Tag Archives: weather

Ten writing rules I hate…or do I?

Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules for writing inspired this post, but not quite the way I planned. I thought I’d hate them all. Now that I’ve actually read them, I’m in the uncomfortable position of having to admit that I agree with some of them. Embarrassing.

Before I hold forth on what I do and do not like, it might help if we all knew what those 10 rules say:

The site is a good resource so check it out : https://www.writingclasses.com/toolbox/tips-masters/elmore-leonard-10-rules-for-good-writing.

So, no. 1 ‘Never open with the weather’. As soon as I read this one, I immediately thought of a 19th century novel that begins with:

‘It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.[3]

Taken from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It_was_a_dark_and_stormy_night

Now apparently this opening is considered to be a prime example of ‘purple prose’ and to be avoided at all costs because…to modern readers it is boring. As someone who grew up with the classics, I love the first phrase – ‘It was a dark and stormy night’. The rest I could do without because it’s kind of pretentious to my ears. Back in the day though, it would have been considered quite normal.

The following is the opening sentence from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’, published in 1866:

‘At the beginning of July, during an extremely hot spell, towards evening, a young man left the closet he rented and….’

The young man in question is a student who talks himself into killing a moneylender and her sister. The story is possibly the first psychological novel ever written. So much that we now take for granted was pioneered by Dostoyevsky, and yet, gosh…he starts with the weather. Why? Because he’s actually ‘showing’ the reader the world in which the story will unfold. The problem with weather is not about quality but quantity. Too much of anything is boring.

On that basis, I give rule no. 1 a big thumbs down.

Rule no. 2 says to avoid prologues. Why? I assume because they’re considered boring by modern readers. Fair enough, boring prologues should probably be avoided, but prologues don’t have to be either boring or long, and in some stories they are almost a necessity. Which stories? Fantasy and science fiction stories because both are set in worlds that are unfamiliar to the reader.

I like throwing readers in at the deep end, but that’s a preference only. If a story needs a prologue I’ll give it one. I give rule no 2. another thumbs down.

Rule no. 3 ‘Never use a verb other than ‘said’ to carry dialogue’. Dialogue tags were discussed in Audrey Driscoll’s recent blog post so I’ll just say…”Bah humbug. Thumbs down.”

Rule no. 4 ‘Never use an adverb to modify the verb ‘said’. Mmm…this is a kind of damned if you do and damned if you don’t one. I have no problem with a few adverbs but I probably wouldn’t use one to modify ‘said’, but I reserve the right to use one if it’s really necessary.

I think I’d better give this one half a thumbs up. Or half a thumbs down, depending on your preference.

Rule. 5 ‘Keep your exclamation points under control…’ I confess, my first draft is likely to be full of these. They’re a kind of shorthand from my subconscious to the keyboard: ‘this is meant to be exciting, make it so’. After that first pass though, I try really hard to make the sentence do the work instead of the exclamation mark. As with adverbs and internal monologues, too many exclamation marks are annoying [to the reader].

Sadly, no. 5 gets a thumbs up.

Rule no. 6 ‘Never use the word ‘suddenly…’ I object to the word ‘never’. Adverbs are a legitimate part of the English language. ‘Suddenly’ is an adverb therefore banning it completely is ridiculous. It is a perfectly okay word. What’s not okay is to use it ten times before breakfast. Anything repetitive becomes boring.

I give no. 6 a thumbs down on principle.

Rule no. 7 ‘Use regional dialogue, patois, sparingly’. This is one of those common sense things: if your reader has to dig out a dictionary to understand the dialogue, you’re in trouble. Why? Because said reader is going to become bored with the whole thing, and then they’ll stop reading entirely. Notice how ‘boring’ is cropping up rather a lot?

But…I truly loathe books that avoid all patois because they think their readers are too stupid to cope with anything but standard English. That’s dumbing storytelling down to a ridiculous level.

I’m giving rule no. 7 a thumbs up because ‘sparingly’ does not mean ‘never’.

Rule no. 8 ‘Avoid detailed descriptions of characters’. -sigh- Thumbs UP. When I first meet someone in the real world, I might notice general things – tall vs short, fat vs thin, attractive vs ugly, but I cannot remember a single time I’ve noticed that her eyes were a ‘cornflower blue’ or that his ‘manly chest rippled with muscles beneath the tight fitting t-shirt’. Okay, I might notice, but it would probably be accompanied by a mental eye-roll and a ‘really?’

My point here is the same whether I’m reading about a new world or a new character – info. dumps are incredibly boring, and they don’t work because most readers either skip them or don’t retain them. So there is no point hitting the reader over the head with one. Please…just no.

Rule no. 9 ‘Don’t go into great detail describing places and things’. Thumbs UP for the same reason as rule no. 8.

Rule no. 10 ‘Try to leave out the part that the readers tend to skip’. Yes. Thumbs UP.

Of course, the real trick is to recognize those parts in the first place, especially when they involve the darlings that Stephen King tells us to kill.

As a science fiction writer, you may have noticed that I love tech. Without fail, my first attempt at writing techie stuff is way over the top. I write it for me. The next day I re-read it and ask, ‘is this really needed?’ Sometimes it is. Yay! Sometimes only some of it is needed. Sigh. And sometimes none of it is needed, or it’s not needed at that spot. Bugger. Just because we love something doesn’t mean the reader will.

