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A New Set of Rules

April 20, 2010

Years ago I had a book called Rules of Thumb. I buy many of these types of books—books with little purpose, but packed full of random bits of information. This particular one, is filled with the little bits of wisdom people have gathered over the years as ways to remember the rules to get through life. Things like “Red sun at night, sailor’s delight; red sun in the morning, sailor take warning.” Years ago I lost track of the book.

Then a couple of weeks ago, while browsing the reference section of the local bookstore, I found the book again. It’s an inexpensive paperback, so I picked it up again. The first difference I noticed was that it is now, not only a book, but also a website (RulesofThumb.org). The next thing I noticed was that the book is no longer just a compilation by a single person. On the website anyone can submit a rule of thumb, but to last the rule must survive a certain degree of peer review.

So why am I talking about this on Write Anything? Good question. In the last 2 weeks I have found 3 great uses for this reference as a writing tool.

The first is the most obvious. The book (and site) includes rules for writing and editing:

Someone who can’t write three clear sentences in a row will never write a good book.

When in doubt, use the semicolon; the average reader won’t understand its use and will give you credit for erudition.

Don’t make changes based on reader feedback until you’ve heard the same comment from three different people.

But that’s far from the only way to use the book in my writing. Have you ever had a character that needed to be knowledgeable about something that you aren’t? Your character, the astronomer, might know that “It takes two minutes for the sun to drop out of sight once it touches the horizon,” even if you don’t. The site, easily searchable by search string or by category can give you quick, tested ways to make your characters into experts.

However, it’s the third way that I’ve been having a little fun with. If you’re anything like me, you have a small collection of books that you use for inspiration—little books full of random writing prompts. This book can be used the same way. For instance, given the following rule, do you think you could come up with either a story or a character that uses it?

If an enraged Ostrich attacks you, lie down and pretend to be dead. It will think it has won and within a few seconds will forget the whole episode, allowing you to retreat intact.

Or this one:

If you are lost in the woods, always travel downstream. If you are lost in the astral plane, always travel toward the light.

Go check out the site for yourself, and see if you can’t find a good use for at least one of the rules.

And based on this Rule of Thumb, I think I’m done for the day:

“When writing, if you’re searching for a final sentence, you’ve probably already written it.”

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3 Comments
  1. April 20, 2010 5:08 am

    it’s really useful. I often fall in doubt of what punctuation to use. Now I will never!!:-)

  2. April 21, 2010 6:36 am

    Sounds really interesting. I’m off to have a look.

  3. April 21, 2010 6:47 am

    I went there and discovered that if you get a group of 100 people online then one will create content, 10 will “interact” with it (commenting or offering improvements) and the other 89 will just view it. So there’s room for just seven more comments.

    Quoting Charles Arthur in The Guardian, July 20, 2006.

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