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What rules do you have to follow when you're writing a novel?
Answered by Jim Porter
Whether you're writing a novel about the old Wild West when the Apaches were fighting for their lands and freedom, or you're writing about Sinqua from the Beta Alphoid System just the other side of Alpha Centuri, four rules are absolutes:
The first is, your novel must have a consistent structure. For prose writers (writers of fiction and non-fiction), that ordinarily means a three act structure. The three parts are very simple: the beginning, the middle, and the end. Writers who want to impose their own sense of structure, pleading that they don't want to be tied to a formula and rush headlong into a story will eventually find that they don't have a story. They have a collection of words.
Many books, internet blogs, and YouTube videos will tell you about the three act structure.
Very simply put: if you don't have structure, you are like an electrician, without looking at the blueprints or schematics for a particular job, who runs out to his shop and begins throwing electrical components, fuses, wiring spools, bulbs, connectors, tools, and the like into the truck and rushing off to do a job.
A writer needs to know about novel structure before starting to write.
Hint One: some writers and teachers of novel writing may come up with something they call the four act structure, or even the five act structure. Broken down, these structures will still add up to the three acts. The teacher or writer simply has a new view of things.
Hint Two: some of the best writing teachers who are also working writers—and there are many excellent teachers—in my opinion, are James Scott Bell and K.M. Weiland. Their books are available through Amazon.
Hint Three: if you write thrillers, then I'd recommend you read the blog The Kill Zone. James Scott Bell is a frequent contributor to this blog. K.M. Weiland delves both into the traditional publishing and self-publishing worlds. If you're interested in writing Romances—ah, love—then look up the blog Romance University. Any time you spend reading these writers or these blogs are well worth your time as you learn.
The second absolute is that you MUST learn to spell correctly. Spelling variations like ain't, cain't, shuck'uns are acceptable, but only if you sprinkle them through your writing. You . . . must . . . learn . . . to . . . spell.
The Third absolute is that you MUST know punctuation. Like it or not, if your story is full of run-on sentences and comma splices, your editor at the publishing company will likely come to your home town, hunt you down, and yell in your ear.
The Fourth absolute is that you must know the common verb tenses. For example, today, there are many who know better—news anchors, writers, and others—who do not use, and perhaps do not know, the simple past and imperfect tenses. One news anchor drives me nuts every time he says, “They seen the writing on the wall.” Let me correct him here: hey, anchor-guy—it's either “They saw,” or “They have seen.”
There is a fifth absolute, but you don't need to worry about that yet. The absolute is that you MUST send your very best work to the publishing house or self-publish the very best manuscript you can.
Beyond that, there are many things that people will swear are absolutes. But novel writing is an absolutely fine place to invoke your right to do what you want.