11 Fool-Proof Rules for Writing Fiction


If you haven’t noticed, I’m a writer. I only bring that up because it took a while to give myself the label. It’s funny what you can call a hobby. What is a hobby anyway, and when does a specific activity stop being one? ‘Hobby’ sounds like a disease, some kind of growth. Well, in that respect, maybe it’s not too different from writing after all…

I wear this when I'm writing.  I am so legit.
I wear this when I’m writing. I am so legit.

Well, owing to my massive success in the writing profession, I thought I would undertake a truly magnanimous bit of public service – offering rules for writers. So without further ado, in no particular order, here are Trent P. Lewin’s key writing rules for fiction:

       1. Adjectives. Use them. Abuse them. Saturate every sentence with them. I need to know that the cat is equal parts perky, firm and smooth. Oh wait, I think I was talking about breasts there… that I might need to know.

       2. Don’t ever produce an ending! No no, please. Refrain. If you actually end one of your stories, you are giving away the farm. Much better to keep people guessing, and not offer anything resembling closure. They will appreciate this and praise you for your mysterious greatness.

This is either really good or bad advice, can't tell which.
This is either really good or bad advice, can’t tell which.

       3. Stick phantom sentences into your writing to make sure people are paying attention (add ‘schmack’ to your comment to prove that you read this whole post). If someone doesn’t follow your subliminal commands, skewer them with your writing wit.

       4. On that note, never add humour to your writing! Be somber, be serious at all times, and don’t ever come close to the point where someone might think your characters are fun. Let’s take some frowns. Let’s make them bigger. Come on people, this isn’t rocket science.

       5. Write what you know. This one’s key. You’ve heard it before, so do it. People want to hear about your commute to work. How you put out the garbage. What the delicate bouquet of a week-old diaper hidden under the couch smells like. Your rash. Your rash’s rash. Why you hate radish. Why the radish has a rash. Why the radish that has a rash has a rash that… I’ll stop now. The point is, don’t ever write about something totally outside your experience just because you are able to exert the sheer will and creativity to imagine it, for that would be a lie. I mean, does anyone believe that JRR Tolkien was anything but a hobbit with a magic ring? Or that J.K. Rowling could possibly not be a witch?

       6. Bow to the horrors of writers’ block. Treat it like a medical disease, an incurable, recurrent affliction that incapacitates your ability to be creative. Couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the fact that you haven’t been sleeping enough. Or that you’re under the weather. Or stressed out your gourd by your day job. Or so busy that you have approximately three minutes a day to put pen to paper. Or that you just finished a several-day bender in Las Vegas that included multiple episodes of streaking and now you have no underwear.

ny ny
Somewhere out there… underwear.


       7. Concentrate on marketing your writing before you’ve actually produced anything marketable. I’m sure publishers and the like love your wonderful statistics more than they do a quality piece of writing (okay, okay, marketing’s important but don’t put the anus before the sphincter, if you know what I mean).

       8. Refrain from sex while writing your novel. I’m serious. No sex until you’re done. You are a temple of writing purity, unsoiled by worldly temptation. Keep it like that. There is no way that an important, occasionally beautiful physical act that can sporadically be mutually-satisfying can expose a thread of joy in your writing. Or, you know, make for some hot love scenes… ummm, excuse me, I’ll be right back…

       9. Buy books on how to write fiction. Read them. Follow their advice. Build a tall shrine out of them. Don’t burn them. Don’t set that tower ablaze and dance around it in your Trent P. Lewin-brand pin-less loin cloth as you explore the wonders and incredible depth of your humanity and what you can pull out of your own mind and make true, following in the ages-old wonder of the storytelling traditions that have been passed down every generation since anything resembling humankind has existed.

Please don't ever actually burn books, okay? The loin cloth part, though - that's fine.
Please don’t ever actually burn books, okay? The loin cloth part, though – that’s fine.

       10. Don’t write long fiction. Don’t you dare. Don’t read it, either, especially if it’s by a first-time author. You don’t want to be or to know a new voice. You don’t want complex narratives that involve multiple characters. Nope, you want six-hundred word bites, chewy things that don’t get stuck in your teeth. You want disposable. Quick. You want to skim, and nothing less will do.

       11. Make highly sarcastic lists of writing rules, especially when no one has ever really heard of you and you break all of your own rules. But it sure is better than spending the time scratching yourself, so there is that.

Cheers, folks. Keep writing. You can do it.

Dream hard, rage hard.

143 thoughts on “11 Fool-Proof Rules for Writing Fiction

  1. Ohh schmack…never ever use sarcasm either. Keep on trucking, Trent.

    And if I can add:

    12.. Never ever write poetry. It’s a useless, silly form with no purpose and no one ever reads it.

  2. So, do I have to do these rules in order to be successful? And if so, since you have just completed #11, did it work for you?

