Monday, 24 June 2013

Rules are rules!

In the writing world there are times when it is acceptable to break the rules. There may be times when it is appropriate for your story to have characters beginning with the same letter, or for you to start a sentence with And. The reason that breaking these rules can be acceptable is because they’re not rules, merely guidelines. I think it is acceptable to break these guidelines as long as you understand the consequences of breaking them. There are, though, some writing rules, not guidelines, which should not be broken: rules for entering a writing competition.

I’m part of the administration process of a short story competition being run by the writers’ group I go to. We’re inviting short story entries of up to 1200 words. That’s the rule. Up to 1200 words. So stories that are shorter than 1200 words are acceptable, but those longer are not.

There’s also another rule that clearly tells entrants that submissions that break these rules will be disqualified and entry fees will not be returned.

Well, over the weekend, two submissions came in that were more than 1500 words long. They’ve broken the word count rule by more than 300 words! They’ve been disqualified because they break the rules, and out of fairness to those writers who taken the effort to abide by the rules.

Profits from our competition are being donated to a charity, this year, so if nothing else, at leas the entrants are doing something worthy by paying an entry fee which will be passed onto the charity. But by breaking the rules they’re missing out on an opportunity to have their worked judged … and potentially win some money themselves.

Breaking the rules can make life more difficult for the competition organisers. There’s another rule in our competition that states that entries cannot be entered into any other competition at the same time that it is entered into our competition. I know some writers don’t like this ‘exclusivity’ rule, but, at the end of the day, it is our competition and you don’t have to enter our competition if you don’t like that rule. Once our competition is over and the results announced, entrants are free to submit their entry into other competitions.

You might think that if you broke this rule the competition organisers wouldn’t know about it. Not so. A month after we’d declared our winners, one year, another competition announced their winners. One of their highly commended entries happened to be our first prize winner that year. Some simple investigation proved that both competitions had been running at the same time, so whilst the entrant hadn’t broken the rules of the other competition, he had broken our rules. When we brought this to the entrant’s attention he acknowledged his error and repaid his prize money. This then meant we had to ‘upgrade’ our second prize winner to first, our third to second, and the judges then had to get together again to determine who out of the highly commendeds was now worthy of third place. Again, this process had to be undertaken out of fairness to the entrants who had followed the rules.

So, here’s one writing rule you should never break: always abide by a writing competition’s rules!

Good luck. 

Monday, 17 June 2013

Swop Box Needs Swapping?

My local library has a Swop Box for magazines. Ideally, they want you to bring a magazine to leave for others, and you can take one to read. It’s a great idea for having a quick look at magazines you might not normally buy, and if you come across a magazine that could be a potential market, if the issue is a little out of date (which some of them can be) at least you know it’s worth lashing out and buying the latest copy in the newsagents for proper market analysis purposes. It’s worth spending ten to fifteen minutes going through the box analysing them all for their potential as markets. Have you checked your local library to see if they have such a box? If not, why not suggest it?

But have you noticed the spelling? Swop, as opposed to swap? I was sorely tempted to ask the library if they had a dictionary so that they could check the spelling, but I didn’t … and I’m glad I didn’t! I would never spell swap with an O, but when I got home I opened my trusty Oxford English dictionary and searched for ‘swop’ … and found it. According to the OED ‘swop’ is an accepted variant of ‘swap’. Whilst it identified that ‘swap’ is the traditional version that most people would use, it confirmed that ‘swop’ is an acceptable spelling and not, as I first thought, an incorrect spelling.

Which just goes to illustrate the point that sometimes things are not wrong when we think they are … just different. So, the next time you come across a word that you’re convinced is incorrectly spelt, why not get out the dictionary, just to double check?

Good luck!

Monday, 10 June 2013

Got Any Ideas You Don't Want?

I was catching up on some reading last week. The writer Hunter Davies has a column in Cumbria Life magazine, and in the issue I’d finally got around to reading he was discussing ideas: how some work, some don’t and some just aren’t right for him, but could work for other people. In the article he even mentions some ideas that readers can take for themselves. (Well, there is no copyright in ideas, only in how they are expressed.)

Several of his ideas that he was ‘giving away’ in his column were because they weren’t commercial enough. He’d tried offering them to publishers, but they’d all rejected them on the grounds that they weren’t enough of a money-spinner (for the publishers). Hunter Davies wasn’t saying that they were bad ideas - just not economically-viable ideas. Many of his ideas could work really well as a hobby-project for a writer who isn’t reliant upon selling everything they write to put food on the table.

This got me thinking … I often have ideas (thankfully) but I don’t always see an outlet, or market, for them immediately, so I often put them aside in storage for when the time is right. But it has never crossed my mind that my own writing circumstances might actually prevent me from developing an idea any further. My ideas books could be full of ideas that I’ll never be able to develop, for whatever reason, so is my ideas book the best place to store them? Or perhaps we should share our ideas around a bit more?

Even if we did, other writers would develop our ideas in their own way. Give a writers’ group an idea for an exercise and you never get two writers producing the same content. 

So, next time you have an idea that you can’t use it right away, consider whether you’re the right writer to develop that idea in the first place. If not, then what are you going to do with it? We could start selling them on eBay! Now there’s an idea!

Good luck.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Comedy (And Other) Rules

I’ve just finished reading Comedy Rules: From the Cambridge Footlights to Yes Prime Minister by Jonathan Lynn. Lynn was one half of the partnership (the other being Anthony Jay) who wrote the hugely popular Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister comedy television series, and this book provides 150 rules for writing comedy. But, then again, it doesn’t. Let me explain.

Lynn uses these ‘rules’ to explain some aspects of writing comedy, whilst also drawing upon various moments of his life. It’s part writing handbook and part biography. However, one point Jonathan made was that these rules are not really rules but guidelines. And then, they’re only guidelines that he’s found useful to his writing - they wouldn’t work for everyone. (That doesn’t mean to say that it’s not full of practical advice for writers of comedy!)

In other words, what works for one writer may not work for another. And sometimes, what works for one writer might not always work for that writer. It’s easy for us to think that just because something has always worked for us in the past, it will always work for us in the future. These things then become our own rules that we find ourselves following religiously, which might not always be right.

Sometimes, it’s worth reviewing your own personal writing rules. For the next few weeks I’m going to be breaking one of my own writing rules. As a self-employed writer, I’ve always written for ‘work’ during the day: writing for pleasure is something I’ve only done in the evening. That’s been one of my rules for many years. But, now, I’m going to experiment! I shall spend part of my day writing for pleasure.

Why not consider what your writing rules are? Which rules about writing do you adhere to? Why do you adhere to them? Is there a valid reason for doing this? If not, why not break it for a few weeks? After all, rules are meant to be broken, aren’t they?

Good luck.