10 rules for writing fiction

The Guardian asked a line-up of eminent authors for their personal dos and don’ts for efficient fiction writing. The results, to say the least, ranged from entertaining to outrageous to hilarious: “Get an accountant, abstain from sex and similes, cut, rewrite, then cut and rewrite again – if all else fails, pray.”

So anyhow, to cut a long story short, though eminence is a far-off nightmare dream, no harm in compiling a list of my own. Here’s hoping it doesn’t affect my relationship with my accountant, have a bearing on my sex life, or make me believe in religion…

  1. Uninstall all IM software: Really, truly. In fact, getting away from the Net is good, on the whole, except that it sometimes comes in handy to look things up. I have to admit, I don’t follow this rule. I’m bad.
  2. Don’t try to plot your novel if that doesn’t work for you: I find it impossible to plot out a scene-by-scene story. I just need to let stuff happen. I never expected Nira to catch the speld — she just did.
  3. Don’t worry about chapters: Working chapters is usually something I bluff my way through. A chapter break happens when I think to myself, “Oops, I haven’t had a new chapter for ages.” It seems to work. After all, Terry Pratchett doesn’t do chapters, does he? He’s inspirational!
  4. Characters without the right name have no life: I beg to differ with Shakespeare — the name is everything. A two-metre-tall nerdy Scandinavian called Bill would have turned out very different from Noah.
  5. Give yourself a deadline and treat it seriously: I promise myself a treat when (and if) I meet the deadline.
  6. Get some honest reviews: I’d rather know from friends that my precious work-in-progress is crap than from strangers.
  7. If you get stuck at some point in the story, move on to something else: No point being frustrated with a part that just isn’t coming together. I move on to writing something completely different or to another part of the story. When I come back to the problem later, I’m always surprised how much the break helped.
  8. Also, don’t write in chronological order if you don’t want to: I just write the bits I have figured out first and worry about what comes after what later on.
  9. Writer’s block happens: So no point fretting over it! I try and enjoy the break and not feel guilty about it.
  10. Free-writing really helps: In fact, they have proved to be an effective antidote to writer’s block for me.

If anyone has any other rules for themselves, I’m curious to hear.


9 Replies to “10 rules for writing fiction”

  1. I don’t think I have any such rules. I take what I can get in any way possible. πŸ™‚

  2. As someone who couldn’t write fiction even if her life depended on it, all I say is that I deeply admire you, and those others who write good, believable fiction so effortlessly (well, that’s how it looks like from my perspective!). I’m just very glad to be one of those chosen for the initial reviews! πŸ™‚

  3. @Niklas: Maybe that’s your rule — anything goes. πŸ™‚

    @Pro: And I am very grateful for the time and effort you put into it. πŸ™‚

  4. You make me sound so cheap

  5. Loved your rules. Beg to differ with the first one though.

    Yes, we waste oodles of time on the net. But I’ve actually got ideas and snatches of conversation from IM chats. Used to chat years ago with a writer buddy on the other end of the globe, and we thrashed out ideas and passages. Yeah, we gossiped too, but there are a couple of passages in my not so precious stories which originated from those IMs.

    Also, being on the net kinda helps one get over the feeling of writing in isolation.

  6. Yes, that’s why I put in my disclaimer that I don’t follow it! I actually waste more time than most people on the Net…


  7. The best ideas often come when we allow the mind to wander and play freely :-)Guess that’s how you make your writing appear to flow so effortlessly. all your hard work happens in the background, right?

    re. rule vi, it might be tough for friends to give honest reviews, especially if they aren’t writers. You must mean friends in writers workshops, who are better at offering constructive critiques.

  8. very useful tips, Payal! thanks.

  9. @Moni: Yes, I did mean friends in either writers’ workshops or those who know the genre and target audience, and are not afraid to pan your work if it’s bad. Giving honest critiques is not an easy job, and it’s a HUGE favour to ask for. I’m always eternally grateful to people who’ve taken the time to read and review my work.

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