Apr 23, 2011

Ten rules for writing fiction: Why should academic writers pay attention

In February 2010 The Guardian published a large list of rules for fiction writing. Accomplished writers listed their ten rules (some of them gave less than ten). Part one is Here, and part two is Here.

[Jonathan Franzen is among the 100 most influential people by Time, they claim: 
He writes beautifully, but a lot of people can do that. I think the reason his books stir up so much feeling is that they remind readers that they might be watched in a way that is very different from how they are usually watched, even by novelists. He awakens in them an awareness of how vulnerable they are to exposure. The awareness shocks them. They either really like it or they really don't, but they can't ignore it.
His Wikipedia page says that he gave his ten rules for writing fiction and they were published in an article in the Guardian . . . the article in the Guardian has rules not only by Franzen, but by many other accomplished fiction writers]

Writing fiction is different than writing academic research papers. One of the reasons is that authors of academic papers use words that belong to the specif vocabulary of the field [such as increasing returns to scale, in economics], they also can use mathematical equations, but not necessarily so. But actually academic writers have a lot to gain from fiction writing [both of them are interested in clarity, right?]. If delivering a clear message is the main objective [unless you are James Joyce or John Maynard Keynes, that is how it should be] academic writers should pay more attention to these rules.

[these are the ones that made laugh - but they might be useful]:
You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You've been backstage. You've seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a ­romantic relationship, unless you want to break up.
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.
Do keep a thesaurus, but in the shed at the back of the garden or behind the fridge, somewhere that demands travel or effort. Chances are the words that come into your head will do fine, eg "horse", "ran", "said".
Marry somebody you love and who thinks you being a writer's a good idea.
The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.
Write in the third person unless a ­really distinctive first-person voice ­offers itself irresistibly.
It's doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.
Editing is everything. Cut until you can cut no more. What is left often springs into life.
Remember: when people tell you something's wrong or doesn't work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
Fix it. 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.
The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you're allowed to do whatever you like. (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. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I'm not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.
Jokes are like hands and feet for a painter. They may not be what you want to end up doing but you have to master them in the meanwhile.
Read. As much as you can. As deeply and widely and nourishingly and ­irritatingly as you can. And the good things will make you remember them, so you won't need to take notes.
Do spend a few minutes a day working on the cover biog – "He divides his time between Kabul and Tierra del Fuego." But then get back to work.
Only bad writers think that their work is really good.
Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you ­finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die.
Second part
Write a book you'd like to read. If you wouldn't read it, why would anybody else? Don't write for a perceived audience or market. It may well have vanished by the time your book's ready.
Oh, and not forgetting the occasional beating administered by the sadistic guards of the imagination.
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."
If you have to read, to cheer yourself up read biographies of writers who went insane.
Writing fiction is not "self-­expression" or "therapy". Novels are for readers, and writing them means the crafty, patient, selfless construction of effects. I think of my novels as being something like fairground rides: my job is to strap the reader into their car at the start of chapter one, then trundle and whizz them through scenes and surprises, on a carefully planned route, and at a finely engineered pace.

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