Spurred on by a similar article from The Guardian, which collected bits of wisdom from a gaggle of living-legend-status writers, Daniel Abraham, author of The Long Price Quartet,

“Show, don’t tell” is a beginner’s strategy. Dramatize when it’s time to dramatize, summarize when it’s time to summarize. Knowing the difference is the job description.

Be concrete and specific.

Don’t fear infodumps; telling people what’s going on includes them in on the story. Just don’t make them boring.

Withholding information breeds confusion. Providing information builds tension. (“The essential fact is to get real suspense you must let the audience have information.” –Alfred Hitchcock)

Gentle emotions are more powerful than violent ones.

Think about how things smell and taste.

Write fast, edit ruthlessly.

Trust your readers to be as smart as you are, but don’t assume they can read your mind.

Narrators aren’t evil, nor are they sinless. Tell the story in a voice, but not about the voice.

Get out of the way. The more I use fiction to show everyone how clever I am, the more I compromise my story.

As with any list of ‘rules’, one must always approach them with a grain of salt and take only what is useful to them as a writer. Still, given my penchant for Abraham’s writing, there’s certainly an amount of wisdom to be found in his advice.

  • Kevin March 10, 2010 at 11:59 am

    I really like how these react against a lot of common advice circulating around writing forums and whatnot, particularly about infodumps and the pithy but not very helpful august rule of show and not tell. Writing rules are always a bit suspect because no one can really tell you how to write, but I also think Daniel Abraham’s the man and knows what he’s talking about.

  • Gabriele March 14, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    Writing rules are more like guidelines anyway. ;)

    Though I can agree with most of Abraham’s a lot more than I agree with other Teh Rulez spread all over the writing sites. The only one that really doesn’t work for me is the Write Fast one. I tried that and never went back to edit the crap I produced that way because ‘editing ruthlessly’ would not have saved it.

  • […] An Aside | Ten Rules for Writing Fiction by Daniel Abraham at A Dribble of Ink […]