RANDOM NVDT – Writerly Concerns #18 – Rules

The only rules to remember are the ones that will get you or someone else killed or maimed if you ignore them.

The rest?

I am one of the worst when it comes to “use trumps rules” if it passes the no death or destruction test. Example 1 –

What is wrong with the old Roland Groovebox to the left? I got it stupid cheap a few years ago simply to see if I could resurrect it. I did. I fixed the display, gave it a bath and set it in the closet. Enter curious four-year-old grandson who knocks it over on its face. After that the volume knob no longer worked.  The short version is that I hardwired the output. Wide open. As if the knob were never there. This box will do what it does without constraint. Who needs a volume knob? The knob is only there to keep the user under control. Like computers on supercars. Not there for the car, but the driver.

Example 2 –

Y-Cables. The input of this reverb device is listening to the FX send from 2 mixers, one of them a sub for a stand full of analog gear. I can hear the hue and cry among audio purists. Resistance! Capacitance! Noise! Bullshit. That reverb doesn’t care, the voltage isn’t going to back up from one cable to the other and cause a blackout over half of Dallas. I wouldn’t do that with real current, but for line level audio? Please. Does it work? Yes. Will it blow up? No. Does it sound good? Some things are difficult to quantify. Like diapers for grown ups – Depends.


My point? Summed up by Elmore Leonard in his Ten Rules for Writing

“I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative.” By golly, we can learn to finesse without the false sense of ceiling rules and volume knobs imply.

“It’s my attempt to remain invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious writing.” By golly again. If a Y cable puts the cast in the same universe, use it. No matter what anybody says.

“(Joseph Conrad said something about words getting in the way of what you want to say.) If I write in scenes and always from the point of view of a particular character, the one whose view best brings the scene to life, I’m able to concentrate on the voices of the characters telling you who they are and how they feel about what they see and what’s going on, and I’m nowhere in sight.”

That right there is a “rule” I can live with. And why I try to stay out of character’s heads and let them walk and talk. Because in truth all we will ever know of anyone is what they show and tell us. All that psychobabble digging around in characters heads is simply writers playing God. Writers who can’t, or won’t, relinquish control and let their characters speak and do for themselves.

Published by

Phil Huston


5 thoughts on “RANDOM NVDT – Writerly Concerns #18 – Rules”

  1. This is great! I have to follow it more on my own blog. My last two posts have been more inside character head stuff. Must. get. out of there.

    Speaking off too much inside head stuff, i’ve just finished two literary fiction novels. Both good books, but full of metaphor and contemplation. I can only take so much of that. Now i’m rereading A Purple Place For Dying by John D. MacDonald. I’m in heaven. So much better.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I recently finished one full of travelogue. Pages of scenery and landscape. So much that I caught myself skipping on a look ahead for people or action. There was very little action. But I did spot two well well massaged mechanical things to drop backstory and get dialogue/character exposure going if you have people who are too stuffy to talk to each other (or can’t find a writerly hook).
      Head time is okay as long as it’s internal dialogue. And you do that well without the “thought” junk. Characters need to assess where they are or how they feel, I (personal preference) will have them talk to someone, or a wall, or a piano or a cat because it keeps me from writing “Deanna thought this would be a good moment to –” which is too Nancy Drew for me. Characters experiencing something or reacting to that experience shows more, to me, than setting up how they feel and THEN reacting.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Just picked up “Barrier Island” by JDM. Another one of those land grab things but I have a personal interest in the plot line. Thumbing through it’s mostly old school few tags dialog telling the story, right up my alley.

      Liked by 1 person

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