Ten Rules for Writing Fiction

I’m not an expert by any means–I’ll be the first to admit it. (In fact, most times I feel much more amateur than every other writer in the business.) I don’t have hardfast rules I live or write by. I’ve struggled through four novels in two years. In that time I’ve acquired an agent, lost one, then acquired another. I’ve flown through chapters. I’ve trudged through paragraphs. But since I started writing there are certain “rules” I’ve come to write by:

Don’t have easy dialogue. By that I mean don’t always have the hero/heroine’s questions answered. How many times have you really wanted the answer to a question and, instead of relieving you of your stress by answering simply, the other person in the convo gives you the run-around? Or goes off on their own line of questioning? Or stares at you like there’s no way in hell I’m telling you *that* Make your characters squirm. Don’t make things easy for them, even when it’s a simple question. (And of course, everything in moderation, right?) Now that I think of it, I may just like to torture my darlings.

Carry around a notebook. Always. Record the tiny things that strike a cord in your own life. Jot down some dialogue from people sitting next to you on the bus. Take notes about the daily things that bring a smile to your face. And the ones that bring you down. Don’t necessarily use those things word for word, but figure out WHY you wrote them down and WHY that particular scene elicited the type of emotion it did.

Once you *think* you’ve finished your manuscript (and I’m talking about the edited THE END not the first draft THE END) read it backwards to edit some more. Then read it aloud. Print it out and read it again. Then download it to your e-reader and read it again. I can pretty much guarantee you’ll find something to change every single time (and probably even once it’s published!)

Be hopeful and open, but expect the absolute worst. It’d be great to wish for NYT Bestselling status with your first sale…but that’s probably not going to happen. It’d be great to think you could sell one book, make it big, then write whatever you want and have that be big too…but it doesn’t work that way. It’s easy to feel down when rejection hits (believe me) but you can’t let it pin you to the mat. Get up and fight for your dreams some more.

Are you writing for business, pleasure or both. If you never plan on pursuing publication that’s fine. Write for you and you alone. Ignore all rules–including these. If you’re writing to make a career of it, treat it that way. Write every day. Edit on days you don’t. Be *IN* the world you created, even when you detach from the computer. If you write for both business and pleasure I believe you’ve chosen the right path!

And for my final five rules, I’m going to pick and chose my favorites from an article in guardian.co.uk titled “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction”.

“You know that sickening feeling of inadequacy and over-exposure you feel when you look upon your own empurpled prose? Relax into the awareness that this ghastly sensation will never, ever leave you, no matter how successful and publicly lauded you become. It is intrinsic to the real business of writing and should be cherished.”–Will Self

“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

“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.”–Neil Gaiman

“Let your work stand before deciding whether or not to serve.”–Andrew Motion

And last but not least…

“The nearest I have to a rule is a Post-it on the wall in front of my desk saying “Faire et se taire” (Flaubert), which I translate for myself as ‘Shut up and get on with it.'”–Helen Simpson

So there you go. Now shut up and get on with it.


4 thoughts on “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction

  1. Great post! I agree with everything you said. I just wish there was a point where I could stop finding things to fix in my manuscript. I don't think having 6 different drafts of the same book is normal.Anyway, thank you for the inspiring post.

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