And finally the last rule that rules them all: ‘If it sounds like writing…rewrite it’. Yes.

Many years ago, I began reading a story that should have been strong, powerful, persuasive. Instead, the author inserted himself and his soapbox into every line. I hate it, and the fact that I actually agreed with his worldview only made it worse. As writers, all of our material comes from within, one way or another, but that does not mean we’re allowed to hit the reader over the head with it.

The power of ‘show’ is that readers get to see and feel things for themselves. They also get to come to their own conclusions. If we try to take that away from them, they’ll stop reading. Writing is easy. Telling stories that other people want to read is hard. It’s work. We may not get it right every time, but that’s no excuse not to try.

Well, I had fun with this. What do the rest of you feel about Leonard’s 10 rules, and yes, I’m asking readers as well as writers. What makes you stop reading?


P.S. you’re allowed to disagree with me. -looks angelic-

Sunset in Final Fantasy XIV

I’ve been far too tense lately, and that has been reflected in my blog posts, so I thought I’d show you one of the reasons I love playing Final Fantasy XIV so much.

ffxiv coco and sunset

As you can see, FFXIV is graphically beautiful, but what makes it so immersive [I think I just made that word up] is the blend of time, weather and graphics.

Time passes in FFXIV. During the course of a few hours we go from day to night, and in the process we have sunrises and sunsets. And they’re not all the same. This particular one was so beautiful, it literally made me catch my breath, as if I were looking at the real thing.

The weather, too, affects me like the real thing. Dappled sunshine seen through leaves gently swaying in the breeze makes me happy. Mist is eerie, rain is a bit depressing, thunderstorms with lightning kind of make me duck my head.

And then there are the sound effects. My footsteps crackle on dry grass, squish when running through puddles, tap on stone, have a slightly hollow sound on wooden boards.

Add all this sensory sleight of hand together and you have a world that looks and feels real. Innerscape may not be that far off after all. 🙂



“There is no skeptic at the end of a fire hose”

That line, delivered by Peter Marshall, Secretary of the United Firefighters Union [Victoria Branch] made the crowd at the Climate Change Rally roar its approval, and I yelled right along with them.

Marshall went on to say that in decades past, firefighters would have to deal with just one major fire event every ten years or so. Since 2002 however, there have been NINE major events. They all know that things have changed. They all know that their jobs have become much harder, despite new technology. And they all know that things are going to get even worse if something isn’t done about climate change.

Interestingly, David Packham, an expert on fire behaviour, doesn’t believe the incidence of more frequent, hotter bushfires is because of climate change. He believes it is down to nothing but fuel loads.

Now I have great respect for David Packham, and as a layperson, I agree that fuel loads play a critical role in bushfires, but fuel loads can’t explain the frequency of other, catastrophic natural events around the world. And I do think climate has more than a little to do with the dangers we now face every summer – because I’m old enough to remember the weather patterns we used to have. Maybe some of you will remember as well.

As a child of six I have a very vivid memory of the day the everlasting heat finally broke with a massive thunderstorm. I remember because I, along with my parents, and most of the people on our street, rushed out to dance in the rain. That was in 1959.

Then again at about 16 or 17, I remember lying in bed under the open window, praying for a breath of cool air so I could get some sleep before my exam the following morning. I didn’t get my wish.

The thing to note here is that back then, neither we nor many other people owned fans, much less air-conditioners. Sometimes it got incredibly hot, but most of the time summer was bearable, and going down to the beach was fun.

Maybe I’ve grown soft in my old age, but I’m pretty sure I couldn’t survive without cooling of some sort these days. And I certainly worry about bushfires a whole lot more. The world I knew is changing, fast, and the future promises not relief but more of the same.

That fear for the future was echoed by a lot of other people at the rally on Sunday too.

When I realised that I was effectively a roving reporter for my blog, I gathered up my courage and started talking to people. The three ladies in the picture below were all roughly my age, and they were happy to tell me why they were at the rally.

3 ladiespic

One of the ladies talked about her fears for her grandchildren. The other two expressed similar concerns for the future, and were determined to do what they could to ensure that something was done about Climate Change. The sense of urgency was palpable, despite the pristine blue skies and glorious sunshine.

Looking around me I saw  people from every walk of life and every age bracket. If you look closely at the pictures in my previous post, you will see babies and young children, teenagers and young adults, people in their 30’s and 40’s, and lots of people like me. I even saw one placard that read Baby Boomers for Climate Action. Trust me, we Boomers were out in force, and I felt quite at home.

Sadly, a rally of 30,000 people out of a total population of  roughly 4 million is not going to make Tony Abbott lose much sleep. Even if we double that figure to factor in the people who wanted to come but couldn’t, that’s still only 60,000. Again, not enough people power to force any government to rethink its position. That is the bad news.

The good news is that we true believers got to see each other, and the seeing was uplifting. I came away from the rally feeling energized by the knowledge that I wasn’t just some mad dog barking away all by myself. Whether my efforts do any real good is moot, but perhaps the combination of lots of small efforts like mine will make a difference. While there’s life there’s hope. 🙂

And perhaps you out there will find yourselves motivated as well. As one of the speakers at the rally said, if every household in Australia invested in solar power, our reliance on dirty coal would be broken, and we’d save money as well. It’s good to dream. 🙂



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