Britt’s 10 Rules for Writing Good Fiction
On the wall where I write, I taped my writing “rules” as a constant reminder. It keeps me focused on the familiar traps that I tend to fall into. About half of these were pointed out to me during the initial round of edits to my first book, Schism, while the others I’ve learned along the way. I still violate these rules from time to time, but at least I now know what to watch out for, and I hope this list will help other writers out there as well.
1. Drafts are not meant to be perfect. Just get it down. Fix later.
I often become paralyzed while writing because I want to make everything perfect with the first draft, minor typos and grammar errors excluded. Unfortunately, what ends of happening is very little, at least until I tell myself to knock it off and just type, even if the words are only 80 or 90% of what I’m looking for. The 100% is reached with editing. Sounds simple, but I still struggle with this.
2. Keep your eye on your POV.
He thinks this. Two sentences later, she thinks that. Then let’s go back to what he thinks…and feels. Wait, what?
I was completely guilty of overly-shifting the “Point of View” of my characters in my first draft of Schism, which I originally published under a different title. This was one of the more difficult lessons for me to learn as a writer. I still haven’t perfected it, but I’m at least much more aware of how to use POV effectively. I’ve found that there’s no hard and fast rule of writing POV correctly, but there’s definitely a way of doing it incorrectly. And a good editor will quickly point it out.
3. No Insta-love. Just don't do it.
Insta-lust? Sure. Insta-hate? Indeed. Instra-I-think-I-might-like-you? Okay. But not Insta-love. It’s not real and no one wants to see two characters meet on page 5, and then be making out on page 15 unless this is an erotica book or some kind of one-night-stand situation.
4. Keep dialogue character-consistent.
Reader should be able to know which character is talking through dialogue alone and without too many reminders, usually due to their circumstances but also because of the words and phrases each character tends to use. And if they have a distinct accent—either regional or foreign—I try to include the cadence of their way of speaking English. Admittedly, this continues to be a challenge for me.
5. Show it. Don’t tell it.
Readers want to SEE the action. They don’t want to read what happened off-page. Sometimes telling is fine if you need to move the story along. But not for the meat of the plot. Readers want the full-course, not an appetizer.
6. Focus on your main characters but give your supporting ones enough attention to keep them real and relevant.
There’s a reason the Best Supporting Actor/Actress category at the Oscars exists. Most movies can’t survive one or two characters alone. Books are similar. Keeping the supporting characters in the game gives the plot more gravity and the readers more characters to root for and against.
7. Don't give away too much too soon. This is a series, not a comic strip.
I read many reviews of many books in order to understand what readers like and dislike about a book. The one complaint that continues to perplex me is when a reader feels that a novel spent too long revealing the complete nature of a character or a situation. When I read a book, I don’t want to know what’s happening within the first chapter. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I personally try to write in a style that I’d also like to read. And as a reader, I like surprises and discovery that continue until the very end.
8. Villains behave badly FOR A REASON.
Antagonists who are evil for no apparent reason are boring. Why are they evil, and is there any chance for redemption? Readers love to root for the protagonists, and that’s easier to do when they understand what the heroes are up against.
9. Write every day, even if it's only one word. Try.
Fairly self-explanatory. I have good writing days and not so good writing days. But I know that I will never reach the good days if I don’t push through the bad ones as well.
10. Remember why you started writing in the first place: because you had a story to tell.
And I did start with just a simple story: about a girl and a boy living in horrible circumstances and how they must learn to overcome these circumstances. Details come later, but the initial spark writers have about a new story that swirls inside their minds for years is what drives them to begin putting words on a page in the first place. And that spark is what produces the most interesting part of any story.