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John Grisham’s 8 Do’s And Don’ts For Popular Fiction

From Writers Write:

1.   Do — Write A Page Every Day

That’s about 200 words, or 1,000 words a week. Do that for two years and you’ll have a novel that’s long enough. Nothing will happen until you are producing at least one page per day.

2.   Don’t — Write The First Scene Until You Know The Last

This necessitates the use of a dreaded device commonly called an outline. Virtually all writers hate that word. I have yet to meet one
who admits to using an outline.

Plotting takes careful planning. Writers waste years pursuing stories that eventually don’t work.

. . . .

6. Don’t — Keep A Thesaurus Within Reaching Distance

I know, I know, there’s one at your fingertips.

There are three types of words: (1) words we know; (2) words we should know; (3) words nobody knows. Forget those in the third category
and use restraint with those in the second.

A common mistake by fledgling authors is using jaw-breaking vocabulary. It’s frustrating and phoney.

Link to the rest at Writers Write

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16 Comments to “John Grisham’s 8 Do’s And Don’ts For Popular Fiction”

  1. It obviously works fine for Grisham, but I think ‘don’t write the first paragraph until you know the last’ is really lousy general advice. There are a ton of us who produce our work without an outline and without knowing the ending before we begin, and we do just fine that way, thank you. To tell people that we’re writing the wrong way is a disservice to a lot of fine writers and people who might become fine writers.

    • Ashe Elton Parker

      This rule also ignores the fact that the first paragraph can be rewritten if necessary.

    • Desmond X. Torres

      Your comment is as universal as his is, man. Sheesh! Don’t do THAT, do THIS! My workflow is a carefully constructed outline, with a beat sheet even…

      Which is thrown under the bus by chapter 3.
      I remain clueless as to which pigeonhole I’m in- Pantser or Plotter.

      I’m a Pantsing plotter?
      Plotting pantser?
      Would someone help me in my identity crises?
      Oh the humanity of the identity crises! Where’s my paisly shirt!

      • For some the outline, even if not used much, is a necessary part of the process. I think it gives some writers the confidence to move forward. It tells you, yes, you do have a story worth telling.

        A confidence booster at the very least. Maybe call it a sanity check too, that’s how I think of mine.

  2. 1. Write what comes to you (hopefully when it comes to you.) Be it a page or a chapter – or an entire story. The only people that think creativity can be metered out or done on a clock are people without any creativity.

    2. That may work for some that know what they want, but others do better to let the story lead them with the barest suggestion of a final outcome to reach.

    3. See 1. Some people need to be chained to doing things only one way, others can be creative anywhere anywhen.

    4. Sometimes a Prologue or other backstory is needed to set the stage for that ‘chapter one’.

    5. Why yes, ‘Quotation Marks’ do help break ‘Dialogue’ from non.

    6. Funny, my main use of a Thesaurus is to see if there’s a better word to smooth the sentence out (or to make sure the spell checker hasn’t just changed the meaning of what I’m trying to say.

    7. ‘Don’t stop.’ Removing either word changes the meaning, maybe I could actually improve it by adding a ‘Please’ to the beginning or end …

    8. The OP must like very small chapters or very narrow windows into a story. Use the number of warm bodies where/when your story needs them.


    A. There are exceptions to every rule. The trick is to know when to bend/break them. Write and let the rest sort itself out. Have fun.

  3. Ashe Elton Parker

    This is obviously a “This works for me but won’t work for every writer” list. Sadly, newbies reading this won’t have enough experience to determine what might work best for them, and if they’re Grisham fans, they’ll be even more inclined to try sticking to these rules because they consider him a “master” who “knows” how to go about writing.

  4. I like to see where the story is going, rather than writing an ending to work toward.

    Totally agree with #6. I hate it when obscure words break the flow when I’m reading. I made a similar comment here ages ago and was made fun of, but I hold firmly to the belief that writers shouldn’t put hurdles in their writing.

    • I kind of agree with you about #6 but do see two problems.

      Firstly, a thesaurus need not give an obscure word, just one that better expresses the exact meaning intended; plus, when the word I want is on the tip of my tongue it may be the only way to find it.

      Secondly, what is an obscure word? To me it’s a word that is not part of my normal vocabulary but this is so personal that it’s not much use as a guide. I don’t normally find this a problem in my reading: about the only obscure word I’ve come across recently is exeat (and this turned out to be exactly the required meaning and also just the word that the character would have used). I find cultural references and – often culturally derived – usages much more of a problem and at times need to use the Kindle’s wikipedia function to determine the meaning. A lot of this is just the effect of getting old.

      • Patricia Sierra

        By obscure, I mean a word that I’ve never seen elsewhere and which stops the rhythm of the writing and is like hitting a speed bump with my reading. It doesn’t happen a lot, but when it does, it momentarily ruins the reading experience. I can offer no examples. I don’t retain them because I know I’m unlikely to encounter them again. I sometimes use the Kindle’s dictionary when reading if I *think* I know the meaning of a word, but want to make sure I do. Don’t know why, but that doesn’t feel like a break in my reading.

  5. Two hundred words a day; Oh how we laugh.

    Two hundred words is a mere bagatelle. A clearing of the throat before the writing the new words for the day.

    Rules for writing, are at best merely guidelines. But I’ll give you my two.

    1. Do what works.

    2. Don’t do what doesn’t work.

    • I’ve mentioned it before, but I agree with the wise man (or wise guy) who said therer are two secrets of success in any field:

      1. Don’t tell everything you know.

  6. Felix J. Torres

    The most reasonable (to me) advice I ever saw for genre writers was:

    1- read as much as you can in tbe genre of your choice
    2- read as much as you can in other genres
    3- write as much as you can whenever you can

  7. If I figured out the ending before I started, I’d aim straight at it and wreck the story. Have had way too much practice at this. I do much better discovering the story as I write. Writing is not a one-size-fits-all.

  8. John Grisham is/was a lawyer. As a lawyer you don’t ask a question for answers you don’t know already. So it make sense what he says. Just like engineers (I’m one of them) start engineering the building from the rooftop down, and it should be applicable to know the ending of a book before you write.
    But when it comes to writing that rule doesn’t work for me, although a former engineer. Just about every book I wrote didn’t have an outline. I didn’t know the ending of Vampire Vlad V until I was two chapters from the end. And it was a surprising ending. Not to mention it was #10 several times on Amazon.
    In my case I let the right brain do the writing, not the left where planning/outlines are generated. Do whatever works for you.

  9. I happened to write a blog on Raymond Chandler’s plotting and writing technique last week. He once wrote, “I do my plotting in my head as I go along and usually I do it wrong and have to do it over again. I know there are writers who plot their stories in great detail before they begin to write them, but I’m not one of that group.”

    I suppose Chandler was not a great plotter, but his stories hang together in ways that Grisham’s do not. I am not a big Grisham reader because his books read like Teflon. One page follows another easily, but they never move me like Chandler or Hammett. Nor do I break out laughing like I do while reading Rex Stout or Elmore Leonard. I am happy for Grisham’s success, but I don’t envy his writing.

    Rex Stout claimed there are only three reasons to write. He didn’t like writers who wrote because they had a story they burned to tell and he didn’t think he made the cut of writers who wrote because they were great writers. The reason he ascribed to himself was the love of playing with words.

    Some word voluptuaries, like me, read with a dictionary at hand and are disappointed in books that don’t play with words enough to require an occasional lookup. I guess I don’t buy Grisham’s rule six either.

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