Top Ten Lists for Authors
By Nina Soden
I love lists. I make one every morning with all the things I need and hope to get done that day. Then, I check off item by item as things get done. At the end of the day, I feel accomplished if all my little lines have check marks and if they don’t I know where my list will start in the morning. Lists keep me organized, focused, and ready for what comes next.
So, when I was asked to write a guest blog post about top ten lists I thought long and hard about what types of lists the readers would want to see. I figured you might not want to see my top ten goals of the month, but who knows maybe you would.
I settled on writing a Top Ten List for Author, but since I am still pretty new to writing myself I decided to not only give you my top ten writing list, but to also share two more that I found while researching.
* Drumroll please *
Brian Garfield, Pulitzer Price finalist in 1969 for a book on World War II, wrote the list, Ten Rules for Suspense Fiction, in the February 1973 edition of the Writer’s Digest. John Grisham (author of The Firm, A Time to Kill, The Pelican Brief, etc.) gives credit to the article for giving him what he needed to develop a career as a bestselling author. Below I have proved for you a bullet point list of Garfield’s top ten rules, but if you would like to read a complete list with descriptions all you have to do is follow this link: http://visage.bravepages.com/suspense.html
Garfield’s top ten rules for suspense fiction:
- Start with action; explain it later.
- Make it tough for your protagonist.
- Plant it early; pay it off later.
- Give the protagonist the initiative.
- Give the protagonist a personal stake.
- Give the protagonist a tight time limit, then shorten it.
- Choose your character according to your own capacities, as well as his.
- Know your destination before you set out.
- Don’t rush in where angels fear to tread.
- Don’t write anything you wouldn’t want to read.
Although Garfield’s list was intended to apply to suspense fiction, I believe that his rules apply well to most genres within fiction.
I found another great list in the online Detroit Free Press dated August 2013. It was Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing, which he gave the paper permission to post. Below you will find a bulleted version of his list. For a complete list with descriptions follow this link: http://www.freep.com/article/20101106/FEATURES05/130820014/Elmore-Leonard-s-ten-rules-of-writing
Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing:
- Never open a book with weather.
- Avoid prologues.
- Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
- Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.
- Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
- Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
- Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
- Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
- Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
- Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
Elmore then said, that if it sounds like writing, he rewrites it.
While reading through these two great lists from two amazing authors I realized that not all lists work for everyone. I have to admit, I break a few rules as laid out by the great Elmore Leonard and Brian Garfield, but I think most authors do. So, I thought I’d try my hand at coming up with ten rules I follow for writing.
Here goes—in no particular order:
- Open with something shocking. Even if you’re giving backstory, give the reader something interested to read starting with Chapter 1.
- Know your characters. When you start writing you should already know everything about your characters; where they grew up, what their favorite movies are, their most embarrassing moment, etc. Then, to follow Elmore Leonard’s Rule #8 – Avoid detailed descriptions of characters. If you know everything there is to know about the character then the reader will learn those things for themselves through the dialogue and interactions they have with other characters.
- Edit your work yourself before you let others edit for you. Write, read, rewrite, reread, rewrite a thousand times. Irish novelist, Roddy Doyle once said, “Good ideas are often murdered by better ones.” I couldn’t agree more. It might be hard to delete something you love, but chances are what you replace it with will be worth the small loss.
- Keep writing. The only way to write a book is to actually write a book. You can’t tell yourself or others that you’re writing a book if you never start.
- Listen to your characters. Don’t fight where your characters seem to be taking the story just because your outline doesn’t agree. Sometimes, the story will lead itself and we have to shred the original outline and create a new one.
- Read everything you can get your hands on. The best authors don’t only write – they read. Expand your mind and your imagination by reading everything you can. Weed through the bad stuff and discover the great stuff. You should be reading everything from the classics to brand new undiscovered authors. I am a true believer that as a writer it is part of my job to support other writers, reading is one way I do that.
- If you get stuck—stop. This doesn’t mean give up writing or delete your manuscript, simply step away from your desk and take a break. Do something to calm you down, relax your mind, and help you regain focus. Writer’s block is a real thing and it can cause unmeasurable amounts of stress if you let it—don’t let it. Take those moments, and turn them into something positive. Think of it as your minds way of telling you it’s time for a little you time!
- Don’t read your reviews. Yes, reviews are important, they can either make or break a book, but don’t read them. You’re going to get bad reviews—everyone does—ignore them because, you’re also going to get good reviews! The bad ones will drag you down into an endless pit of self-doubt and the good ones will inflate your ego to the point that you can’t see clearly the things you still need to improve on. It’s better to just ignore them all and trust your instincts and those of your writing team, your editors, your proofreaders, etc.
- Write what you want to read. Yes, this might sound selfish, but trust me if you don’t want to read it then no one else will either. If you do want to read it, chances are there is someone else out there that will enjoy it too. You might not become rich and famous this way, but in the end you will have a manuscript that you’re proud of.
- Rules are meant to be broken. Remember that there is no clear set of rules when it comes to writing. Every author has to find their own rules, their own voice, and their own process. What works for one—isn’t going to work for all. So, break the rules and find your own voice.
Nina Soden, author of the Blood Angel Series, is excited to announce the upcoming release of Revenge (book 3) in the Blood Angel Series. The book should be released at the end of August and will be available in both eBook and paperback via Amazon.com with autographed copies available directly from Nina’s website: http://www.ninasoden.wordpress.com
To learn more about Nina Soden and her books you can check out her blog, or follow her on one or all of the various internet/social media sites.
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/author/ninasoden
Awaken (book 1): http://amzn.com/B008Q8ZPE4 | http://wp.me/P1Ft9W-4K
Beginnings (book 2): http://amzn.com/B00D3G7RWM | http://wp.me/P1Ft9W-7J
Revenge (book 3): http://wp.me/P1Ft9W-bR