Dashiell Hammett – A Famous Complicated Writer

Dashiell Hammett - A Famous Complicated WriterPhoto license

Dashiell Hammett is considered the first of the hard-boiled fiction masters. He wrote over 80 short stories and 5 novels. He wasn’t a prolific writer but he is considered one of the greats because he defined a new genre. Are his books great reads? Well… they are worth reading. The problem with being first is that others will follow in your path and write differently. I’ve read 4 of Hammett’s 5 books and would class them as pulp fiction.

There’s nothing wrong with pulp fiction. It’s the basis of all action driven novels. In pure pulp fiction, the characters are all stereotypes. Writers of action novels that want to write beyond pulp go deeper into character to create better quality stories. Dashiell Hammett created realistic characters too.

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Your Right to Write Wrong

Your Right to Write Wrong

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When you read writing books and blogs, and participate in writing forums, you find lots of rules for writing. There are shoulds and musts for everything from comma usage to major transitions. When you read a few “100 Best Books” of any era or genre, those rules go out the window.

The truth is, there is no one right way. Any way you want to write can be the right way. It would be nice if you could make your writing clearer, a faster read, or more entertaining. It would also be nice if your books would sell. For those reasons and because it’s no fun staring at a blank page, there are guidelines for how to write a book, an article, or anything in between.

In other words, it’s a good idea to learn what writing methods have worked in the past and then write what you want. The more you deviate from tradition the more likely your writing will fail. But if you don’t deviate from tradition you’re one of the crowd. It’s conformity versus deviance. Like most situations where there are two extremes, somewhere in the middle usually works out for the best.

I was inspired to write this article after reading a post about how important it was for a novel to have major changes that break it into thirds. Many of those commenting said they stopped reading books that didn’t have a major change at the 33% point. That’s some strict reading. What about the story arc novel structure that has rising action up to the halfway point, a major change, and falling action in the second half? It may have big upsets in any part of the story but only the one guaranteed upset in the middle. I guess those writers are out of luck with the three act readers.

What follows are a few examples of writing rules that were broken by great writers. It doesn’t show every broken writing rule, you have other things to do, but enough to make it clear that it’s your right to write wrong.

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Your Outline Starts as a Guideline

Your Outline Starts as a Guideline

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As you know from reading the blog, I’m all about learning to write faster. One way to accomplish that is avoiding re-writes. My current novel is at about 107,000 words instead of falling short like earlier ones. I give all the credit to writing an outline first. The recommended outline length is one tenth the length of your novel. The original outline for “Book 5” came to about eight thousand words, so the novel was a little short in the early revisions. What have I learned about planning a novel? What’s my plan for the next novel?

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Why Do I Want to Read Your Story?

Story Hooks

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The first sentence in your best-selling novel tells the entire story. It’s a hook into what’s revealed in the first paragraph. That first paragraph hooks into the first chapter. Did you notice I’m using the word “hook” a lot. Hooks are what make your novel a best-seller. There’s another hook at the end of the first chapter and every chapter after. What are hooks?

Hooks are what make a novel into a page turner. They are questions your novel puts into the minds of your readers. The main question is called the “engine” of the story. Additional questions in your story add power to the “engine” in the same way mechanics add power to a car engine with superchargers, specialized air filters, cold air intake kits, performance chips, and weight reduction. The last one may seem to fail the analogy, but your novel will be much improved if you eliminate anything that does not advance the story. How can one sentence tell the story of an entire novel?

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14 Methods for Writing Short Stories

14 Methods for Writing Short Stories

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There are plenty of different ways to write short stories. Some are genre specific while others will work with any kind of story. And never forget that you can also just write a story without looking up any method. Tell your story like you’d tell it to a friend. On the other hand, sometimes we need a little prompting.

First, a few novel writing methods that could be used for short stories.

The Basic Story Method

Introduction, preferably including the initial conflict.

Initial conflict to propel the story. Can be the main conflict or lead to it.

Escalation of conflict. Everything gets worse for the protagonist.

Climax or reversal. Now the protagonist is the active agent.

Falling action as the enemy is worn down. The enemy may be a person, a difficult goal, or even the environment.

Resolution of the conflict. The enemy is defeated or the problem is solved.

Almost every story uses the basic story method. You can write a simple short story using only this method or you can try some variations. Some sound a lot like the basic method re-written. Let’s look at some more.

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Start Your Novel With Action

Action

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Your novel needs to start with action right from the first line. The first line needs to make them finish the first paragraph. The first paragraph needs to make them want to finish the first chapter. The end of the first chapter needs to compel them the read the next chapter. Are you seeing a pattern here?

But Why?

Why do you want to do this? Readers are deciding whether to stick with your book right from page one. They may be checking it out in a book store or reading the sample first chapter online. You want them to like what they read and that means it can’t be boring.

Starting with an exciting chapter gets your readers through chapter one. If you’re smart, you’ll write a page turner. You can find some tips on that in my article What Makes an Article into a Page Turner? With page turners, every chapter ending makes them want to read the next chapter right through to the end. That’s what sells books. But, you have to get the hook in at the start of the first chapter.

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What is a Good Article Length?

What is a Good Article Length?

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The perfect article length is one that answers the question from the headline completely with no unnecessary words. That perfect length article could be 300 words in point form or 1200 words explained in detail. What are internet readers looking for?

Internet readers are looking for answers to questions. Most are not visiting to have a leisurely read. They want to read a quick article and move on. What do the writing forums say about article length?

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Do You Have Too Much Dialog?

Do You Have Too Much Dialog?

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It’s sometimes said that dialog must get right to the point so that you can get back to the story. Nothing is happening while the characters are talking. Of course, that’s not true. Ideas are being kicked around. Decisions are being made. Side stories are being told. Good dialog advances the story.

When critics complain about dialog, what they are unhappy with are two person debates that don’t go anywhere. Those are arguments along the lines of “Is not” “Is too” but more complex. Discussions like that show up in some stories because the writer finds it easy to write. It makes the pages of a first draft fly by. Smart writers omit useless dialog.

The dialog in good books serves many purposes.

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Short Sentences Have Punch

Short Sentences Have PunchPhoto license / Photo was cropped to remove a caption

 

In The Art of Readable Writing, Rudolf Flesch said that average sentence lengths are getting shorter. This applies to all types of writing. Why would this be?

It’s the audience. Professor Pinhead can understand text written for Donny Dropout. Donny Dropout can’t understand text written for Professor Pinhead. To be popular, you need to write for all levels of reader.

This also applies to words. The longer the word, the more likely your reader will need to stop and figure out what you’re saying. When some readers stop reading, they’re done with your book. About 24% of readers never pick up a book again after they put it down.

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Barbara Cartland’s Prolific Writing Method

Barbara Cartland

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Barbara Cartland wrote 723 romance novels. Her usual writing method was to lay on a sofa for several hours each day and tell the story aloud while a secretary sat behind her and wrote it down in shorthand. The secretary would later type up each day’s dictation. Using this method, she was able to write a book every two weeks.

Hilarious? Weird? Unique? Apocryphal? Her method has been reported in enough places to show that it’s true. She was able to visualize the entire novel in her head and tell the story aloud. How did she do it?

Did she share the secret to her prolific writing? Not explicitly, but we can get some idea from what others have said.

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