No background setting. ‘Get on with it!’
No explanations, ‘show, not tell’.
Short sentences to make it easier for the reader.
Break up long paragraphs to make it easier for the reader.
Start mid-scene so that the reader is not bored and drops the book within 30 seconds.
We live in a digital age of short attention spans so get to the point and keep it simple and fast. Oops, sorry, too complicated Hilary Mantel and as for James Joyce, what’s that all about?
Only one distinctive speech signifier per character.
The plot must be ‘this and therefore this and therefore this’ so no digressions. Sorry, Laurence Sterne, you are out.
Avoid flashbacks and non-linear narratives. Gone, Woolf and Calvino.
‘Kill your darlings’ is the cry. Sorry to all writers who write elaborate, luxurious and expansive prose. Red pencils at the ready.
Stay ruthless; if it does not propel plot or character, if it is merely digression, out it goes. Sorry, Tolstoy, Gogol, Mann, Dostoevsky etc. [and do not use ‘etc’].
Lean and straightforward prose is the mantra. Sorry, Proust, out you go. Sorry, Thackeray, get a good editor. Sorry, Woolf, self-indulgent and lacking in plot and clear structure. Austen? You can stay.
Out the door with the rest of you.
Hemingway? Ideal, albeit spawning countless bad imitations and we need to separate the author from the writing; no problem, we celebrated the ‘death of the author’ decades ago.
And when all too often the critically and commercially successful novel breaks all these rules, we are told ‘ah well the exception proves the rule’ and we odd sagely [note unnecessary use of adverb].
Yes, it is all good advice and it helps prevent the self-absorbed, over-written, neglectful-of-audience stuff I was writing 12 months ago. Yes, it helps to train better writers in the same ways we can train people to be better athletes or dancers or guitarists. There is nothing mystical about writing [except for those authors who inspire awe and I ask ‘how do they do it?’] and rules are valuable: we have to know the rules and then know when to ignore or bend them.
Why this gentle rant? Maybe because I would love to hear/read a creative writer teacher to add the ‘and yet ….’ to these rules and to allow leeway, at least a little encouragement to ‘dare to be different’ to us wannabes.
They are only rules.