Ten Rules For Writing Fiction: My Turn


Well, everybody’s doing it, it seems. No, not that, that’s dirty. I’m talking about this whole “Ten Rules For Writing Fiction” thing. This article got writers thinking about it, and some others – most notably the Magic Talking Beardhead – have taken it upon themselves to write up their own. Which leaves me feeling compelled to put up my own.

See this bandwagon? I’m jumping on.

Well, why the hell not? I pretend to know what I’m doing half of the time, might as well go all the way. There’s no point in putting your hand up a girl’s shirt if you’re not going to try & unfasten her bra too. Wait, what was I talking about? Oh yeah, writing rules. Like all rules, they’re made to be broken, or even ignored. But, by and large, especially when it comes to The Project, here’s the few semi-strict guidelines I find myself following.

  1. The only way to write is to start, and once you start you need to finish.
  2. If something feels boring or dry for you to write, it’ll be boring or dry to read.
  3. Don’t be afraid to hurt your characters. It creates drama and helps them grow. They’ll thank you when they’re done cursing you out.
  4. Kill your characters only when absolutely necessary. Much more conflict is generated by mercy than by murder.
  5. Keep descriptions to a minimum. Painting with words is fine in poetry, not so much in prose. Set the scene and move on.
  6. Time is precious for both you and your reader. Don’t waste it.
  7. Your theme might grow from your characters or your characters from the theme, but either way, your story needs to be about something other than itself.
  8. A little subtlety goes a long way. Let conversations and narratives build towards greater things later in the tale.
  9. Have resources on which to fall back if you get stuck. Story & Character Bibles, friends, beloved novels, a bottle of whiskey, whatever.
  10. Don’t stop writing ’til the writing’s done. Or you pass out. Even then, when you come to, start writing again.

There you have it. Now you can have at it, if you so desire. That’s what the comments section is for, after all. Well, that, and helping me pretend people are interested in what I write.


  1. >> # Kill your characters only when absolutely necessary. Much more conflict is generated by mercy than by murder.

    I am going to disagree with this only so much as sometimes it creates an insanely complex and powerful amount of drama; see Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin. I do not completely disagree with you, of course, but character deaths can certainly cause a faltering plot to suddenly kick into a new gear and revitalize it.

    I really like your list, Josh – good stuff.

  2. You tell ’em, Blue!

  3. May I then point you to DEATH: THE THIEF OF CONFLICT? The #terribleminds post gives you some checks and balances on whether or not death will steal conflict or provide it.

    — c.

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