Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Ten rules for writing fiction

These aren't my rules. They have very little to do with me. But I do agree with them. They're good rules. This isn't the sort of blog where you'll read about the magical essence of being a writer, and I have no interest in suffering for any art. I just write stories sometimes, and sometimes advice is needed. This week some newspaper or other asked authory types what their rules were. There's a long list. Some are philosophical. Some are sensible. I've put my favourites down here.
  1. Only bad writers think their work is really good. - Anne Enright
  2. If it sounds like writing, rewrite it. - Elmore Leonard
  3. Do not search Amazon for the book you haven't written yet. - Roddy Doyle
  4. To use an adverb is a mortal sin. - Elmore Leonard
  5. Never use a verb other than 'said' to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. - Elmore Leonard
  6. It's doubtful anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction. - Jonathan Franzen
  7. 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. Ask a friend or two to read it. - Margaret Atwood
  8. Never use the words 'suddenly' or 'all hell broke loose'. I have noticed that writers who use 'suddenly' tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points. - Elmore Leonard
  9.  Don't go into detail describing places and things. You don't want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill. - Elmore Leonard
  10. Fiction that it isn't an author's personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn't worth writing for anything but money. -  Jonathan Franzen
The rest are here. 


  1. Good advice, but I am feeling a longing to see a sentence with every single cliche horned in, beginning with the words "Suddenly, all Hell broke loose, as...

  2. I agree, ArtSparker. I think it's because it's a delicious temptation to do what you're told not to do. I had to hold back from saying,"I suddenly had the urge to run around the house yelling, 'All Hell is breaking loose!'" ha. These are very helpful. Elmore Leonard seems to have the best advice in here. Very to the point.

  3. Yes, Elmore Leonard is wise. He seemed to have to most practical advice of the lot.

    And because of this I've gone through all the chapters of my writing project removing the word 'suddenly'.