Faith Hunter’s To-Do List of Writing Successful Fiction


Before I get started, remember that we have guest bloggers scheduled! 
Jia Gayles with the Knight Agency will blog on Friday 1-16,
and Kim Harrison will share some her tips on Friday 1-23.


On to my blog…
While, *as always* there is no one way to do things in the publishing business, I often use these*do* rules of thumb in my writing seminars. Editors allow a lot of slack in a published writer’s work, but they get tired of techniques and writing styles they see day-in-and-out with their existing writers and they want something new from the new kids on the block. It isn’t fair, no, but it happens, and if we can write things in a new, exciting, and clear way, then we should!

I heard from Chris Roerden about last week’s *Dont* post, and with her permission, have included her reply to my list of *Donts* in this blog of *Dos*.


Thank you so much for recommending my DON’T books for writers. Amy asked about the “dos.” Despite the negative in the series title, the books contain mostly positive examples, which I analyze to show how and why they are effective. DON’T MURDER YOUR MYSTERY offers 160 positive examples from 148 published authors, and its all-genre version, DON’T SABOTAGE YOUR SUBMISSION, quotes 230 excerpts from 215 writers (a few from unpublished manuscripts that I found outstanding). In each instance, its writer uses a technique effectively that most writers use ineffectively or not at all. I don’t call these rules; these are actually expectations, subjective preferences, biases, and standards held by publishing’s gatekeepers for professional-level writing. The “don’ts” are clues alerting screener-outers to dump a manuscript in the “no” pile as soon as their standards are breeched. More than 90 percent are dumped long before character and plot can be judged on their own merits.
   Faith, you may certainly quote whatever examples you’d like to when making up your own list of “dos” to help writers get published.
   Regards, Chris

Chris Roerden: DON’T SABOTAGE YOUR SUBMISSION (selected as Concept Sci-Fi Book of the Month)
all-genre edition of Agatha Award winner 3X finalist
Amazon blog:

The dos in this blog are more my own than taken from Chris’ books, but there are some crossovers, with examples in her books. So, in no particular order…

  1. Learn how to bait a reader with your first 5 pages. They need to be your best.
  2. Love your readers. Don’t cheat them. Give them a good ride, with constant buildup and suspense, and a good ending. Not necessarily a happy ending, but one that satisfies.
  3. Your first thoughts may not be your best thoughts.
  4. Nothing you write is carved in stone.  If you don’t rewrite, you’re thinking like an amateur
  5. Editors and agents see from the outside.  When they make a suggestion or recommend a rewrite, listen, put pride aside, and do it! Revision can turn a no-sale into a sale.
  6. Pride that prevents you from doing a rewrite and prevents a sale is false pride.
  7. The faster the action, the shorter the sentences.
  8. Revise three ways (three times?).  Or Macro, Micro, and Micron.
    a. Macro: Story and plot content, making everything point the right direction.
    b. Micro: Line by line.
    c. Micron: Word by word.
  9. Info dumps are a no-no. Spread info around in your narrative and dialogue the same way you spread garlic and pepper around in a good lasagna.
  10. If you use up 10,000 pages of hard copy making a book WORK, it is a good use of trees.  Recycle.
  11. Give your readers a reason to care about the characters.
  12. Your character has one great strength and one great weakness.  The weakness makes the conflict worse, the strength saves him and resolves the plot.
  13. Vary the way you use character descriptions.  Make every description different from the one before and the one before that.
  14. Make your main character stand out from crowd. He (she) needs to be different, a bit quirky maybe, or with a disability (physical, emotional, mental, professional, or otherwise) that makes him have to work twice as hard and be twice as smart (good) to get the job done
  15. Use the active voice not the passive voice.
  16. Dramatize and Demonstrate!  (Show, don’t tell.)
  17. If it is boring, it needs a new technique.  LEARN the DEVICES! I’ll post some on writing devices over the next few months.
  18. Make backstory serve more than one purpose.  It can be revelatory in dialogue, explain quirks, become part of strengths and weaknesses.
  19. Rule of thumb – flashbacks are short and take place in the second third of a book.
  20. Back-story problems can make you read like an amateur.
  21. Pick unique (or at least not overused) settings for your story and for scenes.
  22. Keep setting and character grounded in place and time.
  23. Good grammar is necessary in exposition (non POV, non-dialogue) and narrative parts of a story.
  24. Don’t give up!  It isn’t impossible to get published after trying (and failing) for 20 years.

 Over the next few weeks, I’ll enlarge on do and don’t rules with my own take on them and with my own examples. For me, this is always a learn-as-I-go trip, as I see flaws in my own writing with every step. I hope you enjoy it with me!

And – once again – there is no *one* way to do anything in writing. You may sell a first novel having violated many standard writing rules, but becoming a better writer is what we all are about!

Faith Hunter

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5 comments to Faith Hunter’s To-Do List of Writing Successful Fiction

  • Good advice all the way through. The one that really caught my attention was # 7 “The faster the action, the shorter the sentences.” I’ll be thinking about that with my next action scene. Thanks for another great post, Faith.

  • David, a lot of writers (myself included) tend to use short sentences too often. My AKA’s early work was rife with disconnected phrases and heartbeat length sentences. (Sometimes I can’t stand to read my early work, and when I get a chance to do reissues I make changes.) Now, when I rewrite my WIP, I connect a lot of non-action-scene sentences, lengthening them. It really makes a difference and a stronger impact when the action scenes hit and the sentence structure shortens.
    I’m a better writer now! I hope!

  • I had the opposite problem – I wrote long sentences in fight scenes, which slowed them down. I learned how to write short sentences from Miz Faith!

    I want to add my voice to the chorus of #4,5 and 6. I rewrote my novel twice before Tor finally offered a contract. It was hard work, but it paid off. If I’d gotten huffy and refused, I wouldn’t be here right now. That’s something else Faith taught me – that as much as we love the art we’re creating, ultimately it is a product we want to sell.

    Dang, woman, what would I have done without you? 😀

  • Awwww….shucks….
    (kicks dirt with one foot while twisting a braid with her fingers [not that I have braids anymore, mind you])

  • Amy

    Thank you for providing these. I’ll study them while I revise.:)