The Journal: Responsibility, Some Don’ts, More King

In today’s Journal

* Today’s post
* The Fiction Writer’s Responsibility
* Don’t Be Critical
* Studying King
* Of Interest

Today’s post, as my posts so often do, started as a response to a post on the Kill Zone blog.

At the end of the post, the author asked a series of questions. The first was, “Are you a ‘rules were made to be broken’ sort of writer, or do you prefer to stick with convention?”

That question deserves a separate answer: Writers who have learned that fiction writing is all about Story (not grammar or syntax or punctuation) don’t think about rules and whether to break them while they’re writing. They just write the story. (You’ll see that I left a similar response to the article I linked to in “Of Interest.”)

I’ve responded to some of the KZ author’s other questions below. Those questions are “Would you have trouble reading a book that threw basics like the rules of punctuating dialogue off the cliff? Have you read anything where a blatant deviation of ‘normal’ pulled you out of the story?”

The Fiction Writer’s Responsibility

I was going to write a whole big topic on the responsibility of the fiction writer, but we all know what that is: engage and entertain the reader with Story. That’s all.

To do that, you only have to learn a few technical mechanics with your conscious, critical mind, and then apply them (practice) with your creative subconscious as you write.

To be clear, practice means writing, which in turn means putting new words on the page, as opposed to “hovering over” (revising, rewriting) words you put on the page previously.

Those technical mechanics are

1. write the opening—that consists of a hook to Entice the reader plus a description of the setting as experienced by the POV character to Ground the reader—in the major scene or chapter, then

2. write an enticing cliffhanger at the end of every major scene or chapter, and finally

3. Repeat number 1 and 2 until you reach the end of the story. Toss in pacing, and you’re more or less good.

Your responsibility as a fiction writer is to pull the reader into the story and keep him or her reading all the way to the end. In other words, to tell a story.  To entertain. That’s all.

If you master the technical mechanics listed above and toss in a little appropriate pacing, you will do that. And if you don’t, you won’t.

Don’t Be Critical

Fulfilling your responsibility as a fiction writer is much easier and more fun if you keep your conscious, critical mind out of your writing. The act of create-ing is the role of the create-ive subconscious. The critical mind has no role to play in creating a story.

While you’re writing, don’t revisit things you already know, things you learned long ago and seemingly have known all your life.

Things like which word to use to convey which connotation and how words are spelled and how sentences are constructed and which punctuation to use at the end of a sentence. You learned those things in the first place so you wouldn’t have to revisit and relearn them later. Trust what you know.

Once you start writing a story, stop fretting over all that and just tell the story. It isn’t important enough to fret over. It’s only a few minutes’ or hours’ entertainment for a reader, nothing more. So don’t worry about it. Just write the story. Just practice.

The more you practice, the smoother your use of those technical mechanics above—and of those words and strucures you’ve seemingly always known—will become.

Also, don’t edit. You can’t edit with the creative subconscious, and (again) the conscious, critical mind has no place in storytelling.

Will replacing that compound sentence with a complex sentence really have any effect whatsoever on the overall story? No. Will replacing “over” with “above” or “below” with “underneath” make a difference? No. Will counting the number of times you use one word on a page help the story? No.

Certainly, replacing “waste” with “waist” will make a massive difference, but that’s your characters’ or first reader’s or copyeditor’s job.

Note that cycling (creative subconscious) is different. It’s perfectly safe to allow your characters to touch the story as you read. Your characters will never be negative. They will never, for example, think perhaps that compound sentence should be separated into two simple sentences.

If something like that happens, it’s your critical mind. If your critical mind bullies its way in, deny it access to your story. Tell it to go away, that it has no place in your fiction. If that doesn’t work, get up and walk away. Don’t come back until your critical mind relents. It won’t take long.

