By Chloe N. Clark
I’m a firm believer in that there are no one size fits all writing rules when it comes to crafting fiction or poetry. I teach writing and I still think that. That being said, I do believe that each person comes to their own personal codes for writing. Here are six of mine:
- Write What You Want to Know. If anything irritates me, it’s the rule “Write What You Know”—to me it always felt like someone trying to push me out of wanting to write. Writing should be about exploring everything outside of yourself, and in that way actually getting to know yourself. I write about space and ghosts and science, because those are the things I want to puzzle away at and to find the sneaky dark corners of, the emptied out rooms. If writing is anything for me, it’s my seeking to try to understand the world and to empathize with other lives. I can’t do that if I stay strictly in the present moment of my own self.
- Believe in belief. Write every character as if you believe them and what they believe in. I can always tell, as a reader and editor, when a writer doesn’t understand their own character or doesn’t care about their motivations at all. You can certainly not like one of your characters, but you better believe in the lives they’ve lived that got them onto the page. This goes along with one of my pet ideas, as a writer, which is the importance of not only giving your character a job or work that they do (these don’t have to be jobs in the employment sense) but also understanding how that work impacts them, their relationships, their lives.
- Read everything aloud. In both poetry and fiction, I not only read my stuff aloud to see how it feels on the tongue but I also record myself reading it, so that I can better hear how it sounds. I’ve caught mistakes and word repetition that way and I also have caught weird logical jumps that need to be better explained. The text (especially poems) should be a multimodal object—it should read well in the story sense, it should use the page well in how it is laid out and formatted, and it should read out loud well.
- Read everything. There’s a great interview with Victor LaValle where he uses the term imaginative illiteracy (originally coined by Northrup Frye) about how people don’t get training in all the genres, which essentially makes them disregard genres just because they don’t understand how they operate. You might not write romance, but that doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from reading the genre through gaining an understanding of writing the building up to sex scenes. You might not write sci-fi, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get a lot out of understanding how complex ideas are introduced.
- Find the kindness. I’ve ranted many a time about how much I despise “torture porn” or horror where violence is only included for the sake of being shocking. One of the big reasons why is because these pieces lack any sort of human kindness. Kindness doesn’t mean only happy endings for characters, it might mean empathy, it might mean honesty. Treat your characters with some level of human kindness and do the same for your readers. This also applies beyond the page, if you’re a writer, then you should also bring kindness into your writing community interactions: don’t send angry letters back to rejections, don’t glorify sexual violence, don’t be racist. You know, the golden rule of “don’t be a creep.” *points up at Cotton Xenomorph’s tagline*
- Enjoy. When you’re bored writing something, your reader will be bored reading it. Follow your heart’s desire: whether that’s writing about monsters, bringing in terrible puns, or lovingly describing cake. Readers can tell when you love what you write, it sings off the page.
And remember no writing rule is the be all and end all, if it were, then what even is the point in writing? Except for that “no creeps” one, of course.
Chloe N. Clark's poems and fiction appear in Apex, Future Fire, Little Fiction, Uncanny, and more. She is co-EIC of Cotton Xenomorph, writes for Nerds of a Feather, and teaches at Iowa State University. Her debut chapbook, The Science of Unvanishing Objects, is out from Finishing Line Press and she can be found on Twitter @PintsNCupcakes.