Ten Rules For Writing Fiction: My List

Here’s the deal. Over the weekend, I saw a great article that I encourage you to read:

Ten Rules For Writing Fiction.

Starts with Elmore Leonard, after which you find a series of other writers (Neil Gaiman, f’rex) giving their ~10 rules for fiction writing. It’s an enlightening read. It’s nice to see that other writers have similar ideas or struggle with the same problems. I also like that I only agree with maybe half of them. The way a writer tackles his work isn’t universal. We all have our ways into the story. That’s a good thing.

So, I figured, fuck it. I mouth off a lot about writing and the rules of writing. Why not do my own ten rules list? Add my own meager wisdom to the pile.

Hey! I did.

It’s below. My list is pretty different from the ones in that article, mind, in part because I intended it to be. We all know adverbs are the Devil’s own language, and so I don’t need to list it here as one of my rules. Instead, I aimed to condense a lot of the earlier chatter found on this here website down to ten rules.

… except, erm, it’s 11 rules. Hey! Sorry. I kept trying to wrestle it into a list of 10, but inevitably that 11th little fucker kept sneaking up and jostling for position. Whenever I tried to yank him out, he bit my fingertips. Snap, snap, snappity-snap. So, I left him. Call him a “bonus rule.” Free. Value added. All yours. Just $19.99 shipping and handling.

Peruse it. Argue about it. Anybody who reads this, feel free to add one more rule of your own into the comments: something you do that you feel others might want to do, too.


Here goes.

Ten Eleven Rules For Writing Fiction

1. First: finish it. Second: make it good. Third: make it great. In that order only.

2. Conflict is the food that feeds the reader.

3. No unitaskers. Every character, every scene, every line of dialogue should have more than one purpose, should serve more than one master. Multitaskers only.

4. Readers are compelled by The Question. The story is an equation: 2 + X = 4, or 2 + 2 = X. The reader will keep reading as long as he can continue to Solve For X.

5. Always answer the question: what is this about? Ask it often — before you begin, during the process, during the rewrite, after it’s done.

6. Start the story as late as you can. The beginning is the most boring part. So fucking skip it and get to the awesome shit.

7. Think in both scenes and sequences.

8. Always have a plan. A good plan — whether it’s a mindmap, an outline, a treatment — is your map. Without it, you’re lost in the wilderness or dead on the highway.

9. The construction, “There is” is the poison that can kill a sentence. You can always find a better way of saying what you want to say without that two-word dose of verbicide.

10. Think actively. Everything in the work must be active. Active sentences are more compelling than passive ones. Active characters are more fun to watch than passive ones. An active story engages; a passive story drags.

11. Have fun when you’re writing. If you’re not having fun, the reader isn’t, either. The reader, like bees and dogs, can smell your fear. If you don’t love it? She won’t love it.