DON’T KILL THE DOG and 14 other unwritten rules of fiction
Dear Up-and-Coming Author,
If you take your craft seriously (and I’m sure you do), you know the rules of grammar and the three acts of storytelling. You know how to craft a character and heighten tension. You likely also know how to add “hooks” so that societies full of nurses and Weimaraner owners will find your opus through search engines.
As a public service, I hereby list the also crucial, but often unwritten, rules of fiction writing.
1) Don’t kill the dog. You can kill the grandmother by inches or boil the baby, but if you kill the dog, readers will fling your book across the room (or their e-reader, which will break, causing them to blame you even more) and never buy or borrow another thing you’ve written. They will also badmouth you on all social media sites.
2) Don’t kill Ned Stark or any other main protagonist who does the ethical heavy-lifting (at least, not until the end of the book). George R.R. Martin can get away with it. You can’t.
3) If your fan fiction begins to seriously go viral, hire a copy editor at once.
4) Hope that your first novel won’t become a bestseller. (You’ll thank me later.)
5) Have a room of your own where you can go to write, and where you really DO write. This room can be a coffee shop or library or a poorly lit basement. It will likely have to be somewhere out of the trajectory of your normal life, and hopefully will not have wifi.
6) Play well with others. In this profession, as in all others, what goes around, comes around.
7) Do not sleep with crazy people “for research.” In fact, the list of things not to do for research is pretty long.
8) Do not use the proper name of a beloved deity as a curse. You can justify it in many artistic and character ways, but it will hurt readers in ways you do not intend and will pull them out of the story. Even if you are profane with glee in real life, try to be more creative in type.
9) Never underestimate the value of a cat or dog at your feet while you are writing. They make the best company and never make an inappropriate comment.
10) Do not blame your family for being hungry/wanting to see you. You’ll eventually have to build this in.
11) Never dis another writer in print or on social media. You may think of it as momentary amusing snark, but it NEVER GOES AWAY.* * This does not apply if you are Lee Child talking to PLAYBOY, in which case you may say anything you damn well please and every writer on the planet will look at you with awe.
12) Realize you are writing because you love it and not because it will make you rich. Do not pre-order furniture.
13) Come up with a great “I finished a book!” celebratory ritual. I finished my first book in 7th grade, at which time a banana split was the world’s greatest extravagance. Diana Gabaldon buys a new set of towels. That is probably more sustainable.
14) Most important: keep a sense of humor. It is your lifeline.
15) Do not spend your time and creative energy writing or reading blogs when you should be writing your novel.
That being said, good blogs are often inspirational! Here are two writers to check out:
Laura Benedict’s Blog “Time to Go Pro”
Meredith Cole’s blog “I’m Still Writing”