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:
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.
5. Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.
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.
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.
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.
10. Don’t take any shit if you can possibly help it.