Thursday, July 22, 2010

Mark Twain's Ten Rules for Writing: A Reader's Manifesto

Reading thuRsday

I came across Mark Twain's Ten Rules for Writing on Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project some time ago. I recommend "the rules" to all writers, not on Mark Twain's authority as a great writer, but on Samuel Clemen's ability to understand and articulate things that frustrate readers.
"Mark Twain divides his rules into large rules and little rules—all violated by James Fenimore Cooper:"
Large Rules
  1. A tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.
  2. The episodes of a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help develop it.
  3. The personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall 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.
  5. When the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject in hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say.
  6. The personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable.
Little Rules
  1. An author should say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.
  2. Use the right word, not its second cousin.
  3. Eschew surplusage.
  4. Not omit necessary details.

Image: Michelle Meiklejohn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net