So a while back, I started a list like this but it got all out of hand, yeah, turned into that House of Fiction thing, which was really just a version of this other post, I suppose. When all I really wanted was something short, to pin up by my monitor, help me keep it between the lines, all that. Except of course writing ‘rules,’ I mean, Vonnegut‘s laid them down, Elmore Leonard‘s done it, Twain‘s got them, Palahniuk‘s messed around with it, and Orwell has too, and of course Stephen King has. And then there’s stuff like this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and of course this, and I agree with just about all of it (except the bad talk about mutants; sand mutants rule), even down to stealing some of them (‘incorporating’), but still, I guess, am either vain enough or blind enough — and I’m thinking vanity and blindness aren’t that unrelated, really — to think that I have to have my own list. Maybe just for me, for that little empty space by my monitor. Something like this:
1) Start as close to the end as possible.
2) Don’t get too fancy.
3) Don’t be smart.
4) Only ever tell us what we can’t already assume.
5) The main character has to be in some kind of jeopardy.
6) Always remember that your audience can walk away at any point, even while thumbing through a table of contents. Don’t let them.
7) Endings are earned, not rigged. And they need to be on the page, please.
8) Vagueness is not ambiguity. And ambiguity is often just timidness.
9) Be wary of semicolons and colons and em-dashes and ellipses and italics and all the coordinating crutches: though, but, however and the rest.
10) Be economical with your exclamation points, and with passive voice, and with any sentence that uses the ‘when/while’-construction of ‘as.’
11) Subtlety isn’t key. Precision is.
12) Your story should read like somebody with scissors went through a story three times as big, and left only the good stuff.
13) Let the story engage the reader, not the writing.
And I didn’t put “Never describe a character by having him or look in a mirror” down because, let’s face it, if you’re tempted to do that, you’re up against some sort of crisis of the soul that no list is going to be able to fix, yeah?*
- *And besides, sand mutants don’t have mirrors. Where they live, anything shiny draws attention.