“Try To Leave Out the Parts That Readers Tend To Skip” and Other Rules for Writing Fiction

Inspired by Elmore Leonard’s “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction,” The Guardian published a collection of various authors’ rules for writing fiction earlier this week. The tone of the responses range from serious to playful to didactic to way-too-specific, with the most common–and obvious–rule being simply to “write.” Authors include Geoff Dyer, Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Jonathan Franzen, and Roddy Doyle. A few of our favorites:

Elmore Leonard:

3. 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.

Margaret Atwood:

5. Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.

Roddy Doyle:

4. Do give the work a name as quickly as possible. Own it, and see it. Dickens knew Bleak House was going to be called Bleak House before he started writing it. The rest must have been easy.

Geoff Dyer:

8. Beware of clichés. Not just the ­clichés that Martin Amis is at war with. There are clichés of response as well as expression. There are clichés of observation and of thought – even of conception. Many novels, even quite a few adequately written ones, are ­clichés of form which conform to clichés of expectation.

Jonathan Franzen

1. The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.

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

Richard Ford:

10. Don’t take any shit if you can ­possibly help it.

Your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.