Sunday 1 April 2012

Rules for writing novels.

Rules for writing novels - I found this wonderful list on Claire King’s blog  - and as it is so good, am reproducing it here, with my own notes to help the unwary. This is all based on real views, of mine. Thank you I hope they are helpful.

(Added: and you might like to check out the date of posting before getting too irate...(!))
  1. Never write using a first person point of view. (Never. Always make sure you have other characters hanging around so you can refer to them collectively. Readers prefer a choice.)
  2. Never write in present tense. (Actually, this rule ought to be ‘never wrote in the present tense’. By the time you’ve written your novel, it is in the past. Stick to that. No reader will believe the novel if you say it is happening now. It isn’t. Obviously.)
3. Don’t tell. Show. (This is a complex rule with great depth. Books have been written on this one. Basically, don’t tell a story. Not in words, anyway. Show it. This is one of the reasons for the rise in popularity of graphic novels.)
4. Don’t write dialogue in dialect. (It is impossible. Words on the page have no accent, and the reader won’t know what you are on about. The only dialect that is understandadble is pirate-speak as in ‘Oo-aaar’, but use sparingly.) 
5. Clichés are old hat. (Unless you are describing old hats.)
6. You never write in second person POV. Dear God, I mean, not ever. (Quite right. The reader is the second person in the equation. If you are trying to address them directly, you can’t know who they are, so it won’t work. For example, how do you know they are even reading your novel? You don’t. Second person leads to all sorts of trouble.)
7. Don’t use adverbs. Or, if you must, use them sparingly. But never use ‘suddenly’ no matter what. (Adverbs are an indication of bad writing. Allegedly. But I read somewhere that you can use three in a novel of 300 pages. Try that and perhaps no one will notice.)
8. Don’t use prologues. (Unless the prologue is part of the story. Actually, you can. Only don’t show it to your agent. Slip it in just before the book goes to press.)
9. Never use a word other than ‘said’ to carry dialogue. Even ‘says’. If you find you have used ‘says’ as a dialogue tag then you are writing in present tense. See (2). (Never use dialogue, is the best rule. It is so hard to get right, most writers give up.)
10. Don’t write what you know. No do. No don’t. Um. It depends what you know really. (If you know you don’t know much, then you can write about that. Football, mostly. That goes down OK. And handbags. Apart from football and handbags, make it up. But always base your fictitious handbags on real ones.They are far too important to just make up. Leave that to the designers. Where football is concerned, you must not write about football unless you have been to a least 100 matches and can accurately define the offside rule.)
11. Using the passive voice is not recommended. (Obviously. keep your prose alive and kicking. Passive voice (which is anything with ‘had’ in it), is unsypmpathetic.
12. If using the third person POV, which obviously you are, avoid use of the omniscient narrator. (Omniscient narrators are old hat. And anyway, no one can be everywhere, unless they are god. So unless you are writing a novel from the point of view of god, don’t try to be omniscient. He wont like it, and will make sure it gets bad reviews.)
13. Make sure you read widely. Also, focus on reading books similar to your own. (Exactly. If you read stuff you wont write like, it is wasting your time and that of the writers. Only ever read stuff like what you are going to do yourself. Then it isnt so lonely.)
14. Network like crazy and build your platform. (IKEA have good platform kits. Also remember, when you have met a lot of writers, on your platform, they will all want to buy your book. So never talk about anything else.)
15. Don’t procrastinate. Shut up and write. (And buy a dictionary, if you dont know what pro - pre - per crusti -thing  means.)


  1. Blimey. How have I managed to get ten published, then?

  2. I've just read the most amazing manuscript submitted to Inkwell written in second person present tense - and its been snapped up by an agent. Never say never! Rules are there to be considered and broken :)

  3. Er, It is 1st April, people!

    Happy writing.

  4. Sorry. I'm too busy chortling to post a comment of any value.

  5. Glad it made you laugh! Now, I'm off to write on a IKEA platform, about a pirate who says nothing but oo-arr while carrying a designer handbag and playing football. In second person because it is for my neighbour, and I know who she is so that's OK. Booker, here we come.

  6. Vanessa, if you write as a pirate, you have to be in Penzance -- #litfact. I'll save a seat for you on the wet rock and I'll even share my football, but you'll have to bring your own designer handbag (no Gucci here, only Lidl).

    No. 8 is my favourite -- big tea snort.

  7. Hello Martha! I am so glad the list is useful (!) Of course, I should have said - you can only write Pirate in Penzance. Gilbert and Sullivan knew that yonks ago, and they got it spot on. (Tra la la ). I have the very handbag. It is rock coloured, with seaweed attachments - used to belong to a designer mermaid....