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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The groom pours stale coffee into a cup, leaving a half an inch of the black liquid in the bottom of the percolator. He brings the cup to his dry lips and takes a long swig to relieve the cotton wool sensation that plagues his tongue.
He needs distraction. He retrieves his phone from his trouser pocket and taps at the screen to access his documents. He skims over the latest draft of an article he’s been battling with for weeks. It’s good. It’s almost perfect. He just can’t seem to find the right words to conclude it.
And he probably won’t be able to find them now as the nerves swirl in his stomach. He takes another sip of coffee and reaches into the inside pocket of his suit, pulling out a cigarette and a lighter.
She’ll turn up her nose when she catches the whiff of stale fag on his breath. He told her he’d quit. She doesn’t know that he never managed to kick that first and only smoke of the day.
When the nicotine has delivered a surge of faux confidence, he tosses the cigarette — only two-thirds smoked — onto the ground and grinds it beneath his shoe. He can probably go through with it, he thinks. It won’t kill him. He’s managed three years already; a lifetime won’t be all that bad…
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Dear Lost Forks,
I’d like to begin by thanking you for your vital, if short-lived, service. Over the past few months, you have done important work in aid of my taste buds and my stomach. You helped me to shovel pasta into my mouth at a rate that is almost superhuman. You allowed me to mash avocado onto toast so beautifully that my Instagram followers were driven wild. You even helped me to tackle the ring pulls on my Diet Cokes when I was afraid of breaking a nail, a task that is far beyond your intended role.
I know that I haven’t always been kind. Many a time I woke you from your slumber in the cutlery drawer, only for you to lay idle beside my plate as I threw my manners out the window and ate my food with my hands. You didn’t pass judgement on this lewd behaviour of mine, even when I ate so viciously that you were splattered with sauce and crumbs like mere placemats. Following this, and to my shame, I would simply mark you as ‘unused’ and replace you, unwashed, in the cutlery drawer.
Without a doubt, it is antics of this nature which have forced you to leave without saying goodbye…
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Yeah, I’m writing on Medium! I’m hoping to post one new post -either fiction or silly non-fiction such as this – each week, so be sure to Follow me if you’re a Medium member. I’m looking forward to connecting with more people over there, too, so let me know if you’re a Medium writer.