Writing Stories: The Two Page Rule

Last week my inspiration wrote about the characters she’s creating for her politically charged fantasy story. Since this is her first major story recorded on paper, and I’ve been nagging encouraging and advising her to write for a long time, I’m not a little pleased with the results. However, as always, there are significant barriers to the success of any story.

1. One of these is the two page rule. (of which my inspiration is now thoroughly sick)

“Most stories will never be finished unless the author can get past two pages of ten-point Times-New Roman font with a 0.79-inch margin in a single sitting or three pages with Word.”

The two page rule is my creation and thus prone to exception and error. I realize that the two page rule is highly arbitrary. It is based on my own limitations and my habit of writing stories in ten-point font with Open Office  standard margins. I cannot exactly predict how much someone else must write in a twelve-point Ariel to get past their own walls. I use ten-point in recognition that seeing large chunks of the story at once will help me make it more coherent.

Now obviously, all finished stories of significant length must get past the two page rule in order to be of significant length. One reason behind the two page rule is that unless the author has an idea of where the story is going and how to get it there when he/she is first inspired, it’s unlikely that inspiration will strike later. (Do not despair. There are exceptions. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote only the first sentence of the hobbit in the middle of grading.)

2. Another reason for the two page rule is unless the author has created characters who can talk to each other, not talk to each other, or think about anything and everything for two pages straight, the story has some serious problems. If the characters are not developed enough, at least in the author’s mind, to act like people, then they probably will not be entertaining, or even come up with coherent things to say, for the rest of the story. This is especially true for character-driven stories.

  • One way to get around this obstacle is to make up a list of character desires, traits, and biographical facts. Even if the author never includes these, it will help them make informed decisions about what the character will say next.
  • Another work-around is to enlist another person to role-play a conversation, making it up as they go along, and to steal their way of saying things and arguments when you write the conversation. In essence, get someone else to create and embody the character.
  • Writing as long a drabble as possible in a limited time period is a good way to loosen up. As I have discovered, it is difficult to write a deadly serious story. Loosening up and not caring what one produces is a good way to improve the quality of one’s writing.
  • A third–although possibly useless–method is to draw a picture of your character. If, like me, your drawings are few and far between, I suggest using a character generator, such as tektek avatars, and the hero-generator. Name generators and characterbasis generators. The d&d-playing world makes a lot of these. These generators can be addictive, clichéd, and unhelpful. However, if they can also be entertaining and offer a welcome distraction.
  • Limiting the number of characters in the story increases the amount of time one has to focus on them, and develop them. While reading Terry Pratchett recently, I noticed that he tended to limit the number of main characters in to about nine. (Stories in settings other than Ankh-Morpork may have fewer.) Thus, the nine character rule was born.

    “In general, use no more than nine well-developed characters, and often three will suffice.”

    A successful story may have more than nine main characters, but amateur writers should think long and hard about using that many, especially about starting out with that many. Characters tend to pop up naturally along the way; there’s little need to laboriously generate them.

3. Finally, many writers write in the dark. (In both senses of the word.) If, after hours of twilight scribbling, one still has no idea whether the story is fit for human consumption, an author may show it to a trusted other. The downside is that the sort of critique (or lack of response) that one receives can be devastating. The important thing is to continue writing: it may be worth something eventually. I learned this lesson in a beautiful way when my father was writing my transcript. Learning that I had read several books on fiction-writing and written a monstrosity entitled The Castle at Exeter, he incorporated it into my transcript. He hasn’t seen much of my creative work. (And I’d be embarrassed to show him.) Regardless, he encourages me to write, even hauling me along to his law class so I could learn to read quickly and write technical assignments. Dad, not many people get that sort of attention. Thank you for caring enough to give it to me. Happy Birthday.


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