“Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “A sheer pleasure.” – Tana French. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville. “The effortless cool of Elmore Leonard at his peak.” – Ray Banks. “A fine writer at the top of his game.” – Lee Child.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Declan Burke’s 10 Rules For Better Writing

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:

1. Consistency
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 …

22 comments:

Sandy Lender said...

Hysterical.
LOVE it.
I particularly enjoyed #5.
Being a sci-fi/fantasy author, I have to accept that my readers won't fall into the #6 category. Bummer. But, hey, it forces me to avoid the rat-infested cargo ships full of dead people with boils on their skin rising up to take over some colonized planet, eh?

Fab post.
Sandy Lender
"Some days, I just want the dragon to win."

Dorte H said...

LOL!

Suddenly it dawns on me why no publisher wants to buy my brilliant stuff!

Ali Karim said...

I spilled my coffee....

Very Droll

Ali

Dana King said...

This is part of your fiendish plot to winnow out the competition, isn't it?

Jay Stringer said...

my new ten commandments.

stevemosby said...

Brilliant.

Donna said...

Aw Dec, you're brilliant.

Corey Wilde said...

You had James Patterson write this post for you, didn't you???

Scobberlotcher said...

Brilliant. Now I finally know what's wrong with my writing. :)

Declan Burke said...

Dana? You know me too well, squire ...

Corey - JP, as he insists I call him, actually came up with the idea, and then farmed it out to me. I get 3% of all good karma accruing ...

Cheers, Dec

Jerry House said...

Number 11. Use a pseudonym. Don't worry if someone else has used it. Publishers will snap up your book. Suggested pseudonyms include John Grisham, Stephen King, Danielle Steele, William Shakespeare, King James, and Ken Bruen.

seanag said...

Jerry, this is such a good idea. It not only works for novels, but as with Michael Jackson, it apparently also works for illegal access to prescription drugs. "Josephine Baker"--what a card that Jackson was.

I'd like to add more, but I really don't have time, what with cutting down all the neighborhood telephone poles as my newfound avocation.

bookwitch said...

Moron? I think not.

Uiscebot said...

Cool list - my addition would be to Die. All the successful writers do it.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I'm with Uiscebot. Nothing sells books like a tragic story behind the story.

seanag said...

Actually, all the unsuccessful writers do it too. Wannabes, I guess.

crimeficreader said...

Thanks for the laughs!

Chris O'Grady said...

Good to see #6 about all readers being morons. The more fiction I read, the truer that seems, to the point that when novels get longer and longer, 450 and 500 pages and more, the more obvious it becomes that the creeps who run the publishing racket are trying to sell books by the pound, which is why they keep getting longer and the explanations seem to be written for the moron readers you specify. For them, everything has to be spelled out nice and clear, and thus more words and pages are needed. That way they get these huge books, twice as long as they ought to be, most of them.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Cliches cost ten cents for twelve here.

If I may be so bold, write distilled, convincing dialogue, not real dialogue.

I mean, peppering your dialogue with, you know, interjections because, you know, people, like, really talk that way will make your readers, like-- I mean, they'll just stop reading, you know?
==============
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

Michael Haskins said...

Dec, these are good commandments for ALL writers to remember. They are true and bring a smile when reading them. Nothing wrong with that. From the other island . . .

bookwitch said...

Oh, you mean everyone else is a moron? Thought you meant me.

Fiona said...

Hilarious and extremely clever. I'm going to save it all and reference it frequently.

Thank you!!!