Recently (as of this writing), the popular novelist Jonathan Fanzen gave 10 short rules for novelists. Here is a response from someone who didn’t bother to read Mr. Franzen’s list.
Joseph Cadotte’s 10 Rules for Novelists
1. Character, character, character.
If you don’t have compelling, three dimensional characters, there’s nothing to keep the reader in the story and keep them coming back to it. A poor and derivative setting doesn’t matter if the characters live in your reader’s head.
Never stop researching. Ever. This includes reading, consuming testimony, talking to people who know more than you (and actually listening), reading some more, and extensive examination of your sources and data.
3. Properly incorporate your research into your work.
Don’t ignore all the research you are doing. Revise your work constantly to make sure you are as accurate and believable as possible. This will speed up your eventual edits as well. On the other side of the coin don’t just put stuff in because it is neat. Well, maybe in an appendix.
4. Write for yourself.
If you write the story you want to read, you know you have an audience. The global market is big enough that there will be others that like what you like. They may not have any money or means to find your novel, but they exist.
5. Write for everyone.
Obscure references and jokes are fun (and my stock-in-trade), but they can’t be the meat of your story, no matter how well written it is. Your story needs to stand by itself, even if the reader hasn’t consumed what you have. Odds are, they won’t have, just like you don’t know what they do.
6. Don’t stop writing.
Do it day in and day out. A page a day (about 250 words) is not that much of a burden and, after six months, you can start editing.
7. Don’t stop editting.
Becuz yule mak constant misteaks, evn if (‘specialy if) u dont tink u r. Alsew, u dont nid that manny adjectives. U hav 2 manny.
8. You aren’t going to say anything new.
Seriously, you won’t. Every thought you’ve had has been had before, probably by smarter people. Don’t worry about being profound – you’ll just come off as pretentious, if you are lucky.
9. The message, story, and plot comes from the characters.
If your character won’t believably do or say something, don’t force it. Such a practice pulls the reader out of the story or worse, turns the character into an author avatar.
10. Everything will change as you write.
If you follow all the steps above, odds are your mostly finished product (like all art, it’s never finished) will be different from what you initially envisioned. In fact, it may barely resemble it at all. This is a very good thing – the process of writing changes the author and the work. That’s the sign that your work isn’t just middling and that you’ve actually been putting in the effort that it deserves.
Joseph Cadotte is an editor and author. Like Mr. Franzen, he also writes mediocre novels that people tell him they’ve read, but really haven’t. He’s just so much worse at publicity. His most recent novel is the space opera revenge story, Job, Herself. His next novel is either Two Thieves or Job’s Daughters, depending on which one he finishes first.