I didn’t mean to write about rules for writing novels. I meant to write about present tense novels, i.e., how best to approach the writing of them. And so I’ve been doing a bit of Internet research.
And, boy, did I get an eyeful. Apparently, tons of people hate novels written in the present tense. Hate hate hate. Who knew. It’s a horrible fad, they say. It must not be encouraged and they refuse to read anything written in the present tense, so there.
Yes, people who like it do exist, though it seems they are mostly writers who have just finished writing novels in the present tense.
No one is offering useful advice as to “how to.” Everyone is too busy hating and/or defending.
Anyway, in the course of all this Internet meandering I kept running across ”rules” for novel writing. There is something in the human heart that rejoices at the sight of a list of rules. Naturally I could not resist starting a collection of the most popular ones:
- Never begin a novel with your character waking up in the morning.
- Never begin a novel with dialogue.
- Never begin a novel with a description of the weather.
- Don’t use adverbs. Especially “suddenly.”
- Never write from the point of view of a dog.
- Don’t use any word other than “said” for dialogue tags.
- Never write in the first person.
- Don’t write in second person either.
- Show, don’t tell.
- Do not write in dialect.
- No clichés.
- No flashbacks either.
- Avoid the passive voice.
- Keep metaphors and similes to an absolute minimum.
- Don’t write “The End” at the end.
- Don’t describe a character by having him look into a mirror.
- Write what you know.
- Never say a character “looked” at something.
- If you put two spaces after a period in your manuscript you will never get published.
- Do not use omniscient narration.
- If you have a prologue, get rid of it.
- Do not go into a lot of detail describing your characters.
- Do not go into a lot of detail describing places and things.
- Do not use the word “atop.”
- Avoid commas.
Please feel free to contribute your favorites.
As for the present tense? After spending way too much time on the Internet here’s my conclusion: Write well, and you can use any damn tense you want.
I daresay the same concept applies to the 25 “rules” above (although I do think #16 has merit).
P.S. The Guardian recently published some much better ”rules for writing fiction” here.