Ten Rules for Writing Fiction

In my eternal attempt to avoid doing work, I was once again meandering about the internet, looking for entertainment. I came across this article: Ten Rules for Writing Fiction.

What’s very cool about this article is that it doesn’t just give ten rules. It gives you ten rules from each of about a bajillion different authors from various genres and backgrounds. This means that some of the rules contradict each other, which I found very interesting. It goes to show that what works well for one author will have absolutely no relevance to another author. Writing is truly about personal taste, which is part of what makes writing such a daunting task — there is no “How To” guide that speaks individually to each author. You have to make up your own, and then tweak and refine your list until you figure out what works for you.

I’m not a famous author, but I thought I’d share my own Ten Rules for Writing Fiction with you. Partial credit for the list goes to Linda Schneidereit, my mother, muse, and mentor. Without further ado, here they are!

Michelle’s Ten Rules for Writing Fiction

1. Write to your audience. This means putting yourself in the reader’s shoes, imagining how they will react when they read your story, and using themes and language that are appropriate for that age and gender range. Don’t even think about publishing until you’ve gotten a real live member of your intended audience to proof read the book. They are a better judge of what they like than you are, so listen to them.

2. Write what you’re passionate about. This applies doubly to projects that require research. Some people can spend hours upon hours researching every detail of the historical era they’re trying to recreate. Others can’t. If you can’t, then don’t force yourself. Write something you know more about, something that won’t make you want to beat your head against a wall until you crack open your skull. Which leads into the next rule …

3. Whatever you do, don’t think of writing as “work”. If you do that, you’re sunk. Imagine getting home from your 8-10 hour work day, then sitting down at your computer and working three or four hours more. That’s not fun, and that won’t produce good writing. Stop writing, take a break, come back later. Writing is supposed to be enjoyable.

4. Don’t become too attached to any one part of your story. You’re going to have to change a majority of what you write, be it phrasing, character development, or even the entire plot. Loving your creation is a good thing, but smothering it with unwarranted affection is not. Be brutal with your edits. It will make your story better, and make you a better writer.

5. Get someone else to edit your writing. Preferably this will be someone with a literary background, who reads a lot, or even just someone who is fairly intelligent. Spell check won’t catch logical flaws or plot inconsistencies in your story any more than you will. Know why? Because you wrote it, and it makes sense to you — you wouldn’t have written it otherwise. It takes an outside opinion to point out the problems, and I guarantee you, there will be problems.

6. Make sure your characters speak uniquely. Each character should have their own voice. This could be something as simple as having an accent (Hagrid, anyone?), or something more complex, like using overly flamboyant language, or saying “like” a lot, or using poor grammar. Choose a passage of dialogue and take out the “he said” and “she said”s. If you can’t figure out who is saying what, you need to rethink their speech patterns.

7. Don’t bog things down with description. A paragraph explaining where the characters are is fine. Three pages of description is too much. How many people have read Lord of the Rings and skipped over page after page of descriptions of trees, rivers, and assorted scenery? Your reader needs to know where they are in the world you’ve created. That’s it.

8. Close your internet browser. It will distract you. Even YouTube can be harmful, especially if you’re not using a playlist. Open it if you need to research a fact or Google a name, then close it immediately.

9. Listen to music. Pay special attention to the lyrics. Musicians are story-tellers through song. Imagine the characters in your novel singing the words, then figure out why they are saying these things. Music evokes emotions in people in a way that few other things can, and it can serve as an excellent muse when you don’t know what to write next.

10. Don’t let other people bring you down. Sharing a great new story idea with someone, and having them flat-out tell you they think it’s terrible, or that they don’t like it at all, can be extremely disheartening. Remember that you’re the writer, not them, and that you can write whatever you damn well please. Even if they don’t like what you’ve written, or something you intend to write, there are over six billion people in the world. Odds are, you’ll be able to find an audience somewhere out there who’ll love your creation just as much as you do. So grab that keyboard, or pick up that pen, and get writing!

I’m sure I have many more rules floating around in my head, but these are the ones that come to mind. I’d love to hear your own list of writing rules, so please feel free to leave them in the Comments section, or provide a link back to your own blog. And check out the article link, because there are a lot of really great tips buried amongst the hundreds of writing rules.

Awesome pic of the day:

Categories: Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

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12 thoughts on “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction

  1. Usually when I write, I turn of the internet on my computer. Nothing makes you write more than knowing there is nothing else to do.

    • Lol tell me about it. Example: right now, I am supposed to be working on a writing project. Instead, I am blogging. Evil internet!

      • I love how, “I’ll only be online for five minutes” can easily turn into 3 or 4 hours.

        • Pint Glass Prophet

          Regarding that, I’ve actually taken it a step further and explicitly never gotten internet hooked up at my apartment so that I won’t be distracted. I’m not sure if I would have the willpower, so I took away the ability.

          • Talk about a bold move! I don’t think I’d be able to survive without internet. One thing I do is go to cafes that I know don’t have wifi, effectively forcing myself into an internet-free location for the afternoon/evening. More power to you, though, if you can live without internet 🙂

  2. Unless I am in a WiFi zone, I have to use a dongle to access the interweb.

    Knowing that my limited 500mb allowance is ticking away with every second makes me leap into Dictionary.com and out again so fast that it’s like a Ninja attack!

  3. Juan Zung

    Reblogged this on GHOZT WRITER and commented:
    Another look author’s take on “rules for writing.” I especially like the balance of involving other people and yet not letting other people bring you down. Good stuff here.

  4. Very good list. Thank you.

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