Michille: John Grisham’s Do’s & Don’ts

By BJTJ1 - July 15 at the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project’s Second Annual Awards Luncheon., CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40699787I read the New York Times every day. Well, not the whole thing, but I scan the home page and find enough articles that catch my interest to keep me on the site for a while. I’m not sure how I missed this gem from May 2017. John Grisham’s Do’s and Don’ts for Writing Popular Fiction. Some we’ve all heard/read before. Some are new to me. Even with the list, JG gives the caveat, “All suggestions can be ignored when necessary. I do it all the time.” Many writers do. But for those of us who aren’t multi-best-selling authors, it’s good to review every now and then.

Numbers 2 and 3 were new for me. Number 5 is a no-brainer. And Number 4 is very common and often ignored. Regardless, here they are:

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.

3. DO — WRITE YOUR ONE PAGE EACH DAY AT THE SAME PLACE AND TIME
Early morning, lunch break, on the train, late at night — it doesn’t matter. Find the extra hour, go to the same place, shut the door. No exceptions, no excuses.

4. DON’T — WRITE A PROLOGUE
Prologues are usually gimmicks to hook the reader. Avoid them. Plan your story (see No. 2) and start with Chapter 1.

5. DO — USE QUOTATION MARKS WITH DIALOGUE
Please do this. It’s rather basic.

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 phony.

7. DO — READ EACH SENTENCE AT LEAST THREE TIMES IN SEARCH OF WORDS TO CUT
Most writers use too many words, and why not? We have unlimited space and few constraints.

8. DON’T — INTRODUCE 20 CHARACTERS IN THE FIRST CHAPTER
Another rookie mistake. Your readers are eager to get started. Don’t bombard them with a barrage of names from four generations of the same family. Five names are enough to get started.

I’m going to work on #1. Any new ones for you? Any on this list that you ignore?

6 thoughts on “Michille: John Grisham’s Do’s & Don’ts

  1. I follow all of these the best I can except for #6—I make free use of a thesaurus. I don’t use it to incorporate jaw-breaking vocabulary, though. I might be looking for a synonym so I can make a phrase more alliterative, for example. Good rules to follow! I wish that following them were all it took to write interesting, fast-paced, best-selling novels!

  2. I’m a fan of #8. It drives me crazy as a reader when I there are so many characters at the start of the novel that I can’t keep track of them all, especially they don’t wind up being integral to the story.

    • I recently read one of the freebies from RWA. It was in a motorcycle club. There must have been 20 characters. Since I picked it up in the middle of the series I hadn’t gotten them slowly so it was very confusing. Although, I didn’t read the first one and that may have had a ton of characters, too. I totally agree with you on that.

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