10 rules for writing fiction

The Guardian asked a series of writers, including Elmore Leonard, Neil Gaiman, and Margaret Atwood, to list their writing Do’s and Don’ts. Hard to pick a favorite, there are just so many that I love, but here’s an example:

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.

Though these rules are all listed by novelists, worth reading by anyone who creates prose of any kind.

  • There are no “rules” when writing fiction. There is only advice and it’s up to the writer whether or not to take it.

    • BonnieH

      Totally agree, Harry Marks, about no rules. If everybody wrote by ‘the rules’ we wouldn’t have the amazing variety we have in the world.

  • Reader

    Elmore Leonard’s advice sounds terrible. Churning out more plain prose, boring writing that plagues modern literature.

  • Ray Bradbury’s “Zen and the Art of Writing” is a favorite of mine. And Stephen King’s “On Writing” is great. But for how to think about writing and storytelling, try “Journal of a Novel”, by John Steinbeck — written as letters to his friend and editor as he was working on East of Eden.