Finally, don’t confuse your opinions as a reader with your responsibilities as a writer. Even your opinion of your own work. Don’t expect your judgement of your work to have any bearing whatsoever on the opinions of other readers. It won’t (unless it keeps you from letting other readers see your story at all), and rightly so.

Okay, enough finger-wagging. If you didn’t need that, my apologies. If you did, you’re welcome. (grin)

Studying King

I finished The Outsider yesterday. And I was so engaged in the story I didn’t notice until about page 400 that, at least in this book, King didn’t use apostrophes to truncate words in dialogue (ex. “He’s doin his chores” vs. “He’s doin’ his chores”).

The omission of that apostrophe didn’t pull me out of the story. In fact, I only noticed it when I returned to the story after a short break. When I noticed one instance of it, I flipped back through several pages looking for other examples. Maybe it was an omission typo.

Nope. I found what I expected to find: He did the same thing through the whole book. Now, staple this to the inside of your eyelids:

“Consistency is far more important than any rules.

When I saw the first instance of the omission, for maybe a split second I was taken aback. Then I remembered it was Stephen King, so I accepted the omission, forgot about it, and plunged back into the story. Because Story is what matters. Story is all that matters.

Starting today I’ll revisit a few passages that really blew me away and try to figure out how he did that. I’ve also identified a few short chapters I want to type-in to get the rhythm and feel of them. (For anyone who’s read the book, those are Chapters 3 – 6 of the section titled “Footsteps and Cantaloupe.”)

As for the truncations without apostrophes, it looks and feels “cleaner” somehow. I might start using the technique in my own work. It certainly would be easier than trying to keep up with all those apostrophes in dialogue.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “Ginger VS Grammarly: Which Grammar Checker is Better in (2022)?” at I might be tempted to try Ginger for its contextual spell=check. As to grammar checking, see my response in the third paragraph of this post.

Disclaimer: In this blog, I provide advice on writing fiction. I advocate a technique called Writing Into the Dark. To be crystal clear, WITD is not “the only way” to write, nor will I ever say it is. However, as I am the only writer who advocates WITD both publicly and regularly, I will continue to do so, among myriad other topics.

4 thoughts on “The Journal: Responsibility, Some Don’ts, More King”

  1. I never did adjust to All The Pretty Horses not having quotation marks around dialogue – that’s my nitpicky mind.

    I finished it only because of a personal interest in the Mexican Revolution. And for that I skimmed like crazy – the dialogue grated on my nerves the whole time.

    I will never read that author again, not even to see if he’s consistent with it.

    I’m sure other people have no problem with his system (or lack of one) – he’s quite popular – but my brain is damaged and won’t let go. I had to figure out, for every new paragraph, whether it was dialogue. Exhausting for me – most people wouldn’t be that affected.

    But leavin off apostrophes in dialogue would probably not be as noticeable. I can’t use that right now – though one of my characters does that – because I’m in the middle of a long story, but it’s an interesting thought, and he has a long reach with the public. I’m wondering if he did that before, or decided somewhere along the way that he was tired of typing those apostrophes.

    • Interesting, Alicia. I thought Cormac McCarthy’s work (I forget the name of the book) was just annoying when he omitted the opening and closing quotation marks around dialogue. I remember thinking at the time he was probably just being pretentious. I seriously doubt SK would ever do such a thing. It calls too much attention to itself, and anything that calls attention to itself will jerk the reader out of the story. I copyedited a novel one time that contained, “Put down that knife!” she ejaculated. I’m pretty sure a simple “said” would have been much better. 🙂

  2. You wouldn’t believe how often on writing forum its repeated that, if you find your work boring, readers will too. Its ironic though, if you find your work fun to read and enjoy it, then that also means its bad.
    You just can’t win on those forums. I’m trying my best to ween myself off them.

    Great post Harvey, informative as always.

    • Thanks, Matt. I believe it. If writers think their work is good, they’re the worst judges of their own work. But if they think it’s horrible, suddenly that’s good judgement and no readers can possibly like it.

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