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16 Rules for Writing Fiction

Updated: Oct 31, 2022

Writing is tough. But there are a few rules you should live by when writing fiction, whether short fiction or longer prose works like novels. Now, if you know the rules and have been writing for some time, you'll understand the fact that you can "break" the rules. But here are some good guidelines to follow, especially when you're starting out.

  1. Cut adjectives where possible; leave them when they make sense

  2. Cut adverbs

  3. Careful with red herrings – readers don’t like to be tricked

  4. Create believable characters – flat characters are boring

  5. Write short, succinct sentences

  6. Don’t start your novel with the weather, a dream, or anything mundane

  7. Show Don’t Tell

  8. Start in medias res – in the middle of the action

  9. Less is more (description/setting/etc.) – don’t bore the reader with overwriting

  10. No sermons or diatribes – they will turn your reader off

  11. Avoid prologues – get right into the story if you possibly can

  12. Avoid dialogue tags other than “she/he said.”

  13. Ease up on exclamation points—we don’t want people always screaming

  14. Use dialect sparingly – don’t overwhelm your readers—makes for difficult reading

  15. Get a first draft done first, as fast as you can – you’ll revise later; going fast provides consistency in voice and style, and a unified flow to the novel

  16. If you break a rule and it works, it works

The more you write, the more you revise and rewrite, and the more you read like a writer, the better you will get at writing, and the easier (hopefully) the process will become for you. It won’t get easy, it’ll just get easier, because you’ll know what you’re doing, and you’ll know the things to look out for that’ll make your writing more compelling to readers.

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Great list of guidelines. I love 10, 11, and 12. I (and Charles Johnson) might have some trouble with 1, 2, and 5

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