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Steve Berry’s twelve rules of fiction writing

September 19, 2018

As I prepare to teach a class of aspiring writers at the Australian Writers’ Centre in October, I’m reminded of the advice I received from the New York Times Bestselling Author, Steve Berry, recently. He shared with me his Twelve Rules of Fiction Writing and I’d like to share them with you, too. Here they are:

1. There are no rules. I love this rule, but I would like to add that there are reader expectations, especially genre specific expectations, and it’s a good idea to know what they are before you break them.
2. Don’t bore the reader – his list included a dull plot, not enough conflict in the story, long-winded paragraphs, and words the reader has to look up because they jolt a reader from the the world of the book.
3. Don’t confuse the reader, such as whose point of view is the reader following.
4. Don’t get caught writing. Don’t be an intrusive author. His example was this. A young kid is in danger, then his parents save him, they drive away. The kid looks back at the house where he almost died. Where his best friend lives. He’d never see that house again, is author intrusion. Better to say, he had a bad feeling he would never see that house again.
5. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. If you promise shock value, you’re setting high expectations. Steve doesn’t like to build up to the shock, he just gives it to the reader.
6. Don’t lie to the reader. But you can mislead if it’s in character. For instance, you can have a delusional character. The author chooses what goes on in that character’s head.
7. Don’t annoy the reader. For example, don’t overdo an accent. Or keep using a particular word all the time. Or be predictable.
8. Writing is rewriting. Steve says he goes through his manuscripts 70 times. He does his own copy edits.
9. Writing is rhythm. Getting into the nuances of the characters’ voices.
10. Short is always better. Steve is not a fan of the more British style of writing with parentheses and complex sentences. I’m a believer that succinct and punchy is best, especially in times of action. But there are times when longer sentences can be very powerful. John Le Carre is a master of the longer sentence that reveals so much.
11. Story never takes a holiday. Don’t stop the momentum of the story to explain. Show don’t tell.
12. Tell a good story. Good story trumps good writing every time. Although I would add, always strive to write well and with impact.

You can find more about Steve Berry here.
You can find details of how to enroll in Creative Writing Stage 1 with the Australian Writers Centre here. It starts Monday October 15, 2018.

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