I was recently asked what rules, as I reader, I wish writers would follow. I came up with a few.
Rule #1: Don’t preach at me. Tell the damn story…
I think this is self explanatory. Heck, even Star Trek IV, which is straight up “save the whales,” did a fairly good job of this. It was mostly a character driven comedy: let’s take all of our characters as fish and through them so far out of the water they’re in a different planet, and watch the fun start. Even the whales that must be saved for the sake of all of Earth are little more than MacGuffin devices, there for the story to happen.
But 2012? Or The Day After Tomorrow? Or Avatar? Kill me now.
Serious, I went out of my way to make A Pius Man: A Holy Thriller about the history of a Church, complete with philosophy, and it somehow still managed to be less preachy than any of these “climate change” films.
Rule #2: Don’t make up your own history, claim that you’ve done your research, and then NOT share your research.
You are not Dan Brown. I don’t tolerate it FROM Dan Brown, and I will waterboard the next schmuck who does that. Anyone want to test that threat? I’m a freaking historian. I know when you’re lying, you morons!!!!!
No, seriously, there was a novel that spent most of the time dealing with a question of “Did Pontius Pilot fake the resurrection???? Gasp!” The answer was no. But at the end of a book where I wanted to feed it through a paper shredder because of how crappy the history was, his conclusion? “I did my homework. But I won’t tell you what I made up, so do your own homework.”
NO. That is NOT how this works, you douche bag. At least give us a list of authors where you got your BS history, because the only thing I saw in that novel that was even remotely historically accurate was that there was a Roman Empire, and a Pontius Pilate.
Heck, I took my own works cited page for my own novel into an entire post on my own blog, not to mention making it a five page author note at the back of the book. It’s not hard, people. Really, it’s not.
Rule #3: If you have an action sequence, HAVE an action sequence.
I don’t need a blow-by-blow fight, but I need something. If your concept of a “fight” is “they fell to the roof and struggled with each other until they fell off,” I will hurt you. Jack Higgins did that, and after that, I knew his Sean Dillion series was doomed. I was writing like that when I was 16, for God’s sake. And I think I did it better then. I do it much better now. It was just lazy.
In fact, how about details, hmm? A page that is nothing but dialogue — and most of that a few words a sentence — is boring and hard to track. At least give me a sense of what they’re doing. Give me dialogue tags. Pretend that we might want to know who’s saying what to whom.
Granted, I tend to go overboard in the other direction, what what do I know?
Rule #4: If you have a chapter, it has to be more than a paragraph long.
If you only have snippets from a mad serial killer, we might forgive you if this is done for a handful of chapters. If it’s your entire novel, you should be beaten to death with the hard copy…. I’m looking at you, James Patterson, your books are twice as long as they need to be because the chapter number is half a page, you put a little text under it, and do it again for the next chapter. STOP. IT.
Rule #5: Vampires only sparkle IF THEY’RE ON FIRE.
I shouldn’t need to explain this by now. And if I have to … here, read my books. You’re welcome.
Rule #6: Fantasy authors, please, for the love of God, if you’re going to have a system of magic set in a modern environment, please explain where magic comes from.
Ahem: Dear Madam Rowling, where do wizards get their powers FROM? Why do they actually need wands? Why can some spells not require any wands? A paragraph over your 7 novels would have been fine to explain any of this. I’m certain that no one would have minded if you stole a few lines of dialogue from Dominic Deegan: Oracle for Hire.
Rule #7: Stop giving me stupid villains. Just stop. Please.
Rule #7b: Stop giving me insipid heroes. Just … don’t.
Rule #7c: In fact, Stephen King, just stop writing entirely.
Rule #8: While we’re at it, SOMEONE HAVE AN ORIGINAL IDEA.
I don’t care if you’ve been a bestseller for 20 years, stop pumping out books like they’re an obligation. I’m looking at you King … Higgins … Patterson … Pat Cornwell … I mean, please, Nora Roberts does consistently better and original ideas than you twits, and she’s a ROMANCE NOVELIST. Gah!
Rule #9: Stop with the utterly dark nonsense.
I’m tired of the same dystopian universes, the same miserable outlooks on humanity, and the same anti-heroes. Snake Plisskin only works once. Twice if you make him into a Metal Gear character. After that I’M BORED. You can give me an anti-hero if he’s well-developed, likable, smart. You can stop giving me the same depressing, dark, amoral character who actually HAS no character development. Even my book Codename: Winterborn, which has been compared to Escape from New York, went out of its way to describe how society works, how people live, how there’s an economy. I never want to see another Escape from New York or Terminator universe unless they’re in the Escape from New York or the Terminator universe.
Rule #10: Stop, stop STOP making professional soldiers into sociopathic Redshirt canon fodder while the plucky hero WITH ZERO COMBAT EXPERIENCE gets out alive.