Whenever someone dispenses advice for writing stories, or just writing in general, the advice to improve upon one’s writing inadvertently boils down to: “Write. Read. Write a lot. Read a lot.”
Beyond that, there’s some new-age zen-speak of “there are no rules to writing”.
In the strictest sense, yes, there are no rules to writing, beyond the fact that one must actually commit words onto a surface. But if you’re looking for advice on how to write, I’ll assume that you want more than to just put words out. You want to write for an audience. You want to write for others to read – to enjoy, to be informed, to experience. To that – the writing for an audience – there definitely are rules, and this is what I believe in.
1. Be Entertaining
Whether you write stories, reviews, or travel logs – if you’re writing for someone else to read, be entertaining. Stick it onto your computer screen. Tattoo it to the back of your hands. Save it as your wallpaper: BE ENTERTAINING.
Because no one likes a boring writer.
Be boring in real life, but never be boring in your writing.
2. Be Intelligent
Let’s face it: dumb things get a lot of attention. Like that guy who blends gadgets. Or that guy who makes videos of himself getting nutshots. Some things are so dumb, they come all the way round to being some weird type of smart all over again. But attention isn’t necessarily good.
I mean, look at Justin Bieber.
People appreciate intelligence. They can sense it. By all means, be educated in every way, even if it’s not directly related to your writing. Study music. Admire art. Learn history. Understand philosophy. Expand your knowledge of the world, and not only your writing will improve, but you’ll be a better person.
3. Be Beautiful
Outside of writing product labels and legal documents, your words are poetry, and people will appreciate it according to the level of beauty it displays. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but damn if some things are just hideous to look upon.
Maggot-infested intestines, for example.
Do not make hideous writing.
Words to the writer are like colours to the painter. You’re expected to have a decent understanding of how these elements interact with one another, and with this understanding, produce something that can be appreciated. People know the difference between someone who is intentionally using clashing words/colours and someone who just didn’t care.
That said, beautiful does not necessarily mean colourful. Just like how paintings are sometimes deliberately monochrome, words can be communicated in metaphoric greyscale. It depends on what you’re striving for.
Truth be told, you can get away with obeying any one of these laws and ignoring the rest. Plenty of writing has been done that was solely entertaining, intelligent, or beautiful. Good writers, however, obey at least 2 of these laws whenever they write. The great writers consistently fulfil all 3 with an added sprinkle of genius.
For the advice of an expert on the craft, I recommend The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White. The book is also recommended by the legendary Mr. King for having “no detectable bullshit” in its clear-cut commands.
Obey the laws, and you will make good writing.