logo logo Menu Bar

Fiction Writing Advice from Famous Authors: 20 Pieces of Brilliant Insight

writing advice from famous authors

The world is full of people who want to give writing advice, but not everyone’s qualified. The only people who truly understand writers and the writing life are writers themselves. We’ve compiled twenty quotes from famous authors with some of the very best advice on living the writing life, the craft itself, and the only way to make a piece of fiction come alive—thoughtful and thorough editing.

The Writing Life

The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter. —Neil Gaiman

Read, read, read everything – trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window. —William Faulkner

The way to write a book is to actually write a book. A pen is useful, typing is also good. Keep putting words on the page. —Anne Enright

Fiction that isn’t an author’s personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn’t worth writing for anything but money. —Johnathan Franzen

The Craft of Writing

Don’t sit down in the middle of the woods. If you’re lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page. —Margaret Atwood

Structure means knowing where you’re going; making sure you don’t meander about. … I’m a structure nut. I actually make charts. Where are the jokes? The thrills? The romance? Who knows what, and when? You need these things to happen at the right times, and that’s what you build your structure around: the way you want your audience to feel. —Joss Whedon

Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. … Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he’s writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character’s head, and the reader either knows what the guy’s thinking or doesn’t care. I’ll bet you don’t skip dialogue. —Elmore Leonard

If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech. —John Steinbeck

Trust your reader. Not everything needs to be explained. If you really know something, and breathe life into it, they’ll know it too. —Esther Freud

Remember that two great masters of language, William Shakespeare and James Joyce, wrote sentences which were almost childlike when their subjects were most profound. ‘To be or not to be?’ asks Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The longest word is three letters long. Joyce, when he was frisky, could put together a sentence as intricate and as glittering as a necklace for Cleopatra, but my favorite sentence in his short story ‘Eveline’ is this one: ‘She was tired.’ At that point in the story, no other words could break the heart of a reader as those three words do. —Kurt Vonnegut

If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it—bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave trouble is because it didn’t belong there. —John Steinbeck

Pace is crucial. Fine writing isn’t enough. Writing students can be great at producing a single page of well-crafted prose; what they sometimes lack is the ability to take the reader on a journey, with all the changes of terrain, speed, and mood that a long journey involves. Again, I find that looking at films can help. Most novels will want to move close, linger, move back, move on, in pretty cinematic ways. —Sarah Waters

Editing Your Writing

The first sentence can be written only after the last sentence has been written. FIRST DRAFTS ARE HELL. FINAL DRAFTS, PARADISE. —Joyce Carol Oates

Never use an adverb to modify the verb ‘said’ … he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. —Elmore Leonard

Rewrite and edit until you achieve the most felicitous phrase/sentence/paragraph/page/story/chapter. —Annie Proulx

Be your own editor/critic. Sympathetic but merciless! —Joyce Carol Oates

Ask a reading friend or two to look at your book before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You’ve been backstage. You’ve seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a ­romantic relationship, unless you want to break up. —Margaret Atwood

In writing. Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was ‘terrible,’ describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was ‘delightful’; make us say ‘delightful’ when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, ‘Please will you do my job for me.’ —C.S. Lewis

Cut (perhaps that should be CUT): only by having no ­inessential words can every essential word be made to count. —Diana Athill

Keep going. Remember that you must finish the novel for it to have a chance in this world. You absolutely must complete it. And of course, as soon as I do I think of new things. I go back, refining, adding a little. And when I stop feeling the urge to do that, well, I know it’s really finished. —Anne Rice

 

 

Join the Discussion on “Fiction Writing Advice from Famous Authors: 20 Pieces of Brilliant Insight”

  1. Marilyn says:

    I love reading the messages from AutoCrit. How many words can I submit to AutoCrit at one time for processing? Do I submit a finished (?) manuscript or a certain number of words? I am two thirds of the way through a novel.

  2. Adekitan says:

    Your messages are always a blessing , coming at the right time. Thank you

  3. Jean Kehoe says:

    I find the information interesting and helpful.

    Many thanks.

    Jean Kehoe

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.