I was talking to Peter Brown, author of Ruthie Black, whose short story collection, Sidewalk Faces, is forthcoming from Grace Note Books, about a writing seminar he teaches here in DC. The premise of the seminar is "9 Rules for New Writers." It's always appealing to come up with lists of things, and I began thinking what my list would be, what are the nine most important rules I would offer to an aspiring fiction writer. Obviously, the first one is "Show don't tell," a valuable if hoary bit of advice that still holds up. The rest of my personal list is cobbled together from things I learned in classes, books, or just picked up on the street.
2. Try to appeal to three different senses on every page. This is a toughie but very useful. Sight and sound are easy, but getting in a smell, texture, or flavor in addition to the first two really puts you in the scene. (I picked this one up from Sheri Joseph)
3. Every page should have at least one thing that "pops," be it a vivid description, interesting dialogue, or surprising plot moment. I got this one from Josh Russell, although I'm not really sure he said it exactly this way. Walt Disney expressed it by saying, an amusement park "needs to have a wienie stand at the end of every street." Reading is too difficult to waste a reader's time with white noise.
4. Avoid "be" verbs. Action verbs are always more interesting and usually more sucinct. "It was raining" is not as cool as "The rain had fallen all afternoon."
5. Avoid adverbs. If you've got specific nouns, strong verbs, and precise adjectives, adverbs are usually - note that usually - not needed.
6. Don't filter scenes through characters. In other words, "Ronald looked up. A man was in the doorway," is usually better and more direct than "Ronald saw a man in the doorway."
7. Vary sentence lengths. We fall into easy patterns of writing say, sentences of fourteen words or so. Throw in a few fifty-word sentences and a one-word sentence now and again.
8. Pick a metaphor and stick to it. I love metaphors but they tend to trip you up if you leave too many lying around. A single clear figure of speech is better than five.
9. Bound modifiers should be unbound. What the hell does that mean? Everything italicized in "Herbert who loved all things cheesey stood trembling in the dairy aisle, is "bound" by the relative pronoun who. If you remove the who and change loved to loving, you can not only express the same idea in fewer words, you have more alternative ways to do it: "Loving all things cheesey, Herbert stood..." "Herbert, loving all things cheesey, stood..." or even "Herbert stood trembling in the dairy aisle, loving all things cheesey."
Anyway, them's my 9 rules. What are yours?