Lucy Vickery

Jeffrey Archer’s six rules for writing

A tweet linking to George Orwell’s famous rules for writing (‘Never use a long word where a short one will do’, etc.) prompted me to invite competitors to come up with the six rules of a well-known author of their choice. Honourable mentions go to Hugh King, whose Revd W.A. Spooner urges writers to ‘be sure to merge all pisstakes’, and to J. Seery, who reckons Hemingway’s sixth rule would be: ‘It is you or the reader. Only one of you is going to walk away from this alive. Make sure it is you.’ I also liked this one from Rob Stuart, who was channelling Dan Brown: ‘Chase sequences are a swell opportunity for characters to reflect appreciatively on local art and architecture as they dodge bullets.’ And Will Self’s second rule, via Sylvia Fairley: ‘Discombobulate the reader by cutting arbitrarily between narrative sequences, with disorientating shifts in time, preferably in mid-sentence.’ W.J. Webster earns the bonus fiver for crafting an eloquent riposte to Orwell on the part of Henry James. The rest take £25 each.

W.J. Webster/Henry James 1. Do not think that using three words where one will do is a cardinal sin. To produce what ‘will do’ can never be an artist’s aim. 2. Precise punctuation brings order to a necessary complexity: master the use of the comma and the semi-colon. Also consider how inverted commas may be used to ‘check the credentials’ of a word or phrase. 3. Do not abjure the use of foreign words: judiciously employed, they add nuance while making a civilised nod towards other cultures. 4. The adverb is a part of speech to relish: know it for what it beautifully is! 5. Heighten the apparently commonplace by the generous use of such words as ‘wonderful’ and ‘magnificent’: they raise the reader’s expectations to a loftier plane.

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