Here's Jonathan Franzen's Top Ten Rules For Novelists


This guy is getting his ass roasted openly on Twitter right now. Way worse than what many of you have subjected me towards for the past few years now.

(And yes, I do agree with a few of these rules–particularly #8–when dealing with most writers on Wattpad and other sites. Yeah…they aren’t exactly “the pick of the litter” when it comes to good writing.

Granted, some will improve over time (that’s my hope anyways), but others will just meander on, stop and then start, then stop again, rail at the world about how hard writing is, why they can’t stop going to school so that they can write “full time”, or why they can’t do any kind of effective time management with their day to day needs/requirements along with writing (It’s a not a state secret boys and girls!), or feel like the world “owes” them something because they can write, but write what is the question, and whether or not it’ll pass muster with the rest of the world.)

I love this Twitter user’s comment: “It’s cool to me that Jonathan Franzen , who is indeed the American novelist of his generation (an insult, to be sure) pops up in the news only because he has revealed a new type of stupidity he has mastered.”


I’m not sure what the issue is, probably because I don’t know who the guy is, but I see it as his own rules from his perspective. Nothing wrong with that :hugs:

Was that the kind of response you were hoping for?


Well, that’s interesting considering how some people think they have an iron-clad grip on information and knowledge when personal experience sometimes trumps both in unexpected ways.

For example, one established author here in this club told me I was paying way too much for formatting for my novel–after I told her/him, that my books are much larger than the industry standard and so there’s a lot more to format than just your regular run of the mill “pulp fiction” novel–hence the cost.

Then it turned out that I was indeed right about it–which lays open the very idea that even those who claim to be “knowledgeable” about everything in known existence tends to miss out on some critical information.

Especially since I’m heavily involved (right now) in indie publishing. And my experiences thus far have painted a much different picture for the process than “established” authors will let you in on.

Because why? Indie publishing isn’t their personal area of expertise. Trad publishing is.



And you are still wrong. Formatting isn’t determined by word count UNLESS you have screwed up the document so badly that the person doing the work can’t even use Find/Replace to fix the mistakes.

High costs are caused by screwed up manuscripts. So which was it? Did you pay too much because you’re an idiot, or were you paying to have a really poorly formatted document repaired?

Pretty sure that AW Exley came in right behind me and confirmed what I said, and she self publishes.

What you have reported of your experiences is that you are either overpaying, being taken advantage of, or have a document in such terrible shape, you have to pay extra to undo your mistakes. For a person who values every penny, you sure are wasting a lot of them.


Nothing wrong with his, but I prefer Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules.

  1. Never open a book with weather. If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a charac­ter’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead look­ing for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways than an Eskimo to describe ice and snow in his book Arctic Dreams, you can do all the weather reporting you want.

  2. Avoid prologues: they can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in non-fiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want. There is a prologue in John Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday, but it’s OK because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: “I like a lot of talk in a book and I don’t like to have nobody tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks.”

  3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But “said” is far less intrusive than “grumbled”, “gasped”, “cautioned”, “lied”. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with “she asseverated” and had to stop reading and go to the dictionary.

  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” … he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances “full of rape and adverbs”.

  5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.

  6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose”. This rule doesn’t require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use “suddenly” tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.

  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apos­trophes, you won’t be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavour of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories Close Range .

  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters, which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants”, what do the “Ameri­can and the girl with him” look like? “She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.” That’s the only reference to a physical description in the story.

  9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things, unless you’re Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language. You don’t want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.

  10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them.


Especially since I’m heavily involved (right now) in indie publishing. And my experiences thus far have painted a much different picture for the process than “established” authors will let you in on.

Because why? Indie publishing isn’t their personal area of expertise. Trad publishing is.

I’m not quite sure who you’re referring to exactly, or what you mean by this, because there are several indie publishers on here that have shared their experiences that you don’t agree with. I don’t think the issue you’re trying to highlight is that they aren’t indie authors.

EDIT: Also, I thought you were only doing ebooks, which is easier formatting then print, so shouldn’t that cost less since it’s only the one kind and the simpler form to boot?


The writers in my Slack group are chuckling over Franzen’s list. Very much a list drawn up by an ivory tower literary writer who would never stoop to reading or writing the fiction most people read. Another fantasy writer had a pretty good response:

I have to say I’m not a huge fan of Leonard’s rules either. Rules like 2,3,4,7,8,9 just seem like his personal style and preference laid out like rules, which I’m not a fan of. There are plenty of very good writers who break all those rules with abandon and still write very well.


You completely misunderstood rule #8.


And oh man, the comments on the original article are absolute gold, go read them.


I was on board with #1, then I couldn’t help but squint at the rest.

I understand what he’s trying to get at with #8…But all it takes is a little self control to stop refreshing Facebook so that’s a wasted point.


When information becomes free and universally accessible, voluminous research for a novel is devalued along with it.

Hahahhahahahhahahahhahaha, okay. Sorry, I can’t take that seriously.

It’s doubtful that anyone with an Internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.

It got better. I can’t. This has to be satire. For real.


Franzen’s rules are good if you want to write about whiny, annoying characters at great and tedious length.

I would pretty much do the opposite of whatever he recommends.


Would you all judge me if I said I don’t understand point #2, point #5 and point #10? Can someone please explain what he’s trying to say?


Honestly, it sounds like it. “Don’t do any research, because all info is now available to everyone.”

Dude. What?

@Zussage I interpret #2 as “Don’t ever write the things you know unless it’s for money.”

#5 I interpret as “I’m too lazy to research so here’s a bullshit reason to why I don’t need to do it anymore.”

#10 I honestly have no idea. Kind of sounds like a worse version of some pocket poetry.


Here’s my interpretation:

#2 Write something that is personally frightening or unknown to you. If you dare to write anything else, it’s commercial nonsense and not worth anything.

#5 When there’s a lot of free access to information, people stop being impressed by the research needed to write a novel.

#10 This is gibberish. Tbh, these things do not seem to correlate at all to me.


Haha SAME on 10



So glad I’m not the only one who doesn’t understand it. I’ve read it like 10 times now and I still don’t get it. I wrote it off as it being too weirdly worded for my ESL ass to understand it. :joy:


Nah, I’m pretty sure it’s just pretentious garbage


Let’s make a new one.

#11 Don’t write wanky opinions as if they’re rules.


I would also suggest all of these