12 Rules of Writing from Famous Authors and 6 Writing Links

The following respected and popular authors used these ‘rules’ to craft their own best-selling careers. The quotes showcase the authors’ voices and put a new spin on an enduring writing lesson.

Mark Twain

Mark Twain

1.  Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very”. Your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.  Mark Twain – The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

2. Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.  Anton Chekhov – The Three Sisters

3. The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof shit detector.  This is the writer’s radar and all great writers have had it.  Ernest Hemingway – The Sun Also Rises

4. Write in the third person unless a ­really distinctive first-person voice ­offers itself irresistibly. Jonathan Franzen – The Corrections

5. Description must work for its place. It can’t be simply ornamental. It ­usually works best if it has a human element; it is more effective if it comes from an implied viewpoint, rather than from the eye of God. If description is coloured by the viewpoint of the character who is doing the noticing, it becomes, in effect, part of character definition and part of the action. Hilary Mantel – A Place of Greater Safety

6. Don’t sit down in the middle of the woods. If you’re lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page. Margaret Atwood – The Year of The Flood

7. Carrot and stick – have protagonists pursued (by an obsession or a villain) and pursuing (idea, object, person, mystery). Michael Moorcock – The Coming of the Terraphiles

8. Pace is crucial. Fine writing isn’t enough. Writing students can be great at producing a single page of well-crafted prose; what they sometimes lack is the ability to take the reader on a journey, with all the changes of terrain, speed and mood that a long journey involves. Again, I find that looking at films can help. Most novels will want to move close, linger, move back, move on, in pretty cinematic ways. Sarah Waters – Tipping the Velvet

9. Respect the way characters may change once they’ve got 50 pages of life in them. Revisit your plan at this stage and see whether certain things have to be altered to take account of these changes. Rose Tremain – The Road Home

10. Learn from cinema. Be economic with descriptions. Sort out the telling detail from the lifeless one. Write dialogue that people would actually speak. Rose Tremain

11. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. George Orwell – Animal Farm

12. 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. 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. Keep your exclamation points ­under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. Elmore Leonard – Raylan


6 Juicy Links

On Writing:

From Writer Unboxed, Going Deeper: A Process Rather Than a Technique  and Flip the Scrip: What to Do With Your Darlings.

From Mystery Writing is Murder, Constructing and Weaving in Subplots.

On Publishing:

From The Creative Penn, Traditional and Self-Publishing Are Not Mutually Exclusive.

From The Book Designer, Publishing Strategies  for the Savvy Self-Publisher.

On Marketing:

From The Book Designer, Finding People to Read, Review and Recommend Your Book.

From The Creative Penn, Secrets of Amazon MetaData From #1 Amazon Best Seller Mark Edwards.

I hope you found something helpful among the quotes and links. If so, please fill me in on your thoughts!

Attention! If you haven’t already subscribed to this blog, click on the button, “Yes, Please”  to get posts freshly pressed in your inbox.

And now you can download my blog to your Kindle and have it there whenever you’re in need of something cool to read!


29 thoughts on “12 Rules of Writing from Famous Authors and 6 Writing Links

  1. Pingback: Taking a week to breathe … « Patricia Sands' Blog

  2. Great list and links Marcia. My favorites are Hilary Mantel’s advice about description (loved Wolf Hall and she walks the talk:) and Ernest Hemingway’s “shit detector”

    • I think those may be the toughest parts to do well, as a new writer. Movies do help, though. When I watch a movie, I don’t watch just to enjoy it anymore. I’m watching for the changes from act to act, the way setting and characters are described, and the gestures and phrasing the characters use.

  3. Until recently I was very guilty of using any other adverb than “said”. He shouted, she commented, he replied.
    I’m back on track now 🙂

  4. Wow, awesome advice. This was really helpful for me to read today! Especially Atwood’s quote. Thanks, Marcia.

  5. Great tips Marcia! I love that Mark Twain one, especially because I use just and very (and small and seemed, etc. all the time). But, er, George Orwell – Lord of the Flies?

    • Oops! Thanks for catching that Deniz! I was looking at a quote by William Golding and then went with this one by George Orwell. All fixed now.

I love it when you tell me what you think!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s