One hundred ‘rules’ for writing fiction: 47-51

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Further words on ‘how to’ or ‘how not to’  or ‘how I do’ from interviews with fiction writers.

47, You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You’ve been backstage. You’ve seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a ­romantic relationship, unless you want to break up. (Margaret Atwood).

48. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water. (Kurt Vonnegut).

49. I’m trying to get better at the plotting, because I don’t think it’s my natural strength. I would say I have sort of a natural gift for character, and following one person’s point of view at a time, and dialogue, but I’m not naturally good at strong plot. So something like Room I’ve done a lot more planning on. And it’s not cold-blooded planning; it’s more like planning a military campaign or something. It’s quite exciting, because what you’re trying to do is to keep up the reader’s energy at every point. You’re looking for those spots where things would sag or get lost or come off the rails. You’re trying to keep up the momentum. Playwriting is very good training for that, because people are quite indulgent in a novel of any softening in your pace—they can just choose to read faster, or to take a break from it and come back. But in a theatre, your audience is trapped there. So if you’ve got any bits that feel dull, the audience will literally shift and cough. Even if they don’t walk out, you can tell that they’re restless, so you have to really shape your play well, or they’ll be shifting in their seats. (Emma Donahue).

50. Do it every day. Make a habit of putting your observations into words and gradually this will become instinct. This is the most important rule of all and, naturally, I don’t follow it. (Geoff Dyer).

51. Editing is as important as the writing. I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil. (Truman Capote).

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