ I’m looking at the dramatist Arthur Miller today. I quote unashamedly and with gusto from Wikipedia: “He was a prominent figure in American theatre, writing dramas that include plays such as All My Sons (1947), Death of a Salesman (1949), The Crucible (1953) and A View from the Bridge (one-act, 1955; revised two-act, 1956), as well as the film The Misfits (1961).”

And here they are. Thanks and kudos to whoever blogged them for us first:

1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.

2. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.

3. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!

4. When you can’t create you can still work.

5. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.

6. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.

7. Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.

8. Discard the Program when you feel like it – but go back to it the next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.

9. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.

10. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.

Quote of the Day:
Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings.
–C. Archie Danielson

Robert Heinlein’s Rules–Heavily Condensed


Robert Heinlein is one of the seven or eight authors on my ‘top 5 science fictions writers’ list. His stories are simply unforgettable. Ask my daughter who taken to by her brother to go and see “Star Troopers” and still sometimes screams when she sees an ant. His rules start out, as so many rules lists do, with the injunction to write every day. Here they are:

1.  You must write.

2.   Finish what you start.

3.   You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.

4.   You must put your story on the market.

5.   Keep it on the market until it has sold.

I like them! They’re beautiful, elegant, short, and true. If course, I am mainly the one who’s made them short, but they’re all those other things. Enjoy!

Quote of the Day:
The thing I hate about an argument is that it always interrupts a good discussion.
–G.K. Chesterton

Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories

People who write detective stories (or crime novels, or murder mysteries, or, in French, romans policier) are subject to strict rules. Their readers expect a specific type of honesty from them, and to break those rules is to risk getting your book thrown into the corner.

I personally have rules for when a book gets thrown, but since I read almost everything on the Kindle now, that has just become much harder. Nowadays I have to stick to the much less satisfying option of just deleting the book.

Authors of prizewinning literature will, of course, tell you that there are no rules for great literature. I concur – that has been proved over and over. But murder mysteries do have rules, and can tell you from first hand experience, since I’m working on one as we speak, that plotting them is rocket science! It is one of the most complex things I’ve ever done.

Anyway, the 20 rules were originally published in the American Magazine (September 1928) by by S.S. Van Dine, pseudonym of Willard Huntington Wright.

Twenty rules for writing detective stories (1928)

