10 rules for writing fiction...

This is from the Guardian & everyone from PD James to Ian Rankin, from Hilary Mantel to Annie Proulx chime in. Some very good advice here…


Part !!: tinyurl.com/yksnu69

I was about to link to this myself, although I have to say I found a lot of it rather annoying. The piece was inspired by Elmore Leonard’s 10 rules of writing, which are far more useful than anything else in the article that they inspired. The one that made me laugh the most was Zadie Smith’s first rule:

Brilliant - I’ll make sure I do that next time I’m still a child then. Actually, I have a feeling a lot of people have a distorted memory of just how precocious they were as children. My kids love books, but if they spent more time reading books “than anything else” then I’d be a little concerned about their social skills and development. And if I read one more author saying, “Oh I was a bookworm as a child, how I read, read, read to the chagrin of my parents!” I think I might actually vomit.

My favourite set of “rules” was from the ever-brilliant Phillip Pullman, the entirety of which follows:

There was some good stuff in there, though. I very much enjoyed Will Self’s advice about throwing yourself a Christmas party (and knowing that even he despairs of his own prose), and Michael Moorcock’s ten rules were eminently practical and had me looking up “Lester Dent’s master plot formula”. And I liked Roddy Doyle’s suggestion of keeping the thesaurus behind the fridge, and Geoff Dyer’s lamentations that he doesn’t follow his own rules. Michael Morpurgo’s habits were interesting, too, and Colm Tóibín’s rules were firmly tongue-in-cheek. But really, many of the others were a tad self-indulgent, much more about impressing the reader than enlightening him or her. As much as like her, three of Margaret Atwood’s rules were concerned with what writing materials to take on a plane (you’re not allowed a knife, so maybe you can sharpen your pencil with a nail file). A good half of the authors recommend going for a walk, and many say to work without an internet connection; fair and practical enough, if somewhat tiring after reading it for the twentieth time. And then for the rest of it we’re left with gems such as:

(Jeanette Winterson here asking us to ignore all her own opinions, surely? And take no notice of the Orange Prize either… But presumably her rule only refers to men with a “gender agenda”.)

In all fairness, there is some good advice in there by some great writers; had it been edited down to avoid the repetitiveness and group related advice together rather than go for the 10-rules format (especially since some writers refused to give more than three anyway), I think it would have been a much less irritating read.

But then, I do have a particularly grumpy hangover head on today. :slight_smile:

All the best,


Geoff Dyer and Sarah Waters don’t even clear the “tad” bar. Each should read and heed the original list.