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Saturday, October 10, 2015

The 'Rules' of Fiction Writing (Borrowed by Susan Sheehey)

I've been a part of a local critique group for several years and there's been a lot of new writers showing up lately. I love it. I love all the new people, the fresh ideas, and most importantly the reminder.

The reminder of exactly where I started all those years ago (I refuse to admit precisely how long). I'm sure my face looked just as confused, self-conscious, and nervous. It takes a lot of bravery to accept those critiques and keep writing forward.

Then it reminded me of all the various 'rules of fiction writing I've learned along the way.

There are dozens of subjective ‘rules’ out there, including every genre maintaining their own set of laws, but here’s what I’ve found to be universal. These are rules I’ve learned either the hard way or being in the right place with the right people, such as my critique group or a kind editor who took the time to reject my query with constructive advice.

*Say as much as you can in as few words as possible. Then cut the word count by half.

*Adverbs are spawns of Satan. Don't use them. Instead, find the right verb.

*Adjectives aren't evil, but they are sinful. Use sparingly. (Dangit, I used an adverb!)

*Head-hopping is just as confusing as it sounds. Keep to one point of view at a time. If you have to change heads, best option is to only do it by chapter or scene break (limit scene breaks to 1 per chapter.

*Likewise, stay in one tense: past or present. Otherwise it becomes too "Back to the Future for people.

*Cliches are such a cliche. Originality is the only way. Ya feel me?

*Showing is better than telling. Showing makes things more active, better paced, and easier for the reader to connect to the character. Telling has its uses at times, but again only sparingly.

*Info dumps (also called backstory dump) belong in the dump themselves. Otherwise it reads like a history book. Filter in the backstory in small bits throughout several chapters.

*The most important rule is to forget everything I just wrote and do what works for you and your voice. Fiction is subjective.

Can you think of any other rules I've missed? That we can throw out together?

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  1. What a terrific post: I'm not a Newbie, but this was a much needed review. It's so easy to get lazy, letting the rules that keep our work cohesive slide. And yes, do what works for you. Liked the Ernest Gaines quote too.

  2. It's always good to be reminded of the rules. I agree that it's okay to break them, but not too often! (I believe there's some rule about using exclamation marks sparingly, too. Ooops. I just used one.)
    Great post.

  3. Good rules--especially the 6 golden rules in the graphic image.


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