Writing Fiction

This is an excellent article from The Guardian in the UK about writing fiction.

You can read it here.

The points I really agree with are –

2 Avoid prologues: they can be ­annoying, especially a prologue ­following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in non-fiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want. There is a prologue in John Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday, but it’s OK because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: “I like a lot of talk in a book and I don’t like to have nobody tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks.”

I really don’t like prologues and forewords in novels. It is backstory, so get it into the story proper. Every prologue I have read I have forgotten about as the narrative progressed and I’ve had to go back and read it again.

4 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. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances “full of rape and adverbs”.

‘Hear hear’, she said enthusiastically. ‘Adverbs don’t belong with said‘ she said wryly. Much like Ashton Kutcher in Two and A Half Men.

8 Avoid detailed descriptions of characters, which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants”, what do the “Ameri­can and the girl with him” look like? “She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.” That’s the only reference to a physical description in the story.

Let your narrative describe your characters. Let your dialogue describe your characters. One or two sentences is enough to give the reader an idea of their physicality.

This is such a good article. Helpful, valid and relevant. You can also read the second part here.



About Selma

Still dreaming, still hoping, still trying to pronounce incontrovertible. Writes stories the way Evel Knievel jumps canyons - without a net.
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4 Responses to Writing Fiction

  1. Karen says:

    Hm, I’m not sure I totally agree with the prologue issue, as I put them in some of my manuscripts. But they’re not back story as much as they’re a setting, a forewarning of things to come. Ok, I suppose that’s backstory, but, um… yeah… I’ll have to think about it a bit more. 🙂

    “I’m embarrassed to admit that I do occasionally toss in an adverb or two,” she said, sheepishly. Sometimes, I think it would be ok, especially when what’s being said doesn’t fit the situation (as in sarcasm), but I do try to limit myself on those and toss in a facial expression to show gist or mood.

    I do agree with the last one, about not detailing the characters. I want my readers to put themselves in the story, be the protagonist or even the antagonist if they so desire. Some details are nice, but only what may naturally come up, not fifteen pages about someone’s hair or dress.

    Awesome piece and lots to think about. Thanks for sharing.


    • Selma says:

      I know. I am guilty of writing prologues myself. I was having a chat with an editor the other day and she said Prologues are a no-no in publishing these days. What gets me with publishers these days is how the rules are constantly changing. No prologues. No adverbs. No this. No that. Then you read a book that is on the best seller list and it is full of all the no-nos. It’s hard to know what to believe.

      I agree about not detailing the characters too. Very important. Maybe the antidiote to all these NOs is to write from the heart, something that is true to you and take it from there. It’s some kind of plan…..


  2. Little Hat says:

    Thanks Selma. Good article to muse upon. God, I’m sure i break all the rules. But hopefully i can re-read my stuff and know when I’ve completely lost the plot. I hate rules, always have, always will. Gets me into trouble at times – my last job for example (but that’s another story). I always told my Drama students that they needed to know the rules so they could choose to break them. Its a bit like learning to do anything. Trial and error works but a good teacher can help you save a lot of time.


    • Selma says:

      I completely break all the rules too, Little Hat. Sometimes there are so many guidelines it is difficult to know which ones we are meant to follow. Maybe the best thing is just to write from the heart and trust it will be enough. I really appreciate you stopping by and taking the time to comment!


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