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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Grammar Girl on the Rules of Story

   
Author Topic: Grammar Girl on the Rules of Story
Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I offer you all this link to a useful article on what makes a great story--based on neuroscience, among other things.
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MattLeo
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While most of this is good advice, I'd like to focus on this bit:

quote:
Everything in a story must be there solely on a need-to-know basis.
This is a bit like Strunk and White's unhelpful rule: "Be clear." Great. *How* does one "be clear"? How does one know what the reader needs to know?

The one thing I've learned is that readers need different things than the writer -- or from each other. For example many readers need physical descriptions of characters in order for their imagination to enter into a scene. That appearance may be superfluous to other readers, or to the writer.

So I'd rewrite this a bit: "Everything in a story should accomplish something for enough readers to justify burdening them with it."

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Interesting clarification/elaboration, MattLeo.

Thank you.

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axeminister
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Yeah, I have to go with MattLeo on this one.
Some readers love description, and there are authors that wax eloquently. Other readers, like myself, need to be hit in the face.

Read Fight Club.

So many of those sentences were either one word or broken or just plain wrong. My favorite book ever.

That's how I want to write, but I keep getting told not to. Sigh. Someday, when I can tell a gripping story, I'll ease over to the abstract.

However, that's not to say this advice is incorrect. In fact, it may prove more correct with Fight Club than any other book.

Axe

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wise
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Amen, MattLeo. This reminds me of when I first read "Hawaii" by James Michener. Pages and pages on the formation of the Hawaiian islands! Ugh! ("Alaska" was the same.) My mother, on the other hand, found it fascinating. Go figure.

You can't please all the people all of the time. So we write stories that we like and hope there's enough other people out there that enjoy them, too.

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rcmann
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Rex Stout described something like this. I can't quote it exactly, but he used the example of a writer whose character leaped up from his seat when his love walked into view. Upon doing so, one leg of his pants fell into place, while the other leg remained hitched up slightly at the knee. He ran toward her, first putting his right foot in front, then his left, then his right....

I think she's saying to cut out the extraneous crap.

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MartinV
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In my recent blog post, I talked about how each so-called rule is just a synopsis of a long discussion. If you give that rule to someone who didn't her the whole discussion, it is pointless. Example is right there: "Be clear." This was clearly the end of a very long discussion (or so I hope) and this last sentence was simply a conclusion of the whole thing. Similarly as "Show, don't tell." You have to know the whole philosophy behind it to use this sentence as a guide.
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