I am famous for saying there are no real “rules” for writing stories. I realize that this irks the living Hell out of people who are trying to make a career (or a nuisance) out of promoting books detailing so-called “rules” for fiction writers, but I don’t plan on backing down. But I do have to admit that I do have some rules that I abide by. But I think you will see that there is a huge difference between my “rules” and those hard and fast declarations so many others want to spout on and on about.
So, let’s begin:
1. Write the story you want to write!
The story still has to be compelling and well-written (both subjective measures) to be successful. But if you don’t write the story you are passionate about, it will come through in the writing. Don’t try to write something just because the last blockbusting best seller was on topic X.
2. Use your own voice!
Trying to copy someone else’s voice and method of story telling is going to exhaust you mentally. Everyone, including you, will be better off if you write in your own voice.
3. Find the right POV
I find that it is important to take time and find the right POV to tell your story in. There is no right answer. In fact, every story can be told in many different ways. You need to find the one that you think is best and that works best for you.
4. Don’t fret meaningless stuff during the first few drafts.
Worrying about things that are just, basically, roadblocks to actually writing lead to frustrations. I’ve met very few people that actually work well when frustrated, but, to be honest, I have met them. But for me, maybe not for you or anyone else, (remember, these are my rules for myself), I don’t get bent out of shape if I can’t come up with a the perfect name for a character or place or how to get from point A of my story to point C. I just put something down and move on with a note to revisit that meaningless thing later on. I find that by the fifth or sixth draft, most of these little roadblocks are lifted.
5. When in doubt of scene, just write dialogue.
I have used this rule many times. For me, the hardest thing to do is write the stuff that is going on in the background. So, when I can’t get the juices going enough to visualize the scene, I just write the dialogue instead.
6. Sometimes less is more!
You know you are reading a book by an author with control issues when, six chapters after describing the palace the main character lives in, he or she decides to finally tell you what color the roof tiles are. Is the color of the roof tiles even important? If not, this is where the less is more rule comes into play. Your readers have imaginations. Let them use them. Nothing frustrates me as a reader more than being introduced to a character, given no detailed description of him, imagining him up with blonde hair, and then being told chapters later than his hair is really black!
It happens more than we like to admit.
7. Telling IS not a bad thing
Every time someone spouts the “rule” of “show, don’t tell”, I want to grab the nearest book and clock them upside the head with it. It’s a stupid non-rule in the first place. All stories have telling in them. There are points where it is necessary. Best selling authors do it all the time. Should you tell all the time? Probably not, but who am I to tell you that? What I am here to say is that telling is a perfectly acceptable way of conveying information in stories.
And, if you doubt me, just remember that we are called story tellers and not story showers for a reason.
8. Never rely solely on the critiques of friends and family
If there is one thing I learned years ago as a writer, it is that friends and family don’t want to hurt your feelings. They will tell you everything is great within the pages of your story, even when they are not. The best thing you can do is get your story critiqued by people who have as little interest in your feelings as possible. You will get the best advice that way.
9. Grammar … it’s like the Pirates’ Code
Remember in Pirates’ Code in Pirates of the Caribbean? Remember how it was referred to as more of a set of guidelines than rules anyway? Well, grammar is the same way. Yes, there are rules for how to construct sentences and use words. But those rules can, and ofen are, bent, if not broken, by many a best selling author. Realize this, and you are a wiser man/woman than many givers of advice.
10. Get a thick skin
My last “rule” for writing fiction is that you had better develop a tough skin, be ready for criticism, and be able to deal with it. People will have opinions on your work. Not all of those opinions will be good. Some people will even be downright mean to you thanks to the anonymity granted by the internet. But that’s all ok! Why? Because of rule #1. You wrote the story you wanted to write.