Sunday, February 28, 2010

Rules for writing fiction

The Guardian went and asked a bunch of writers for ten rules of writing fiction apiece - some of the funnier ones are reproduced below.

Essentially, there are no rules.

Just write.


(Original article is here(part one) and here(part two))

Using adverbs is a mortal sin

- Elmore Leonard

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

- Ian Rankin

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.

If both pencils break, you can do a rough sharpening job with a nail file of the metal or glass type.

- Margaret Atwood

Do not place a photograph of your ­favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide.

- Roddy Doyle

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"

- Roddy Doyle

If you use a computer, constantly refine and expand your autocorrect settings. The only reason I stay loyal to my piece-of-shit computer is that I have invested so much ingenuity into building one of the great auto­correct files in literary history. Perfectly formed and spelt words emerge from a few brief keystrokes: "Niet" becomes "Nietzsche", "phoy" becomes ­"photography" and so on. ­Genius!

- Geoff Dyer

Only bad writers think that their work is really good.

- Anne Enright

It's doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.

- Jonathan Franzen

(Yup, I'm never writing that Booker Prize winning novel - me and the internet? Inseparable.)


- Neil Gaiman

Write. No amount of self-inflicted misery, altered states, black pullovers or being publicly obnoxious will ever add up to your being a writer. Writers write. On you go.

- Al Kennedy

If possible have something going on while you have your characters delivering exposition or philosophising. This helps retain dramatic tension.

- Michael Moorcock

(Oh and Terry Goodkind does NOT follow that rule. SO much ranting on about free market capitalism while standing around.When will he learn? No one talks like that!)

No alcohol, sex or drugs while you are working.

- Colm Toibin

Talent trumps all. If you're a ­really great writer, none of these rules need apply. If James Baldwin had felt the need to whip up the pace a bit, he could never have achieved the extended lyrical intensity of Giovanni's Room. Without "overwritten" prose, we would have none of the linguistic exuberance of a Dickens or an Angela Carter. If everyone was economical with their characters, there would be no Wolf Hall . . . For the rest of us, however, rules remain important. And, ­crucially, only by understanding what they're for and how they work can you begin to experiment with breaking them.

- Sarah Waters

(Mm, put this up because people seem to love the hard bright faceted Hemingway style these days - and while I don't deny Hemingway's genius - it's not the only way to write. Diversity of style is what makes the world of literature so varied and rich. It can be fun to revel in lush ornate Angela Carter-esque prose at times.)

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