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Steve Berry's writing rules : Writers' Block Party • Writing Forum | WritersDigest.com

Steve Berry's writing rules

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wdarcy
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Steve Berry's writing rules

Postby wdarcy » Fri Jul 22, 2016 12:05 pm

I attended ThrillerFest two weeks ago and was privileged to take a one-day writing workshop with Steve Berry. He is a best-selling author of international thrillers, and he is also a terrific speaker and an inspiring teacher.

Although he asserted that "the first rule of writing is that there are no rules," he does hold hard and fast to certain principles of what to do and what not to do when writing a thriller. I am interested in how some folks here feel about some of these principles:

1. Never begin a sentence with a prepositional phrase. Never. Ever.

2. When writing third person POV, everything must be seen through the eyes of the POV character. There must be no external narrator. No scene-setting before entering the POV. No author intrusion of any sort.

3. Begin every scene with the name of the POV character, then stay in that POV until the end.

4. After you have named the POV character, refer to him or her from then on as "he" or "she," not by name. Refer to other characters by name, but not the POV character. Use his or her name again only in order to avoid possible confusion.

5. Forget about any sort of build-up. Modern readers don't have the patience for it. Plunge right into the action and keep it going.

There's lots more, but these are a few of the points Steve hits over and over. He certainly follows these principles in his own writing (I've read his first three novels.) Just wondering how folks here react to this advice. Remember, he is one of the most successful thriller writers in the business.

--Warren
"Wagner's 'Das Rheingold'" (Oxford 1993). Winner of the Society for Music Theory's Wallace Berry Award, 1995.

"Elements of Sonata Theory" co-authored with James Hepokoski(Oxford 2006). Winner of the Society for Music Theory's Wallace Berry Award, 2008.

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shadowwalker
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Re: Steve Berry's writing rules

Postby shadowwalker » Fri Jul 22, 2016 6:29 pm

Pretty much agree - although #1 really shouldn't be "Never" - I hate "never". I thought of a couple first person sentences right off the bat where it would work very well. :) Also, #5 - that depends on a couple of things: what he means by "action", the type of story one is writing, and whether one knows how to write a build-up (one that keeps the reader's interest and/or builds tension versus world building or going overboard on mood building). I guess I'm just a "It's not what you write, it's how you write it" types. :D
"It seems rather like wanting to be ... a writer, rather than wanting to write. It should be a by-product, not a thing in itself. Otherwise, it's just an ego trip." - Roger Zelazny

It's really not that hard. Just tell me a story.

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DrG2
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Re: Steve Berry's writing rules

Postby DrG2 » Fri Jul 22, 2016 6:56 pm


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shadowwalker
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Re: Steve Berry's writing rules

Postby shadowwalker » Fri Jul 22, 2016 10:07 pm

"It seems rather like wanting to be ... a writer, rather than wanting to write. It should be a by-product, not a thing in itself. Otherwise, it's just an ego trip." - Roger Zelazny

It's really not that hard. Just tell me a story.

James A. Ritchie
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Re: Steve Berry's writing rules

Postby James A. Ritchie » Sat Jul 23, 2016 2:17 pm

Number one stopped me in my tracks, too. If that's a rule, then I've not only never heard it, every good writer I read violates it regularly.

Number two was a good rule, right up until it said No scene-setting before entering the POV.. Scene setting IS the PoV. Why would he think the writer is the one relaying the scene setting to the reader. Does he not read novels? Seriously, does he not read novel at all? I can't think of a more boring way to write that to always set the PoV before you write something that any reader should know actually is the PoV character relaying something.

And begin every scene with the name of the PoV character? Wow, that wouldn't get old fast, would it?

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Re: Steve Berry's writing rules

Postby cynicalwanderer » Sat Jul 23, 2016 3:46 pm

The preposition one is ridiculous. Sure, it's one thing to advise people not to slow down a thriller's pace by overusing them, but it's not like cutting them all out is somehow magically going to make everything else snappier. Moderation and cadence are what's needed.

As far as the POV suggestions go - many novice writers do violate POV within a scene by mixing in other characters' thoughts or narrative intrusion, which is often considered poor writing by our wordsmith overlords - but the only important rule really is to avoid confusion.
"I've stopped giving advice. Even when people ask for it, they resent getting it." -Ross Macdonald.

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shadowwalker
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Re: Steve Berry's writing rules

Postby shadowwalker » Sat Jul 23, 2016 5:16 pm

"It seems rather like wanting to be ... a writer, rather than wanting to write. It should be a by-product, not a thing in itself. Otherwise, it's just an ego trip." - Roger Zelazny

It's really not that hard. Just tell me a story.

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cynicalwanderer
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Re: Steve Berry's writing rules

Postby cynicalwanderer » Sat Jul 23, 2016 5:38 pm

"I've stopped giving advice. Even when people ask for it, they resent getting it." -Ross Macdonald.

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wdarcy
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Re: Steve Berry's writing rules

Postby wdarcy » Mon Jul 25, 2016 11:52 am

Thank you all for your comments. I love discussing these things with other writers.

Here are a few more of Steve's "rules":

6. Never begin a scene with dialogue. It confuses the reader, because s/he doesn't know who is speaking, and no PoV has been set.

7. Do not have more than five PoV characters. More than that will confuse the reader.

8. Never ever use an exclamation point. Also to be avoided are semicolons and colons--they smack of academic writing.

9. Do not mix chapters in first person with chapters in third person. This is cheating. (I pointed out that Steven James does this very successfully in his Patrick Bowers novels, to which Berry replied: "yeah, he and I disagree on that.")

--Warren
"Wagner's 'Das Rheingold'" (Oxford 1993). Winner of the Society for Music Theory's Wallace Berry Award, 1995.

"Elements of Sonata Theory" co-authored with James Hepokoski(Oxford 2006). Winner of the Society for Music Theory's Wallace Berry Award, 2008.

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shadowwalker
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Re: Steve Berry's writing rules

Postby shadowwalker » Mon Jul 25, 2016 10:48 pm

"It seems rather like wanting to be ... a writer, rather than wanting to write. It should be a by-product, not a thing in itself. Otherwise, it's just an ego trip." - Roger Zelazny

It's really not that hard. Just tell me a story.

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