    1. Alas, another spectacular failure on my part, Paul, owning to intentions heavily distorted by the whiskey bottle. These things happen, I suppose.

      Order not important. Order not important!

  3. Oh, we noticed alright. It’s sad for me to admit this, but it took until #4 for me to realize what you’re doing here. You’re the devil himself.

    This past Sunday, the new Denis Johnson novel was reviewed in the NY Times. It contained the best, best opening paragraphs I’ve ever seen from a book review. To wit:

    On the plane I was reading this book.

    “Do you like Denis Johnson?” the woman beside me asked.

    “Yes,” I said.

    “I’ve always felt he doesn’t like his characters very much,” she said.

    “O.K.,” I said.

    She had gone to a writing program, had graduated from a writing program but no longer wrote, possibly because her characters’ demand for respect and compassion became too onerous.

    Isn’t that beautiful? When were you in Vegas? I love that town. Most people don’t like it very much but I do.

    1. I’m a kind-hearted devil though, right? Soft in all the right places? Wait, don’t answer that… I hate to admit it, but I don’t know who Denis Johnson is. I’m missing something, aren’t I? This happens a lot.

      Vegas for a series of parties. It near killed me, but I survived. I think I have a love-hate thing going on with that place. Anxious to leave it when I’m there but miss it the second I’m gone.

      1. Denis Johnson is worth checking out. Try “The Name of the World” or “Train Dreams.” They’re thin tomes. If you like those, you can move onto more meatier affairs. But my point was those opening lines of the review. I like when precious writers are out in their place.

        There’s a freak cold snap this week. The icy wind whips across 40th Street and slashes your cheek. I wish I was in Vegas right now.

        1. That freak is going on in Chicago too…. I think I would prefer Hawaii, but not on that island with the volcano action going on right now….

        2. I encountered a 40 degree drop in temperature in 4 hours. It was freaky. Now the snow… then the rain. They are going to bury me in ice.

          I will check out Mr. Johnson. Desperate for some good reading… thanks Mark.

  4. Very helpful post, Trend.

    Such acl, such acl. (Sorry, spell check wouldn’t let me prove I read this. So I guess i didn’t.)

    I follow No. 7 to the letter — or to my hilarious appearance on Letterman to publicize the book I haven’t started writing yet. Or is it No 1 I follow. I’m not good with numbers.

    1. Yeah but I believe you, dude. I always believe you. Numbers are overrated. Write more. Drink correspondingly. Make good words. It seems so simple, doesn’t it?

    1. It’s not a pretty story and it has no redeeming qualities. It is also totally naked and quite sloppy, and could do with a good shearing. I’ve forgotten what I’m talking about, Mark…

  5. Schmack.

    Gotta get me a hat.

    According to your #4, NotCM is in big trouble (or at least the NotCM persona is – SHE thinks she’s very serious.)

    I am so glad I finally decided to follow you! I needed this post, or something like it, on this snowy Monday morning.

    1. Okay, NotCM??? Please explain.

      I hope you survived the snowy Monday. I’m out west, it’s quite cold here.

      Let me know when you get that hat. We’ll be hat buddies.

      1. Not CM is my mirror blog, in which the Not CM persona blasts Cordelia’s Mom’s more legitimate blog. Surely you’ve read it? (http://notcordeliasmom.wordpress.com/ )

        As for the snow, I live north of the city and didn’t get any, but people east and south of the city got 4 feet overnight. People are still stuck on the Thruway, some for 8 hours or more. Better them than me.

          1. Thank you, Trent. Wouldn’t want you to miss any of the sarcastic fun.

            As for the snow, you probably know that Buffalo, NY made the national news. Some areas got 6-8 feet, and they’re still not dug out. Most roads to the south and east of the city are still closed, stores are running out of supplies everywhere (even to the north, because the delivery trucks can’t get through). 12 people have died because of the storm – 2 of them elderly patients in a nursing home who were being transferred because the roof of the nursing home was in danger of collapse from the weight of the snow on it.

            Fortunately for me, my northern suburb got a total of something like 3-5 inches of snow, and I always keep my house well-stocked in the winter, so it hasn’t really affected me much.

            But now, the weather will warm up this weekend, and all that show will melt and have to go somewhere. I’m sure the resulting floods will make the national news again.

  6. Schmack. Wonderfully leteriutarry! You forgot one tip which is — if you wake up with a joke thought up by your subconscious mind be sure to use it. For instance I woke up with this joke: I finally found my ovaries, they were right on top of my underies. (And it kind of ties in with the underwear thing — I think our subconsciouses are been secretly meeting writing blog jokes while we are asleep — everybody’s a comedian!)

