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Rules for Writing Fiction (Guardian)

February 22, 2010

Tags: rules for writing

“You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality," writes Margaret Atwood in the Guardian's wonderful potpourri, Ten Rules For Writing Fiction. "This latter means: there's no free lunch. Writing is work. It's also gambling. You don't get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you're on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don't whine."

One of Roddy Doyle's rules: "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."

One of Elmore Leonard's: "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."

Authors included are Elmore Leonard, Diana Athill, Margaret Atwood, Roddy Doyle, Helen Dunmore, Geoff Dyer, Anne Enright, Richard Ford, Jonathan Franzen, Esther Freud, Neil Gaiman, David Hare, PD James, AL Kennedy (in part one) and # Hilary Mantel, Michael Moorcock, Michael Morpurgo, Andrew Motion, Joyce Carol Oates, Annie Proulx, Philip Pullman, Ian Rankin, Will Self, Helen Simpson, Zadie Smith, Colm Tóibín, Rose Tremain, Sarah Waters, Jeanette Winterson (in part two).

"Keep a light, hopeful heart," writes Joyce Carol Oates. "But ­expect the worst."

In her blog entry, How to Break the Rules, Cameron McClure of the Donald Maass Literary Agency includes Kurt Vonnegut's 8 Rules of Writing and Elmore Leonard's rules, and gives examples of writers who have successfully broken some of the rules. McClure's blog, Book Cannibal, is about fiction.

Comments

  1. July 29, 2012 2:52 PM EDT
    See also Colson Whitehead's Rules for Writing ("How to Write," Sunday New York Times Book Review, 7-26-12)
    - PM