Fiction Writing Rules

Here are some of the most often suggested “rules” for writing fiction. Some people say that it would be better to call them “guidelines”. Others say that the whole concept is hogwash and that there are no rules for writing fiction. Some say that they are not rules for writers but serve as guidelines for editors and publishers to reject or accept manuscripts. It goes without saying that this is an incomplete list.

  1. Show, don’t tell.
  2. Omit needless words.
  3. Do not break the conventions of your story world.
  4. Use proper grammar.
  5. Maintain continuity.
  6. Write what you know.
  7. Avoid passive voice.
  8. Avoid adverbs.
  9. Avoid decorative prose.
  10. Avoid exclamation marks.
  11. Avoid long expositions.
  12. Avoid prologues.
  13. Avoid cliché.
  14. The MC must be relatable.
  15. The villain must also have a human side.
  16. The hero must have vulnerabilities.
  17. Open with attention grabbing action.
  18. Don’t give away the ending.
  19. Follow story structure.
  20. Leave out the parts no one reads.
  21. Maintain POV. No “head hopping” in a single scene.
  22. Every scene must advance the plot or reveal character.
  23. The main character must have clear motivations and goals.
  24. There must be a consequence if the MC fails in his/her quest.
  25. Every scene must have a clear and obvious conflict.
  26. Every scene must end in the resolution of said conflict.
  27. There must be a setback before the climax.
  28. All dialogue must serve the plot.
  29. There must be a time limit (eg: before midnight) or an event deadline (eg: before the war starts) for your MC to attain the quest.
  30. Every story beat must be connected (or be connectable) to the next beat with either “but” or “therefore” (not “and then”).

This list has been collected from a diverse collection of books and articles. These are just compilations of other writer’s experiences. Some are useful, others are less so. Many of these are complicated and need lengthy explanations to be fully understood. Some have whole books written about them. But generally speaking these are the things that inexperienced writers do wrong and wonder why they are not getting published. You do have to break the rules when you see fit to do so, but you should never break them by accident. Apply these rules with caution and reject them with care.

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