Mar 12

7 Rules from Famous Writers on Writing

1. Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very”. Your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. Mark Twain

2. The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof shit detector. This is the writer’s radar and all great writers have had it. Ernest Hemingway

3. Write in the third person unless a ­really distinctive first-person voice ­offers itself irresistibly. Jonathan Franzen

4. Description must work for its place. It can’t be simply ornamental. It ­usually works best if it has a human element; it is more effective if it comes from an implied viewpoint, rather than from the eye of God. If description is coloured by the viewpoint of the character who is doing the noticing, it becomes, in effect, part of character definition and part of the action. Hilary Mantel

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

5. Pace is crucial. Fine writing isn’t enough. Writing students can be great at producing a single page of well-crafted prose; what they sometimes lack is the ability to take the reader on a journey, with all the changes of terrain, speed and mood that a long journey involves. Again, I find that looking at films can help. Most novels will want to move close, linger, move back, move on, in pretty cinematic ways. Sarah Waters

6. Respect the way characters may change once they’ve got 50 pages of life in them. Revisit your plan at this stage and see whether certain things have to be altered to take account of these changes. Rose Tremain

7. Learn from cinema. Be economic with descriptions. Sort out the telling detail from the lifeless one. Write dialogue that people would actually speak.

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