When last we left our heroine . . .
Actually, when last I darkened these blog pages with a post of my own, I was talking about writing, my thoughts and fears when I first started out.
Since that time, a friend sent me a funny and clever article entitled Ten Rules for Writing Fiction, a compilation of such lists from various authors. In case you don't skip on over and read the whole thing, here are some of my favorite tips:
- Try to leave out the parts readers tend to skip (Elmore Leonard)
- Take something to write on (when traveling). Paper is good. In a pinch a piece of wood or your arm will do. (Margaret Atwood)
- Do not place a photograph of a famous author on your desk , especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide. (Roddy Doyle)
- Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down. (Neil Gaiman)
As you can see, some of the tips are tongue-in-cheek. Others are more serious and personal to the writer -- advice on avoiding adverbs, only using "said" as a dialogue tag, etc.
Reading that article got me thinking about my own "Top Rules for Writing Fiction." I guess I qualify to come up with some -- I do have a bunch of books published, so some folks must think I know something about writing fiction.
My list for writing commercial fiction would include the following:
- Write the whole book. When you start out, you have to devote the time to finishing a manuscript, not just a proposal. Later, after you're published, you can sell on proposal.
- Set a daily page quota. You won't feel inspired to write every day, but you can get something down on the page. If you write three pages a day, you can finish a manuscript in about three months.
- Know where you're headed, but don't be afraid to change direction. Sure you might have a plot roughed out in your head or even on paper, but don't be afraid to change direction if the characters want to go racing down another path more compatible to the portraits you've drawn of them.
- Don't give up in the Terrible Middle. Midway through a manuscript, many writers I know feel as if they're walking through mud. Know that a lot of authors feel this way. This too shall pass.
- When you're stuck, throw another bear in the boat. In other words, look for ways to amp up the tension when you feel the plot's getting stodgy.
- Write the Big Scene and get it out of your system. Sometimes you're itching to get to that big, fat, juicy climax so badly that it stalls you while you're writing the scenes preceding it. Okay, give in to temptation and write the Big Scene. You can tweak it when you stitch the plot threads together.
- Similarly, don't be afraid to write notes to yourself in the ms, to fill in later. I've typed "NEED MORE HERE" in the middle of scenes when I've got a great writing pace going and don't want to stumble over something easily filled in later.
- When you revise, keep two lists: character names and timeline. It will save you and your copy editor a lot of trouble later.
- Once you're finished, put your business hat on and act like the professional writer you aspire to be, researching agents and editors and submitting to the appropriate ones.
- Finally, when you're writing, remember you're the only person who can come up with a Top Ten Rules for Writing Fiction for you. If you like adverbs, use 'em. If you're expressive using metaphors, go for it. If you do description well, don't let Hemingway's approach hold you back. You're the captain of your own writing ship. Cruise away!
Okay, that's my list. What's on yours?