Rules For Writing Fiction

I’d put this off and I don’t know why. On Friday in Creative Writing I’d gotten this sheet, and I thought I’d share what’s on it.

It was quite interesting to me. In short, it is some “rules” for writing fiction.

If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in this writing.

– Ernest Hemingway.

Kurt Vonnegut’s Rules For Writing Fiction:

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things – reveal character or advance the action.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them – in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7. Writer to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Now, I don’t personally agree with point 4 completely – I know that Edgar Allen Poe had once said that every word in a story must be necessary to be there, and each word must build up to the climax of the story, but in order to describe something, you should take a small amount of time out to describe it. Of course, meaningless physical description is pointless – I’d once read a fanfic where the writer would painstakingly describe every piece of clothing a character decides to wear, the brand, the color, how they folded their sleeves even – but to some degree, a description of places and setting in accordance with the story, both for emotive, symbolic or dynamic purposes, are useful.

I like how point 8 negates Hemingway a little. Not completely, just a little. I suppose you can always imply from point 8 that “as much as possible” isn’t “everything”, but just as much as it is necessary.

I think I’ve fucked up point 5 many, many times – flashbacks from a start point doesn’t count. I’m guilty of starting many an epic long story from the beginning of beginning. Still, I’d like to think I’m building up artistic flair in my writing.

Yes Cheryl, I will work on the writing project.

But apart from that, I really sincerely believe in points 1 – 3, and point 6 sounds like a lot of fun. Point 7 is probably something I will have to slowly develop, because I haven’t really thought about it.

I shall try my hardest to create a good ice-berg. One day it’ll be large enough to sink the Titanic again.


5 thoughts on “Rules For Writing Fiction

  1. Some interesting rules. I totally agree with 2 and 3. Characters who are directionless kind of bug me and if I dislike every character I don’t really care what happens at the end. And 6 is brilliant.
    Thanks for sharing this.

    No worries! Yeah, sometimes I don’t see the point in having a character who is in for no reason i.e. not even furthering the plot or anything. I have a tendency to introduce characters that at first seem pointless but later on will prove to be important. Thanks for commenting!

  2. I agree with most of them, but I just can’t seem to accept point 8. In my opinion, I enjoy reading stories most when it’s unpredictable. As a writer, I read while trying to predict the next move or the end and if it isn’t challenging, then I feel upset afterwards.
    A good story should keep my attention and curiosity till the very end!

    But nonetheless, thanks for sharing this, they’re excellent! (Aside from point 8, Imho)

    No no, I more than agree with point 8. It depends on your interpretation of his words, but seeing as it contradicts almost directly what Hemingway wrote…”

  3. I’m not sure I agree with number 8. I enjoy reading stories that unfold gradually over the course of the book, surprising me with new information and plot twists as it goes.

    Number 8 seemed to have the most controversy. I really think, though, that the guy meant that in your writing, the implications that a reader draws should be pretty easy to follow, and not totally abstract.

  4. Like the info. I think the idea is to take what works for you and find your own style. “Show don’t tell!” Is the rule of all rules. I just finished a CW class and will be going for a masters in it. Weekly we read pieces based on prompts, and the thing that stood out to me most was when classmates and myself went back-n-forth in our pieces showing and telling. Just listening to others tell stories, instead of showing was a great reminder of the need to show. When a classmate did a good job showing a story, I leaned forward in my seat and was not easily distracted. When a classmate told a story or told me details, I found myself leaning back in my chair and could easily be distracted by birds outside or whatever. Clearly, we were all there to learn and learn we did. We had a phenomenal Professor (one that I’ll miss dearly) and everyone improved tons! It was a great experience-so glad I had it.

    I agree! The varying degrees in writing skills I used to see are really shown in Uni when you see some amazing writers who’ve got you wrapped around their little creative finger, and have you react the exact way they want. Then you have some writers who are taking the subject out of curiosity, and you see them slowly learn to take control of their language and words.

  5. Vonnegut´s 8 Rules for Writing a Short Story « Thorey O

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