THE DETECTIVE story is a kind of intellectual game. It is more — it is a sporting event. And for the writing of detective stories there are very definite laws — unwritten, perhaps, but none the less binding; and every respectable and self-respecting concocter of literary mysteries lives up to them. Herewith, then, is a sort Credo, based partly on the practice of all the great writers of detective stories, and partly on the promptings of the honest author’s inner conscience. To wit:
   1. The reader must have equal opportunity with the detective for solving the mystery. All clues must be plainly stated and described.
   2. No willful tricks or deceptions may be placed on the reader other than those played legitimately by the criminal on the detective himself.
   3. There must be no love interest. The business in hand is to bring a criminal to the bar of justice, not to bring a lovelorn couple to the hymeneal altar.
   4. The detective himself, or one of the official investigators, should never turn out to be the culprit. This is bald trickery, on a par with offering some one a bright penny for a five-dollar gold piece. It’s false pretenses.
   5. The culprit must be determined by logical deductions — not by accident or coincidence or unmotivated confession. To solve a criminal problem in this latter fashion is like sending the reader on a deliberate wild-goose chase, and then telling him, after he has failed, that you had the object of his search up your sleeve all the time. Such an author is no better than a practical joker.
   6. The detective novel must have a detective in it; and a detective is not a detective unless he detects. His function is to gather clues that will eventually lead to the person who did the dirty work in the first chapter; and if the detective does not reach his conclusions through an analysis of those clues, he has no more solved his problem than the schoolboy who gets his answer out of the back of the arithmetic.
   7. There simply must be a corpse in a detective novel, and the deader the corpse the better. No lesser crime than murder will suffice. Three hundred pages is far too much pother for a crime other than murder. After all, the reader’s trouble and expenditure of energy must be rewarded.
   8. The problem of the crime must he solved by strictly naturalistic means. Such methods for learning the truth as slate-writing, Ouija-boards, mind-reading, spiritualistic séances, crystal-gazing, and the like, are taboo. A reader has a chance when matching his wits with a rationalistic detective, but if he must compete with the world of spirits and go chasing about the fourth dimension of metaphysics, he is defeated ab initio.
   9. There must be but one detective — that is, but one protagonist of deduction — one deus ex machina. To bring the minds of three or four, or sometimes a gang of detectives to bear on a problem, is not only to disperse the interest and break the direct thread of logic, but to take an unfair advantage of the reader. If there is more than one detective the reader doesn’t know who his co-deductor is. It’s like making the reader run a race with a relay team.
   10. The culprit must turn out to be a person who has played a more or less prominent part in the story — that is, a person with whom the reader is familiar and in whom he takes an interest.
   11. A servant must not be chosen by the author as the culprit. This is begging a noble question. It is a too easy solution. The culprit must be a decidedly worth-while person — one that wouldn’t ordinarily come under suspicion.
   12. There must be but one culprit, no matter how many murders are committed. The culprit may, of course, have a minor helper or co-plotter; but the entire onus must rest on one pair of shoulders: the entire indignation of the reader must be permitted to concentrate on a single black nature.
   13. Secret societies, camorras, mafias, et al., have no place in a detective story. A fascinating and truly beautiful murder is irremediably spoiled by any such wholesale culpability. To be sure, the murderer in a detective novel should be given a sporting chance; but it is going too far to grant him a secret society to fall back on. No high-class, self-respecting murderer would want such odds.
   14. The method of murder, and the means of detecting it, must be be rational and scientific. That is to say, pseudo-science and purely imaginative and speculative devices are not to be tolerated in the roman policier. Once an author soars into the realm of fantasy, in the Jules Verne manner, he is outside the bounds of detective fiction, cavorting in the uncharted reaches of adventure.
   15. The truth of the problem must at all times be apparent — provided the reader is shrewd enough to see it. By this I mean that if the reader, after learning the explanation for the crime, should reread the book, he would see that the solution had, in a sense, been staring him in the face-that all the clues really pointed to the culprit — and that, if he had been as clever as the detective, he could have solved the mystery himself without going on to the final chapter. That the clever reader does often thus solve the problem goes without saying.
   16. A detective novel should contain no long descriptive passages, no literary dallying with side-issues, no subtly worked-out character analyses, no “atmospheric” preoccupations. such matters have no vital place in a record of crime and deduction. They hold up the action and introduce issues irrelevant to the main purpose, which is to state a problem, analyze it, and bring it to a successful conclusion. To be sure, there must be a sufficient descriptiveness and character delineation to give the novel verisimilitude.
   17. A professional criminal must never be shouldered with the guilt of a crime in a detective story. Crimes by housebreakers and bandits are the province of the police departments — not of authors and brilliant amateur detectives. A really fascinating crime is one committed by a pillar of a church, or a spinster noted for her charities.
   18. A crime in a detective story must never turn out to be an accident or a suicide. To end an odyssey of sleuthing with such an anti-climax is to hoodwink the trusting and kind-hearted reader.
   19. The motives for all crimes in detective stories should be personal. International plottings and war politics belong in a different category of fiction — in secret-service tales, for instance. But a murder story must be kept gemütlich, so to speak. It must reflect the reader’s everyday experiences, and give him a certain outlet for his own repressed desires and emotions.
   20. And (to give my Credo an even score of items) I herewith list a few of the devices which no self-respecting detective story writer will now avail himself of. They have been employed too often, and are familiar to all true lovers of literary crime. To use them is a confession of the author’s ineptitude and lack of originality. (a) Determining the identity of the culprit by comparing the butt of a cigarette left at the scene of the crime with the brand smoked by a suspect. (b) The bogus spiritualistic séance to frighten the culprit into giving himself away. (c) Forged fingerprints. (d) The dummy-figure alibi. (e) The dog that does not bark and thereby reveals the fact that the intruder is familiar. (f)The final pinning of the crime on a twin, or a relative who looks exactly like the suspected, but innocent, person. (g) The hypodermic syringe and the knockout drops. (h) The commission of the murder in a locked room after the police have actually broken in. (i) The word association test for guilt. (j) The cipher, or code letter, which is eventually unraveled by the sleuth.

 <p>Now listening to : Umzuzu Nayi Ujesu (from No Boundaries)