4 Rules for Writing Fiction You Can Ignore

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You think you know how to write fiction? You probably don’t. Not unless you follow these four cardinal writing rules.

Remember: some highly successful writers break these rules and still write great stuff. But you are not one of them. It is not possible to break these rules and write great stuff unless you are already a successful writer. Got it? Good.

1. Show, don’t tell

You’re telling me a story, right? Wrong. You need to show me the story. You don’t need a pen and paper or a keyboard — you need a stage. Perform for me, monkey.

You could act out the story, mime it, or come up with a contemporary dance routine. Whatever you do, don’t you dare tell me what happens, because that’s bad writing. It’s boring. What readers really want is a series of ideas which they can interpret in a million and one different ways without fully understanding what your story is all about. Do you understand? Of course you don’t. That’s exactly my point.

Now, there is a very subtle difference between showing and telling when writing fiction, and I’m afraid I can’t share with you what that difference is. Why? Because I have no idea myself. Nobody does. All I know is that “show, don’t tell” is the most repeated mantra known to fiction writers the world over, and we must abide.

2. Never carry dialogue with anything other than “said”

You don’t want your writing to become too pretentious, right? In that case, don’t even think about using anything other than “said” when you’re telling — sorry, showing — us how your characters interact.

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Author: Ellie Scott

Ellie Scott is a freelance copywriter and fiction writer from Sheffield, UK. She writes speculative and silly short stories and flash fiction. She has published two short story collections - 'Merry Bloody Christmas' and 'Come What May Day'. In 2018 she was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize Short Story Competition. She can often be found loitering on Twitter (@itsemscott), Instagram (@tinysillystories) and Medium (@elliemaryscott).

6 thoughts on “4 Rules for Writing Fiction You Can Ignore”

      1. Yup, definitely satire… now I’m worried that I failed at my attempts to be funny and people will think I’m serious haha oops! But you’re absolutely right, they’re fine as guidelines, but not necessarily great rules and certainly not things that every writer should follow. Unfortunately I see them pitched as rules all the time and I feel like it only does more harm than good to tell anyone which way is the ‘right’ way to write. There isn’t a really a ‘right’ way.

        1. Na, don’t worry. I just read your post and answered without thinking. Afterwards I thought to myself ‘wait a second, she can’t be serious’. Things already happened though 😀 I agree with you, there is no right way to write. If you like what you write and you feel like you expressed yourself the way you wanted to you did it the way you should have done it. Writing itself is merely the tool to express things. It should never be about how you write your story, it should be about what you write.

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