One hundred ‘rules’ for writing fiction: 52-56

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Five further provocations from the published great and good on writing fiction, collated over the years from interviews and articles.

52. Who says you have to start writing first thing in the morning? People worry that you have to have a structure to the day; that you have to get a structure to the day; that you have to get a certain number of words written. Who makes these rules? This sort of thing makes people anxious about their writing before they’ve even started. (Susan Hill).

53.  Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action. (Kurt Vonnegut).

54. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.  Never use a long word where a short one will do.  If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.  Never use the passive where you can use the active. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous. (George Orwell).

55.  Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But “said” is far less intrusive than “grumbled”, “gasped”, “cautioned”, “lied”. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with “she asseverated” and had to stop reading and go to the dictionary. (Elmore Leonard).

56.  You don’t always have to go so far as to murder your darlings – those turns of phrase or images of which you felt extra proud when they appeared on the page – but go back and look at them with a very beady eye. Almost always it turns out that they’d be better dead. (Not every little twinge of satisfaction is suspect – it’s the ones which amount to a sort of smug glee you must watch out for.)  (Diana Athill).

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