These days you’re no one unless you’re offering at least 10 rules for better writing. Declan Burke (right), aka Joe No One, joins the fray. To wit:
Attention to detail is very important. If you say a character has blue eyes in Chapter One, don’t say he has green eyes in Chapter Four. Unless he has greeny-blue eyes, which are greener in winter and bluer in summer. Or your story is about genetic eye experiments on human guinea-pigs. Or contact lenses. Or a David Bowie-type alien pop star.
2. Use Simple Grammar
Go easy on complicated sentence construction. Ration yourself to three commas per page and you won’t go far wrong. Apostrophes are the Devil’s own invention – first-time writers should always try to avoid plurals and possession. Unless your story is about multiple exorcisms. Or multiple orgasms.
3. Narrative Arc
Do ensure your novel has a beginning and end, as most reviewers like to read at least a sample of both.
4. Cutting The Dead Wood
It can be hugely helpful to just walk away from your novel for a while, go out into the backyard and split some logs. Not only will you get some fresh air and exercise, you’ll also get that ‘big picture’ perspective you need to squeeze that vital extra thousand words into the chapter you’re working on. And you’ll have logs for winter.
5. Naming Your Hero
It’s in your own interest to give your heroes one-syllable names. Not only will this save you valuable writing time (as opposed to, say, having to type ‘Llandudno Fetherington-Smythe III’ every time your LF-S III hoves into view), it also means your moron reader won’t have to open his or her mouth too long whilst reading, thus cutting down on the likelihood of them swallowing flies and dying of some disgusting disease (see 6), and not being around next year to buy the sequel. If the one-syllable rule constrains your artistic vision, try giving one-syllable ‘pet’ names for longer names – e.g., ‘Pet’ for ‘Petunia Fetherington-Smythe’.
6. Try To Ensure Your Readers Are All Morons
Morons are more forgiving, less judgmental and generally better for karma all round. They’re also notorious for being easily parted from their money.
7. Avoid Clichés Like the Plague
Clichés should be avoided like devastating killer epidemics transmitted by parasites carried by rats.
8. Tell, Don’t Show
People don’t have a lot of reading time these days, which is why they’re grateful when a writer, as we say in the trade, ‘cuts to the chase’. In fact, it’s probably best if you start your novel with a chase and just keep it up for 300 pages (large type). But don’t ‘blow your wad’ too early. Start with a chase on skateboards, working up to a climactic race to Saturn between space shuttles, via bicycles, jet-packs, helicopters and rocket-propelled whales.
9. Speed Is Of The Essence
Even if it’s inappropriate to your novel to have your hero addicted to amphetamines, do try to ensure your novel has pace. In THE WILD LIFE OF SAILOR AND LULA, for example, Barry Gifford called Sailor and Lula’s son Pace.
10. Don’t Be Afraid To Dumb It Down
Every aspiring writer with at least one rejection slip knows that agents, editors, publicists and publishers are all failed novelists. If the story you send them is too good, they’ll (a) steal it for themselves and make a fortune or (b) ignore it completely, for spite, so that no one benefits. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.
Any other suggestions, folks? Don’t be afraid to share …
Praise for Declan Burke: “A fine writer at the top of his game.” – Lee Child. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – The Spectator. “A sheer pleasure.” – Tana French. “A hardboiled delight.” – The Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews (starred review). “The effortless cool of Elmore Leonard at his peak.” – Ray Banks. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre, was ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL.” – Sunday Times. “The writing is a joy.” – Ken Bruen. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.