The Guardian’s 10 Rules for Fiction Writers

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Only 10 rules? That should be easy to follow. I’ll have a masterpiece written by the end of the month!

Or not.

The fascinating problem here is that every writer has different rules. Creative writing is a process of  discovery and you’re going to need to stumble upon your own rules as you go. Then, chances are, you’ll want to break those rules as soon as they’re solidified.

The Guardian asked a number of notable authors what their top 10 rules were for fiction writing. Check out the full article HERE. Also, I’ve listed a handful of the highlights below.

-Chris R. at BookBaby

 

Elmore Leonard-

Using adverbs is a mortal sin.

Never open a book with weather. If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a charac­ter’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long.

Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Diana Athill-

Cut (perhaps that should be CUT): only by having no ­inessential words can every essential word be made to count.

Margaret Atwood-

Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can’t sharpen it on the plane, because you can’t take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.

You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You’ve been backstage. You’ve seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a ­romantic relationship, unless you want to break up.

Roddy Doyle-

Do be kind to yourself. Fill pages as quickly as possible; double space, or write on every second line. Regard every new page as a small triumph ­–

Until you get to Page 50. Then calm down, and start worrying about the quality. Do feel anxiety – it’s the job.

Do keep a thesaurus, but in the shed at the back of the garden or behind the fridge, somewhere that demands travel or effort. Chances are the words that come into your head will do fine, eg “horse”, “ran”, “said”.

Do change your mind. Good ideas are often murdered by better ones. I was working on a novel about a band called the Partitions. Then I decided to call them the Commitments.

Helen Dunmore-

Finish the day’s writing when you still want to continue.

Read Keats’s letters.

Geoff Dyer-

Keep a diary. The biggest regret of my writing life is that I have never kept a journal or a diary.

Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire.

Do it every day. Make a habit of putting your observations into words and gradually this will become instinct. This is the most important rule of all and, naturally, I don’t follow it.

Anne Enright-

Only bad writers think that their work is really good.

Description is hard. Remember that all description is an opinion about the world. Find a place to stand.

Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you ­finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die.

You can also do all that with whiskey.

Richard Ford-

Don’t read your reviews.

Don’t drink and write at the same time.

Jonathan Franzen-

Fiction that isn’t an author’s personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn’t worth writing for anything but money.

Never use the word “then” as a ­conjunction – we have “and” for this purpose. Substituting “then” is the lazy or tone-deaf writer’s non-solution to the problem of too many “ands” on the page.

Write in the third person unless a ­really distinctive first-person voice ­offers itself irresistibly.

Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.

Esther Freud-

Cut out the metaphors and similes. In my first book I promised myself I wouldn’t use any and I slipped up ­during a sunset in chapter 11. I still blush when I come across it.

Don’t wait for inspiration. Discipline is the key.

Trust your reader. Not everything needs to be explained. If you really know something, and breathe life into it, they’ll know it too.

Joyce Carol Oates-

Don’t try to anticipate an “ideal reader” – there may be one, but he/she is reading someone else.

Keep in mind Oscar Wilde: “A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.”

Keep a light, hopeful heart. But ­expect the worst.

Zadie Smith-

Don’t romanticise your “vocation”. You can either write good sentences or you can’t. There is no “writer’s lifestyle”. All that matters is what you leave on the page.

Leave a decent space of time between writing something and editing it.

Avoid cliques, gangs, groups. The presence of a crowd won’t make your writing any better than it is.

Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand – but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never ­being satisfied.

Colm Tóibín-

Finish everything you start.

If you have to read, to cheer yourself up read biographies of writers who went insane.

No going to London.

No going anywhere else either.

 

Image via Shutterstock.com.

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