How to Write a Fiction that is'nt Nauseating

Elmore leonard, ET. ALI; see special thanks page

How to Write  a Fiction that is'nt Nauseating
Saturday, July 11, 2015

Elmore Leonard: Using adverbs is a mortal sin

1 Never open a book with weather. If it's only to create atmosphere, and not a charac­ter's reaction to the weather, you don't want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead look­ing for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways than an Eskimo to describe ice and snow in his book Arctic Dreams, you can do all the weather reporting you want.

2 Avoid prologues: they can be ­annoying, especially a prologue ­following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in non-fiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want. There is a prologue in John Steinbeck's Sweet Thursday, but it's OK because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: "I like a lot of talk in a book and I don't like to have nobody tell me what the guy that's talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks."

3 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.

4 Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said" ... he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances "full of rape and adverbs".

5 Keep your exclamation points ­under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.

6 Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose". This rule doesn't require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use "suddenly" tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.

7 Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apos­trophes, you won't be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavour of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories Close Range.

8 Avoid detailed descriptions of characters, which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants", what do the "Ameri­can and the girl with him" look like? "She had taken off her hat and put it on the table." That's the only reference to a physical description in the story.

9 Don't go into great detail describing places and things, unless you're ­Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language. You don't want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.

10 Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Helen Dunmore

1 Finish the day's writing when you still want to continue.

2 Listen to what you have written. A dud rhythm in a passage of dialogue may show that you don't yet understand the characters well enough to write in their voices.

3 Read Keats's letters.

4 Reread, rewrite, reread, rewrite. If it still doesn't work, throw it away. It's a nice feeling, and you don't want to be cluttered with the corpses of poems and stories which have everything in them except the life they need.

5 Learn poems by heart.

6 Join professional organisations which advance the collective rights of authors.

7 A problem with a piece of writing often clarifies itself if you go for a long walk.

8 If you fear that taking care of your children and household will damage your writing, think of JG Ballard.

9 Don't worry about posterity – as Larkin (no sentimentalist) observed "What will survive of us is love".

Jonathan Franzen

1 The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.

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2 Fiction that isn't an author's personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn't worth writing for anything but money.

3 Never use the word "then" as a ­conjunction – we have "and" for this purpose. Substituting "then" is the lazy or tone-deaf writer's non-solution to the problem of too many "ands" on the page.

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

5 When information becomes free and universally accessible, voluminous research for a novel is devalued along with it.

6 The most purely autobiographical ­fiction requires pure invention. Nobody ever wrote a more auto­biographical story than "The Meta­morphosis".

7 You see more sitting still than chasing after.

8 It's doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.

9 Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.

10 You have to love before you can be relentless.

Esther Freud

1 Cut out the metaphors and similes. In my first book I promised myself I wouldn't use any and I slipped up ­during a sunset in chapter 11. I still blush when I come across it.

2 A story needs rhythm. Read it aloud to yourself. If it doesn't spin a bit of magic, it's missing something.

3 Editing is everything. Cut until you can cut no more. What is left often springs into life.

4 Find your best time of the day for writing and write. Don't let anything else interfere. Afterwards it won't matter to you that the kitchen is a mess.

5 Don't wait for inspiration. Discipline is the key.

6 Trust your reader. Not everything needs to be explained. If you really know something, and breathe life into it, they'll know it too.

7 Never forget, even your own rules are there to be broken.

David Hare

1 Write only when you have something to say.

2 Never take advice from anyone with no investment in the outcome.

3 Style is the art of getting yourself out of the way, not putting yourself in it.

4 If nobody will put your play on, put it on yourself.

5 Jokes are like hands and feet for a painter. They may not be what you want to end up doing but you have to master them in the meanwhile.

6 Theatre primarily belongs to the young.

7 No one has ever achieved consistency as a screenwriter.

8 Never go to a TV personality festival masquerading as a literary festival.

9 Never complain of being misunderstood. You can choose to be understood, or you can choose not to.

10 The two most depressing words in the English language are "literary fiction".