Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Rules for Writing Fiction

The UK Guardian asked a number of fiction writers to come up with lists of rules inspired by Elmore Leonard's "10 Rules of Writing." Leonard cautions against using any word but "said" in dialogue ("The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in.") and favors dialogue over character descriptions.

One of the pithiest and entertaining lists came from American novelist Richard Ford, author of The Lay of the Land (2006):
1. Marry somebody you love and who thinks you being a writer's a good idea.

2. Don't have children.

3. Don't read your reviews.

4. Don't write reviews. (Your judgment's always tainted.)

5. Don't have arguments with your wife in the morning, or late at night.

6. Don't drink and write at the same time.

7. Don't write letters to the editor. (No one cares.)

8. Don't wish ill on your colleagues.

9. Try to think of others' good luck as encouragement to yourself.

10. Don't take any shit if you can ­possibly help it.
Other gems from various contributors include:
"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

"Read Keats's letters." --Helen Dunmore

"Don't write in public places. In the early 1990s I went to live in Paris. The usual writerly reasons: back then, if you were caught writing in a pub in England, you could get your head kicked in, whereas in Paris, dans les cafés . . . Since then I've developed an aversion to writing in public. I now think it should be done only in private, like any other lavatorial activity." --Goeff Dyer

"The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator." --Jonathan Franzen

"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

"Read widely and with discrimination. Bad writing is contagious." --PD James

"Stop reading fiction – it's all lies anyway, and it doesn't have anything to tell you that you don't know already (assuming, that is, you've read a great deal of fiction in the past; if you haven't you have no business whatsoever being a writer of fiction)." --Will Self

"No alcohol, sex or drugs while you are working." --Colm Tóibín

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