1. Don’t write what you don’t want to read, Elmore Leonard says. For me, that would include anything that wastes time establishing “motive”, fauxthenticating a “world”, or assuring the reader of the author’s ideological correctness & general decency; along with those scenes in which the righteous anger of sympathetic characters is vented on unsympathetic ones on behalf of the reader getting her rocks off.
2. All plots are weak, & no-one alive now knows the difference between character & action anyway. Not even Elmore Leonard.
3. But I really agree with his eighth rule.
4. Never give advice to other writers, especially about excluding from their fiction stuff that is “ordinarily found in non-fiction”. (Shortly after performing this exclusion, Elmore recommends Annie Proulx, lately the queen of local history quasi-fiction, see “The Indian Wars Refought”, or “Dump Junk”, in which character is created as much by listing the paper trails, objects & architecture people leave behind, as by “characterisation”. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Then there’s William Boyd’s hilarious “Lunch” [Fascination], written as a sequence of expense invoices; & Ballard’s skeletal “Answers to a Questionnaire”, from War Fever.)
5. Always listen to the advice of responsible figures in the publishing industry. That way you will write a book with broad appeal & massive sales potential, & your work will be recognised, bought & published immediately. Like Richard Adams or JK Rowling you will be on your way to celebrity within months. You will not have to self-publish Watership Down, or hawk Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Magic Nice Stone around London for a long time, & be turned down by every fantasy editor in the industry before finding a publisher.
6. Never show the reader a morally unpleasant thing, then remind her it’s a morally unpleasant thing three or four times just in case she doesn’t realise you think it’s morally unpleasant too & writes a blog post saying how misanthropic you are. If you do I am coming with a machete & chopping the left half of your face off before you know what happened. & you know, I won’t care when one of your eyes is looking at the other where it dangles over your cheekbone. Are you ok with that ?
7. Reading is important to the writer. Never read anything good, in case you get the idea that you might want to do something like that too. If you do decide to read something good, here’s a tip: make it Maxim Gorky’s Fragments from My Diary. That will be all you need. Don’t read any of Gorky’s novels because they’re not good.
8. Joseph Campbell turned myth into the fiction of narcissism & self-glorification, enabling Hollywood to swaddle an entire culture in the same triumphalist story over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over &
9. The narrative structure is the story. Don’t think you can change anything by pouring different content into it. If you use the same narrative structure every time, you too will be writing the same story over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & & over &
10. You’re responsible for yourself. Get your head together. Write or don’t write.

The above advice should not be taken as advice. If you take anything that appears on this blog as advice, your aspirations may not be met by the publishing industry. This disclaimer was brought to you from the kitchens of the Ambiente Hotel. We don’t have a returns policy on the Squid Surprise, but you can sometimes come to an arrangement with the boy who serves in the back bar.

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Filed under things to avoid in popular fiction, writing

15 responses to “disclaimer

  1. Brendan Byrne

    So would a creative writing class taught by you just consist of random, intermittent bursts of serious violence?

  2. uzwi

    No, there would be bouts of psychotic depression, too. I am nothing if not value for money.

  3. MikeM

    Laughed my socks off.

    Are you still doing the creative writing classes, though?

  4. uzwi

    These are the creative writing classes. Populism is the new pretentiousness, discuss. That’ll be £9,000, MikeM.

  5. If I use your advice in writing my homage to Light (in which I’ll leave out all the bits this guy http://www.notclickable.com/blog/have-you-heard-of-it) doesn’t like) will you give me a cover blurb? Ta very much. If you don’t you’re a sellout who hates his fans.

  6. euphrosyne

    Misanthropy was rarely so refreshing. I think I’ll make a conflicted blog post about it.

  7. Dave

    Sorry if I’m being dense, because I know you’ve touched on it before, but what is your beef with motive?

  8. Kaplan

    Hiz, Mr. Aaron, if you can read in spanish, you have another article here. To balance, you know.


  9. Robert

    I so want to make something of the sentence “Add punctuation to flavor, and violá, your own modern lit novel” from the notclickable post Aaron pointed to – you know, something clever and disparaging about spellcheckers and stunted cellos – but it’s too late at night (at this end of the world anyway) and, I fear, just basically not worth it.

    I loved Ballard’s ‘Answers to a Questionnaire’. ‘Notes Toward a Mental Breakdown’ is another one. I know it’s part of ‘The Atrocity Exhibition’, but I first read it as a standalone story and remember very clearly thinking “Fuck, yes, this is what it’s about” (I may even have added “Man” at the end, I’m not so clear on that part…). It was the first Ballard I’d read, and reading was never quite the same again.

    MJH, as a possible Rule 11, a sort of retroactive coda, I’ve always appreciated this, from an earlier incarnation: “I can’t offer them ['budding authors'] any advice, because everyone’s path is — and should be — different. If I could offer advice that would work, writing would have become as codified, as crap and as not worth doing as any other trade. A career in writing is bad for your writing. Somehow, you have to survive that and still have a career. If you pushed me for advice, I’d say: Never listen to anyone else, especially publishers [see Rule 5 above]. Always work at the edge of your ability. If it isn’t two words away from falling over, it’s not worth doing.” More about Ballard in that interview too (http://www.sfsite.com/12b/mjh142.htm).

  10. Robert

    And, while I can’t actually read Spanish, doesn’t ‘El curso del corazón’ just sound so damn cool?

  11. Kaplan, I’ll work on puzzling out the Spanish; I did, though, write this for balance (assuming nerdy blogposts are all elements in some enormous digital mobile):

  12. Kaplan

    “it’s uncannily like the review I might have written of Light 10-15 years ago, had the novel (and perhaps blogs) existed. The article got me thinking about how my view of fiction has changed.”

    Soul mates. In fact, we discuss that matter theese days at Spain forums. Ishiguro, Roth, McCarthy sf vs Asimov, Heinlein, etc. And is like an older/younger battle (angry youngers).
    And Robert, language affairs: I think The Course of the Heart sounds pretty better.

  13. Martin M

    So: there goes my trilogy about the family of rabbits who have to battle a depraved Sous-Chef for control of the River Cafe in a carefully wrought pastiche of “War & Peace.” Ten years’ work, pissed straight up the wall.

    And now the Squid Surprise is off, too. One could weep, one really could.

  14. All of it just makes me feel ill.