If you’re as big a fan of lists as I, then you’ve already come across a few famous authors telling you how it is. The most well known and unavoidable sets of writer’s rules are the following:
Ernest Hemingway’s famously adopted the Kansas City Star style sheet (pdf):
- Use short sentences.
- Use short first paragraphs.
- Use vigorous English.
- Be positive, not negative.
…and Elmore Leonard’s 10 rules (which are really 11).
- Never open a book with weather.
- Avoid prologues.
- Never use a verb other than ”said” to carry dialogue.
- Never use an adverb to modify the verb ”said” . . .
- Keep your exclamation points under control.
- Never use the words ”suddenly” or ”all hell broke loose.”
- Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
- Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
- Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
- Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
- If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.
The already initiated, though, may not be as familiar with these guidelines:
- Over the years, I’ve found one rule. It is the only one I give on those occasions when I talk about writing. A simple rule. If you tell yourself you are going to be at your desk tomorrow, you are by that declaration asking your unconscious to prepare the material. You are, in effect, contracting to pick up such valuables at a given time. Count on me, you are saying to a few forces below: I will be there to write.
- You Must Write
- Finish What Your Start
- You Must Refrain From Rewriting, Except to Editorial Order
- You Must Put Your Story on the Market
- You Must Keep it on the Market until it has Sold
- Start Working on Something Else
- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
and W. Somerset Maugham FTW said:
“There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”