Over the weekend Mick sent me a link to this article in the Guardian:

Ten rules for writing fiction

In it, several famous authors were asked what the "rules" were. Some were quite useful, some were funny, and some I could just ignore. These are the ones that are the most useful in my writing life:

Elmore Leonard:

1) 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. But "said" is far less intrusive than "grumbled",
"gasped", "cautioned", "lied". I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a
line of dialogue with "she asseverated" and had to stop reading and go
to the dictionary. (I'd heard this before, but it never hurts to be reminded).

Roddy Doyle

2) 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

3) Do spend a few minutes a day working on the cover biog – "He divides
his time between Kabul and Tierra del Fuego." But then get back to work.

Richard Ford

4) Don't have children.

Jonathon Franzen

5) 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.

Esther Freud

6) Don't wait for inspiration. Discipline is the key.

Neil Gaiman

7) Remember: when people tell you something's wrong or doesn't work for
them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what
they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.

David Hare

8) The two most depressing words in the English language are "literary fiction."

Hilary Mantel

9) Concentrate your narrative energy on the point of change. This is especially important for historical fiction.
When your character is new to a place, or things alter around them,
that's the point to step back and fill in the details of their world.
People don't notice their everyday surroundings and daily routine, so
when writers describe them it can sound as if they're trying too hard
to instruct the reader.

Rose Tremain

10) If you're writing historical fiction, don't have
well-known real characters as your main protagonists. This will only
create biographical unease in the readers and send them back to the
history books. If you must write about real people, then do something
post-modern and playful with them.

I'll leave you with the rule by Phillip Pullman, which might be the most useful one of all:

"My main rule is to say no to things like this, which tempt me away from my proper work."

One Reply to “10 Rules for Writing Fiction (My Favorites)”

  1. Em says: February 24, 2010 at 8:35 am

    I blogged on the same thing this morning except I talk about the (lack of) usefulness of such tips and how papers, sites and writers thrive on such “tips” http://bit.ly/cd8Z94

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