Ten Rules for Writing Fiction

Taking a quick break from editing to share an article regarding writing fiction. I’m not normally a fan of “rules” per se. The word “rules” sounds too authoritative and always seems to carry the possibility of divine retribution.

You know. Follow the rules or else…

I prefer the word “guidelines”, which suggests that it might be a very good idea to do such and such a thing but you don’t have to and you certainly don’t have to fear the wrath of the powers that be if you don’t.

But this article over at the Guardian.co.uk website is worth a read. It’s called Ten Rules for Writing Fiction.

Apparently inspired by Elmore Leonard’s famous 10 Rules of Writing, the article contains ten rules of writing by a number of authors, including Neil Gaiman, Michael Moorcock, Margaret Atwood and a host of others.

Here are a few of my favorites.

Be without fear. This is impossible, but let the small fears drive your rewriting and set aside the large ones ­until they behave – then use them, maybe even write them. Too much fear and all you’ll get is silence. – Al Kennedy

Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it. – Neil Gaiman

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. – Jonathan Frazen. (I do this a lot!)

Description is hard. Remember that all description is an opinion about the world. Find a place to stand. – Anne Enright (This is one I plan to take to heart as description is always so goshdarn hard for me)

You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you’re on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine. – Margaret Atwood

Description must work for its place. It can’t be simply ornamental. It ­usually works best if it has a human element; it is more effective if it comes from an implied viewpoint, rather than from the eye of God. If description is coloured by the viewpoint of the character who is doing the noticing, it becomes, in effect, part of character definition and part of the action. – Hilary Mantel (Another good one about writing description!)

There are tons more. Some of the “rules” I don’t agree with at all, but again, I see them all as guidelines, not set-in-stone commandments.

Back to editing!


8 Responses to Ten Rules for Writing Fiction

  1. Ooh, these are some good ones! And some of them are new to me.

  2. Jenna Reynolds says:

    There’s a lot more at the website. I haven’t had time to read them all. I just picked out some that caught my eye right off the bat. The ones I quoted above on description are very helpful for me. 🙂

    I also like Atwood’s quote about not whining. I mean, trust me, I do whine 🙂 but she’s right, I chose to write and the world is certainly not going to stop spinning if I stop writing so I really have no excuse for whining about anything.

  3. Digital Dame says:

    I think Neil Gaiman must have been talking to me. I keep having moments when I lose heart and think I should just give up.

  4. Jenna Reynolds says:

    I have no doubt that we all have moments like that. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, you never know what tomorrow is going to bring so it’s best to just keep going. Just keep on going. I’ve had days when just hanging on one more day made all the difference in the world. The sun came out. Wonderful things happened. Things turned around.

    In the immortal words of Commander Peter Quincy Taggart of Galaxy Quest, never give up…never surrender! 🙂

  5. Sherri says:

    Those are great. Thanks for the link.

  6. Jenna Reynolds says:

    You’re welcome, Sherri! 🙂

  7. Amy says:

    I like Margaret Atwood’s quote. It’s so true. 🙂

  8. Jenna Reynolds says:

    It’s a great quote. And like you said, so very true.

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