Mark Twain’s Rules For Writing Great Fiction Books

Mark Twain’s Rules For Writing Great Fiction Books

Mark Twain’s Rules For Writing Great Fiction Books

Posted on 11/07/2022 Evan Swensen
Mark Twain’s Rules For Writing Great Fiction Books

Mark Twain has excellent rules for writers. They are as true today as in 1895 when Twain wrote his famous works. He listed both “Large Rules” and “Small Rules” in his essay on the writing faults of James Fenimore Cooper’s novel The Deerslayer, which he said achieved, in only one page of that book, “114 literary offenses out of a possible 115.”

Here are some of Twain’s Large Rules for great fiction books, edited for brevity.

    1. A tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.
    2. The episodes of a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale and help develop it.
    3. The personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and the reader shall always be able to tell the corpses from the others.
    4. The personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there.

The standards for great fiction books will always require a good story that takes the reader away and has a meaning to top it off. Some call this the “author’s message.”

Good fiction writers take care to have each scene move the story forward. Bits and pieces of unnecessary things aren’t put in just because the writer likes how they sound.

Same with the characters in your fiction. As Twain puts it, there must be a reason for each character to be in your novel, whether dead or alive. If your characters lack dimension, actual layers to their personality, and good motives for their actions and reactions, they will come across as flat as cardboard.

Sometimes writers want to put lots of interesting characters into their writing. Of course, it’s good to have interesting characters. But if there is no reason for them in your novel, take them out during your re-write, and save them for another book. You don’t want your readers sidetracked and dead-ended by pages and pages about some personage having no sufficient excuse for being there.

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