5 myths about writing fiction

As an aspiring writer, I’ve read many tips from writers and literary agents. There are lists of writing tips all over the internet. Some of it is really useful advice which I believe has helped me improve already. However, other tips are not so helpful and I’m going to describe them as ‘myths’…

Myth #1: “Write what you know.” It’s true that putting your own knowledge, experiences and feelings into a novel helps to make the settings, characters and events seem more authentic. But you don’t have to put anything of yourself into it. Moreover, if your fiction calls for details you’re not sure about, the sensible thing is to do some research and then use your imagination. There’s no reason to avoid writing about something you want to, just because you haven’t experienced it.

Myth #2: “Know what genre you’re writing in.” I know that the concept of genre is useful for many reasons but I feel that genres can be too strict. If a book doesn’t tick all the boxes of a particular genre, publishers and booksellers may see it as too risky. Writers may feel obliged to conform for a better chance of success, thereby stifling their creativity. Most books I read would probably be classified as ‘general fiction’ or maybe ‘literary’, ‘book club’ or ‘women’s fiction’… which doesn’t mean a lot. I would say just write what you want to and don’t worry about what genre it is.

Myth #3: “Never use adverbs.” These are words such as ‘suddenly’, ‘loudly’, ‘very’. I think the idea is that an effective writer shouldn’t need to use adverbs, finding other ways to describe the manner in which things happen. However, I find them in every book I read. Adverbs are difficult to avoid… like sugar. You can’t do without them completely.

Myth #4: “Write every day.” Sometimes writing really feels like wrenching the words out, and then staring at the page thinking the words are wrong and that the whole story is stupid and that no one will want to read it anyway. So I can understand why some people find it useful to write every day, even if they’re not in the mood. Equally, though, will you really do your best work if you’re having to force it out like toothpaste from the end of a tube and then feeling upset you’ve only written fifty words in your allocated hour? Would it not be more effective to wait until you have enough time and are in the right frame of mind?

Myth #5: “Show, don’t tell.” I think this is valuable advice. For example, show that a character is angry, rather than just saying they’re angry. However, there are times when telling will be appropriate; it will depend on the narrative style of your novel. And like with the adverbs, you can’t get away with all showing and no telling. If you’re writing and are concerned there may be too much telling, don’t worry about it until you’re at the editing stage. The most important thing is to get the story written.

 

9 thoughts on “5 myths about writing fiction”

  1. Interesting post! I would find it really difficult not to use any adverbs – so for me that is definitely a myth 😉. As for writing every day, it is something that we would all like to do, but I agree with you. If you are struggling for inspiration and just force some words down, it does not help the overall quality of your work.

    1. Thank you 🙂
      There’s nothing wrong with adverbs, although you can have too many.
      I’d love to write every day but the truth is that I’m tired or not in the right mood or there are other things claiming my attention… I suppose if writing was my job though, I’d be writing every day even if I didn’t feel like it!

  2. The “Write what you know” one is the one I like least. It leads to writers constantly writing books about writing and writers, which may be interesting to writers but isn’t, imo, quite so fascinating to the rest of us! It also would entirely exclude all historical fiction, until someone invents a time machine. I’d like to replace it with “Know what you write” – i.e., do your research, avoid anachronistic or inappropriate speech and attitudes, etc.

    1. I admit I do feel a bit cheated if I’m reading a book where the main character is, say, a TV producer and then I find out the author is also a TV producer. Not sure why. They’re writing what they know but it’s not that interesting… Vox is an example, the author being a neurolinguist.
      Thanks for your comment 🙂

  3. Really agree that you can go beyond writing “what you know”- to me using your imagination is one of the most important things about fantasy and (for obvious reasons) precipitates going against this idea. And yeah I really agree about genre being too strict- I wish that both publishers and writers would look beyond it sometimes- there’s no need to be so rigid with it. And I’ve always disagreed with the “rule” to not use adverbs- even the biggest supporters of that advice inadvertently use adverbs. I also think that it’s only relevant to the pared down style, ergo not every writer needs to pay attention to this rule. And also sometimes it’s very frustrating when a writer uses convoluted sentences so as not to use adverbs and can end up with clunky results- which goes against the original idea to streamline prose anyway (sorry for going on about it- like I said, I’m really against that particular rule). And I really agree that you can’t get away with just showing and never telling- again this can produce clunky results- so it’s definitely not an absolute rule.
    Anyway, great post!!

    1. Thanks! I see we agree that these often repeated ‘rules’ are not that useful. I see adverbs everywhere and I don’t know how anyone can get away with not using them!
      Appreciate your comments!

  4. Agree with all of these actually!

    I enjoyed the line: “Adverbs are like sugar, you need them.” Sat and thought “sugar isn’t an adverb” for a moment or two!

    1. Ha ha, thank you 🙂
      I think the more ‘rules’ there are, the less creative a writer can be.

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