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Rules for writing fiction

February 23, 2010

A fun collection of quotables in The Guardian’s “10 Rules for Writing Fiction.”

Part One.

Part Two.

Some are more earnest than others, many are very funny (and Phillip Pullman’s point in Part Two beats ’em all).

Regardless of how helpful it may be to turn the earnest bits over in our minds, the fact is:

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

(W. Somerset Maugham)

Some excerpts, for your enjoyment:

“Do not place a photograph of your ­favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide.”

Roddy Doyle


“Try to be accurate about stuff.”

Anne Enright


“The most purely autobiographical ­fiction requires pure invention. Nobody ever wrote a more auto­biographical story than ‘The Meta­morphosis’.”

Jonathan Franzen


“Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.”

Jonathan Franzen


“You have to love before you can be relentless.”

Jonathan Franzen


“Bad writing is contagious.”

P.D. James


“Beware of clichés. Not just the ­clichés that Martin Amis is at war with. There are clichés of response as well as expression. There are clichés of observation and of thought – even of conception. Many novels, even quite a few adequately written ones, are ­clichés of form which conform to clichés of expectation.”

Geoff Dyer


“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.”

Esther Freud


“The nearest I have to a rule is a Post-it on the wall in front of my desk saying ‘Faire et se taire’ (Flaubert), which I translate for myself as ‘Shut up and get on with it.’ ”

Helen Simpson

Warms the cockles of a Strunk & White heart.

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