Jonathan Franzen has suggested 10 rules for novelists. Some of his points are quite interesting, some are more questionable, and some seem to be from fortune cookies. Let’s take a look!
1) The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.
OK. This sounds like a good perspective, letting readers have their reactions to the text without swooping in with NO WHAT I MEANT WAS or IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT YOU’RE TOO DUMB TO GET IT. It’s a bit vague though.
2) Fiction that isn’t an author’s personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn’t worth writing for anything but money.
Well, getting outside comfort zones and exploring topics and styles is a good thing to do. But can we not reinforce the whole ‘starving artist’ thing? Poverty for the sake of art isn’t romantic. Unfortunately, people need cash.
3) Never use the word then as a conjunction—we have and for this purpose. Substituting then is the lazy or tone-deaf writer’s non-solution to the problem of too many ands on the page.
‘Then’ does have a subtly different meaning from ‘and’. ‘The character did this, then did that’ is actually distinct from ‘The character did this, and did that.’ The former places more emphasis on only one thing happening at a time, each being fully finished before starting the next; while with the latter the character could be multitasking.
I take the point that conjunctions can be misused to paper over awkwardness, perceived or real. The solution isn’t to ban certain conjunctions.
4) Write in third person unless a really distinctive first-person voice offers itself irresistibly.
The nugget of insight here is that a first-person narrative needs a strong voice to bring the character to life. However, POV can’t be reduced to a sentence.
5) When information becomes free and universally accessible, voluminous research for a novel is devalued along with it.
When I’m reading something that obviously had good research behind it, I don’t appreciate it less because the author used google. It would be impressive if they got their research by sneaking into the hidden catacombs under the Vatican, fighting off corrupt cardinals perverting the power of a fragment of the True Cross and the undead Templar knights raised using it… but it doesn’t make the actual book any better than if they got the same information online or in a library.
6) The most purely autobiographical fiction requires pure invention. Nobody ever wrote a more autobiographical story than The Metamorphosis.
Some element of the writer is bound to come up in what they write, but this seems taken a bit far for the sake of a hot take. Probably some of Kafka’s thoughts and life experience are in there, but Anne Frank’s diary or Russell Brand’s Booky Wook is likely more autobiographical than a story about a dude turning into a giant beetle.
It is a cool story – you can read it here.
7) You see more sitting still than chasing after.
8) It’s doubtful that anyone with an Internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.
The internet can be procrastination, yes, but… luddite much? Also, ‘his workplace’. Huh. Either that second X chromosome has the useful ‘no, get off twitter you’re meant to be writing’ gene, or women don’t write, or something.
9) Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.
I agree. Verbs pulled from a thesaurus can be a lazy way to try to give an event more pizzaz without actually presenting it differently. The important word here is ‘seldom’ – thinking back to Writing Tips Are Just Suggestions. So long as we don’t go mad here, this is solid advice.
10) You have to love before you can be relentless.