Tuesday, February 23, 2010

(Your) Ten Golden Rules For Writing Fiction

As a debut children’s author, one of the first things I made time for was reading tips on writing, style, creating characters, and developing plots. As you can imagine, pretty soon I was completely confused as to what advice I should follow. I did find my own way and my own inner voice, but only after something of a struggle because I didn’t quite trust myself. After all, I reasoned, everyone else must know best, especially if they are already established, published authors with quite a few bestsellers under their belts. That’s actually not the case.

While any prospective or new writer should read around to glean as much as possible in the way of tips, one’s own inner voice is perhaps a good place to start. That said, I recently came across a two-part article in The Guardian (UK) giving various great writers’ Ten Rules for Writing Fiction. I read them all and chose Michael Moorcock’s advice because it appealed to me the most, especially his advice in point 10. Other excellent writers that have contributed their comments include Hilary Mantel, Neil Gaiman, David Hare, and Margaret Atwood.


Michael Moorcock (Science fiction and fantasy writer)

1 My first rule was given to me by TH White, author of The Sword in the Stone and other Arthurian fantasies and was: Read. Read everything you can lay hands on. I always advise people who want to write a fantasy or science fiction or romance to stop reading everything in those genres and start reading everything else from Bunyan to Byatt.

2 Find an author you admire (mine was Conrad) and copy their plots and characters in order to tell your own story, just as people learn to draw and paint by copying the masters.

3 Introduce your main characters and themes in the first third of your novel.

4 If you are writing a plot-driven genre novel make sure all your major themes/plot elements are introduced in the first third, which you can call the introduction.

5 Develop your themes and characters in your second third, the development.

6 Resolve your themes, mysteries and so on in the final third, the resolution.

7 For a good melodrama study the famous "Lester Dent master plot formula" which you can find online. It was written to show how to write a short story for the pulps, but can be adapted successfully for most stories of any length or genre.

8 If possible have something going on while you have your characters delivering exposition or philosophizing. This helps retain dramatic tension.

9 Carrot and stick – have protagonists pursued (by an obsession or a villain) and pursuing (idea, object, person, mystery).

10 Ignore all proferred rules and create your own, suitable for what you want to say.

Following on with tips for new writers, Suzannah Freeman at Write It Sideways asks the question “How does one go from thinking “I like to write,” to “I need to write,” to “I want to be published”? She then supplies the answer in 37 questions that aspiring writers should be asking themselves if they truly are serious about writing as a career. She says, “If you’re going to get serious about something, you need to know what you’re getting into, where you want to go, and how you’re going to get there."

If you want to start taking your writing more seriously, stop and ask yourself these questions first: 37 Questions New Writers Should Ask Themselves.
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