    1. Oh boy Linda… everybody’s a comedian all right. I think I may have forgotten more than the one tip, but instead of trying to remember what I lost along the way, I’m just going to sit here and quietly contemplate the fact that I just read my first ovarian-based joke…

  7. Ouch! I think I just got schmacked upside the head.
    So here are the real rules about writing:
    1st RULE: You do not talk about writing.
    2nd RULE: You DO NOT talk about writing.
    3rd RULE: If someone says “stop” or goes limp, the writing is over.
    4th RULE: Only two guys to a piece of writing.
    5th RULE: One write at a time.
    6th RULE: No shirts, no shoes.
    7th RULE: Writing will go on as long as it has to.
    8th RULE: If this is your first time writing, you HAVE to write.

    Oh wait, those are Fight Club rules. Sorry about that.

  8. It’s amusing how creative one can get. I guess that’s why it’s called art. I do very much like this. Imagine I didn’t know initially what you were doing until #4, but yes, you still did your usual -making sense in unusual ways. So, I’m taking your rules seriously. Thanks.

  9. You forgot every writer-who-writes-about-writing’s favorite rule about writing: No adverbs. Adverbs send a writer straight to hell. There better not be even one single adverb in your writing. Not one. Seriously. How can you call yourself a writer if you use adverbs? Do you WANT to go to hell?

    1. I was debating the adverb thing, but I had read some disturbing sentences so choke with adjectives that I had to go after them first. But the adverbs will have their time. Oh yes they shall.

  10. Vegas?! Ah, you were right next door to me. Schmack! Well, about 600 miles away or so. 🙂 It took me a minute to unravel your secret little code here. I’m a fan of #9. Write it already, right? I see all these classes about out to outline your novel. Damn, just write it! I’m sure you look quite stylish in that hat.

    1. Just write it! Trust yourself to write it, then do so. I know it’s not that simple, but wearing a stylish hat does always help…

      Wait, so whereabouts do you live?

  11. Trent, dear Audra (“UpChuckingwords”), et al,

    It’s sad how writers don’t feel they are allowed or can lay claim to that mantle if they are not paid for their efforts. If we do not get paid for something it’s a hobby and we are hobbyist. To truly be some thing we need to be paid and then we are professionals, no matter the quality of the work.

    Regardless of how much beautiful furniture I craft in my garage am I not a carpenter, furniture or cabinet maker? No matter how many paintings grace my walls and those of friends and family am I not a painter? No matter how many songs I write and sing and play, am I not a song writer or musician? Yet, no matter how many well-considered words I write I place in a purposeful order, I am not a writer.

    We do however allow poets to call themselves poets by our merciful grace. Those poor tortured souls suffer enough as slaves to their art and it’s tormenting muse. It is only right that we offer succor to our cousins. I call them cousins because they are, after all, poets; not really brothers and sisters in the family of writers, but, liken to the nature of their prose, an odd and obscure subset of the greater good that is writing. Even when published, theirs is a scant volume so diminished one cannot even press a flower within or stop a door. What manner of writing is that? Like buttons on the sleeve of a modern suit coat, they are an anachronistic adornment of little function…other than tailoring pleasant embellishments of style and beauty to make resplendent the garment that is our lives.

    1. Holy crow Dan! What a comment!

      A fairly famous writer once told me that you have to just call yourself a writer. Forget calling it a hobby or a casual thing. Just call yourself a writer if that’s what you feel you are. The money doesn’t matter, it doesn’t make the writer. The words do. It’s all about words, something that small and often random, but put them in an order linked by a story or a tale or a simple wish or desire, and you have something. I think that’s what a writer is.

      Poets… they are the grander form of writers, the ones who feel the language the most, I think. There’s a trick to it, haven’t learned what yet, but Dan – in time, if humanity is going to be remembered for anything, it’s going to be for music and poetry. Maybe then the poets will have their day – or maybe we’ll give it to them sooner. I hope the latter.

            1. Well, to some level, I think the fact that you’ve created a discussion is really a good thing, isn’t it? All discussions aren’t necessarily palatable, but that’s life I suppose.

  12. Hillarious, Trent! I got to #2 before I realized you were being sarcastic and not just out of your mind. And I’ll have you know I had plenty of underwear left after my bender in Vegas!

  13. If I only right about what I know, is it still considered fiction? Because if I write about my daily commute, I’d be following the rules for fiction, but actually writing nonfiction. Can I go to Vegas now?

      1. We’re still snowless in DC, for now. I’m hoping it holds off until get to Florida for Christmas. Ain’t no white Christmases happening in Florida!

  14. Ha! Came over to check out this schmack as Amy Reece linked to it. Very good, took me a few items down the list to realise what you were doing, at first I was like “Ok…well this is a different approach, but ok…”

  15. You know, I enjoy sarcastic lists more than anyone. Which is ironic, because I never actually do #11 within them.
    And I noticed you put some sort of word to remember to prove we read the whole post, but after reading so many comments, I forgot what it was.

    1. Silliness, eh? You know, I’m going to break my rule about stopping the posting of fiction. I don’t know why I made that rule, but I’m sort of tired of my silly little posts that don’t delve into the better parts of my dreams… I think you would understand that.

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