Ten Rules for Writing Fiction

Friend and novelist, Terri Kraus, has offered the following helpful tips:

writing fiction[1]

1. Pray before and during the process of writing.

2 Read it aloud to yourself because that’s the only way to be sure the rhythms of the sentences are OK (prose rhythms are too complex and subtle to be thought out – they can only be grasped by the ear).

3 Cut (perhaps that should be CUT): only by having no inessential words can every essential word be made to count.

4 You don’t always have to go so far as to murder your darlings – those turns of phrase or images of which you felt extra proud when they appeared on the page – but go back and look at them with a very beady eye. Almost always it turns out that they’d be better dead. (Not every little twinge of satisfaction is suspect – it’s the ones which amount to a sort of smug glee you must watch out for.)

5 Never open a book with a description of weather. If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a character’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people.

6 Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said" . . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances "full of rape and adverbs".

7 Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. 

8 Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose". This rule doesn’t require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use "suddenly" tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.

9 Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them.

10. My most important rule: if it sounds like writing, rewrite it.

 

*Numbers 2-4 are adapted from Diana Athill and the remainder are from Elmore Leonard.

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