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Ten rules for writing fiction

Another howl in the distance sent a shiver down his spine. A gust of wind snuffed out the flame. He groaned. The sun was getting lower and the forest up ahead looked almost as dark as night. Dan glanced up and swore he could see a pair of yellow eyes peering out at him. Dan pulled out another match and lit it. He was more careful as he tried to light the leaves, cursing himself in his head for not starting the fire earlier.

The darkened forest was filled with the sounds of groaning and howling and bodies moving in the darkness. Madelyn was shivering, and Dan knew it was more from the fear than the cold. Dan sighed. Well, at least most of it. He held her tighter. He hated that question the most. Madelyn was immune somehow. Somehow Dan was immune as well. He heard about Whisper Falls and how some doctors believed the transformation could be reversed studying the eyes of the immune. No, not just immune.

The bright green eyes that only Madelyn possessed. Were those eyes watching him? He squinted his eyes, trying to focus them. The pull toward sleep was too strong. She was lying on the ground a few feet away from him, and he noticed the fire was now a bunch of dying embers. How could he have been so careless? He reached into his pocket and pulled out the box of matches. Only two remained. The howling and groaning was getting closer. She groped her way toward him. The match quickly died out when he saw her several yards away.

She moved forward on her elongated legs as she stared at him with her bright yellow eyes. He knew what she wanted. She was a creature of the night who craved the blood of those closest to her. Dan grabbed the final match from the box and struck it against the box. Then I decided to call them the Commitments.


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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. That stuff is for agents and editors to fret over — or not. Conversation with my American publisher. Me: "I'm writing a book so boring, of such limited commercial appeal, that if you publish it, it will probably cost you your job.

In the early s I went to live in Paris. Since then I've developed an aversion to writing in public. I now think it should be done only in private, like any other lavatorial activity. The biggest regret of my writing life is that I have never kept a journal or a diary. If it's a choice between writing a book and doing nothing I will always choose the latter. It's only if I have an idea for two books that I choose one rather than the other. Make a habit of putting your observations into words and gradually this will become instinct.

This is the most important rule of all and, naturally, I don't follow it. If something is proving too difficult, give up and do something else. You've got to stick at it. Remember that all description is an opinion about the world. Find a place to stand. Fiction is made of words on a page; reality is made of something else. It doesn't matter how "real" your story is, or how "made up": what matters is its necessity. Why not? The thing that annoys this weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. And no one had to die.

It just does.

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It may not improve your temper, but it fixes something else. It makes you more free. Substituting "then" is the lazy or tone-deaf writer's non-solution to the problem of too many "ands" on the page. I still blush when I come across it. Read it aloud to yourself. If it doesn't spin a bit of magic, it's missing something. Cut until you can cut no more. What is left often springs into life. Don't let anything else interfere. Not everything needs to be explained. If you really know something, and breathe life into it, they'll know it too. Read it pretending you've never read it before.

Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving. That may be a rule for life as well as for writing.

But it's definitely true for writing. So write your story as it needs to be written. I'm not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter. They may not be what you want to end up doing but you have to master them in the meanwhile.

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You can choose to be understood, or you can choose not to. Words are the raw material of our craft. We who write in English are fortunate to have the richest and most versatile language in the world. Respect it. It is only by writing, not dreaming about it, that we develop our own style. Nothing that happens to a writer — however happy, however tragic — is ever wasted.

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However, don't automatically give them charge of your brain, or anything else — they might be bitter, twisted, burned-out, manipulative, or just not very like you. Remember you don't know the limits of your own abilities. Successful or not, if you keep pushing beyond yourself, you will enrich your own life — and maybe even please a few strangers.

You can, of course, steal stories and attributes from family and friends, fill in filecards after lovemaking and so forth. It might be better to celebrate those you love — and love itself — by writing in such a way that everyone keeps their privacy and dignity intact. Organisations, institutions and individuals will often think they know best about your work — especially if they are paying you. When you genuinely believe their decisions would damage your work — walk away. Run away. The money doesn't matter that much.

No amount of self-inflicted misery, altered states, black pullovers or being publicly obnoxious will ever add up to your being a writer. Writers write. On you go.

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As much as you can. And the good things will make you remember them, so you won't need to take notes. Too much fear and all you'll get is silence. It wouldn't be worth it if you didn't. If the love fades, do what you need to and get it back. It doesn't care.


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Nevertheless, it can behave with remarkable generosity. Speak well of it, encourage others, pass it on. Read the second part of the article here. Elmore Leonard: Using adverbs is a mortal sin 1 Never open a book with weather.