Three Fiction Writing tips from famous authors

I love these lists. Do you?

I Googled this topic and loved these results so much that I had to share them with you. The best thing is, you can never read enough advice. I mean, who thinks, “Right I know enough. I can’t get any better at writing”?

To further stress, these tips are the ones that popped out at me but I didn’t write them. Please visit “Ten rules for writing fiction” Part One and Part Two for the full articles (from The Guardian).

Author photo of Franzen courtesy of The Guardian

ONE: Write in the third person unless a ­really distinctive first-person voice ­offers itself irresistibly.–Jonathan Franzen

I love this because it’s something I keep in mind for my novel. I’ve written my novel in first-person Point Of View because I have a protagonist who “isn’t reliable”. You may or may not have heard that a lot. The thing is, first-person POV has the best impact when it’s used for a specific reason, not the result of a coin toss.

So what isn’t reliable? For example, my protagonist has issues that skews the way she thinks about things and shows the reader her environment. This aspect is my advantage because it adds to the story.

Author photo of Leonard Courtesy of The Guardian

TWO: Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apos­trophes, you won’t be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavour of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories Close Range.–Elmore Leonard

I’ve seen plenty of what Elmore is saying not to do in fiction. It’s easy to drop off all the “g”s and pretty up the text with telltale signs of dialect. Some people might think, “Why not?” but if you rely on this feature to show dialect, you’re producing weak fiction. If you haven’t read Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, read it. This isn’t a suggestion. Go.:) (And I’m plugging a previous post I did on this book if you want to read it here.)

Kathryn wrote the dialogue differences between the white and black women so well. The words and sentences as separate and singular entities mimic realistic voices. Kathryn doesn’t resort to chopping a few letters from every other word. This is why the dialogue is so powerful.

Author photo of Mantel courtesy of the Guardian

THREE: Description must work for its place. It can’t be simply ornamental. It ­usually works best if it has a human element; it is more effective if it comes from an implied viewpoint, rather than from the eye of God. If description is coloured by the viewpoint of the character who is doing the noticing, it becomes, in effect, part of character definition and part of the action.–Hilary Mantel

Who likes beautiful descriptions if you can’t attach a meaning to anything. Inserting something that matters to the plot, a human for example, hints to the reader that the description is necessary. The rest Hilary writes is obvious. Well-written advice.

With all editing, no matter how sensitive – and I’ve been very lucky here – I react sulkily at first, but then I settle down and get on with it, and a year later I have my book in my hand.

Did that make you feel better? It sure did for me. When I receive comments about my WIP novel that seem only to function as knives slashing apart my self-esteem and therefore tearing apart my purpose as a writer, yes, I want to screw up the paper and find a rich husband to support me so I can wallow in self-pity until the day I die. But–this is not okay after a time of deliberation (be one day or a week).

You put in the time to create the manuscript, you suffer the regret when you grow old and are still dreaming of writing “that” novel, so you need to realise that this experience will only strengthen you as a writer.


Now over to you, readers: What writing tips have you heard from famous authors that connected with you better than anything else you’ve read?

17 thoughts on “Three Fiction Writing tips from famous authors

  1. Hi Rebecca,

    Great blog, wanted to request you remove my portrait of Elmore Leonard as it is copyrighted by me, no rights have ever been licensed to the Guardian.

    Thank you
    Dermot Cleary

  2. These are fantastic. When I saw Stephen King speak at George Mason University a while back, he said one way he keeps his story moving forward is to ask himself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” I laughed at the time that he said it, but now I have it posted above my desk.

    • That’s a great idea to consider the worst thing that could happen if you’re struggling with ideas. After all conflict makes story so you gotta make it the best you can.

  3. Very interesting topic. Thank you. I wanted to share this item from one of my favourite Americam writers, Kurt Vonnegut.

    “…I guarantee you that no modern story scheme, even plotlessness, will give a reader genuine satisfaction, unless one of those old-fashioned plots is smuggled in somewhere. I don’t praise plots as accurate representations of life, but as ways of keeping readers reading. When I used to teach creative writing, I would tell students to make their characters want something, even if it’s only a glass of water. Characters paralyzed by the meaningless of modern life still have to drink water from time to time. One of my students wrote a story about a nun who got a piece of dental floss stuck between her lower left molars, and who couldn’t get it out all day long. I thought that was wonderful. The story dealt with issues a lot more important than dental floss, but what kept readers going was anxiety about when the dental floss would finally be removed. Nobody could read that story without fishing around in his mouth with a finger…..

  4. This is great information. The writing tip that really says it all is .. just write!:)

    Congratulations, Rebecca! I have awarded you the Sunshine award. If you go to my blog on Tuesday, March 6, you will learn the details.:)

  5. Hi, Rebecca!
    I followed your blog even though I’m not a member of your WD “Today I Blogged About…” writing group because I was so intrigued and interested on what established authors can give/suggest re the craft of writing. Also, for a beginner writing in a second language, dialogues were only experienced from movies, TV, or the occasional personal interaction with clients, superiors, or plain tourists.

    Anyway, I subscribed to all three advises from these well-known authors, and I intend to make it a part of my writing guides, which include since you asked, Stephen King’s credo: “Write what you know”. I am doing it, and loving and enjoying every part of the journey.

    Best of luck!

  6. Your post is so timely for me! I’m working on my next novel with multiple first-person narratives (which have been chosen for good reason, I think). And one of them is someone for whom I need to convey dialect. I will definitely look back at Annie Proulx and The Help, both of which I’ve read before but not with an eye to this issue. Thanks!

  7. Pingback: Blog Mash-up « Paul Welch

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