The Three Laws of Writing

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There are dozens of rules in writing – ones you should follow and ones you should break – but there are three basic tenets at the core of good fiction that you ought to know. I’ll expand on the Three Laws as we go along. For now, here’s an overview:

Law #1: Read good books. Garbage in, garbage out. If you want to write well, feed your mind with excellent writing. You’ll learn a lot just by osmosis. Start with the books that defined your genre. If you write fantasy, read Tolkien. If you write sci-fi, read Wells. If you write mystery, read Doyle. Then branch out and read in other genres; Dickens. Carroll. Bradbury.

Law #2: Show, don’t tell. You’ll hear this one a lot, because it’s true. But it’s not always explained well. Here’s a short example: “she was beautiful” is telling; “her large, indigo eyes peeked out from behind a mess of curling flaxen locks” is showing.

Law #3: Write from your gut. You’re trying to write a dramatic scene and it sounds cheesy. It’s happened to the best of us – because we were trying to be poetic instead of just writing from the gut. Hopefully, we haven’t experienced the same tragedies that we inflict on our characters, but we’ve probably felt, to some degree, the same emotions. You’ve never lost your entire family to Martian invaders in a single day, but maybe you had to put your dog to sleep. Latch onto that feeling. Try to remember every detail – how it felt in your chest and in your fingers, the thoughts you didn’t want to think, the things you wished you could say. Avoid using fancy words; just write as plainly and as honestly as you can, and from the rawness of your emotion, beauty will naturally emerge.

Is your work Three Laws Safe?

About Stephanie Orges

Stephanie is an award-winning copywriter, aspiring novelist, and barely passable ukulele player. Here, she offers writing prompts, tips, and moderate-to-deep philosophical discussions. You can also find her on and Pinterest.
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  1. Pingback: 5 Tips for Turning Your Short Story Into a Novel « Be Kind Rewrite

  2. Ah, it’s suddenly become very clear. As a new writer, is there anyway you can use this as an indicator of whether a prompt response is 3 Laws Clean when you ping back on your InMon page? Just an idea. For me personally, it would help me gauge whether my writing is heading in the right direction. Thank you for a great post.

    • Hmmm. The trouble is, the Three Laws are more art than science. It is not always easy to tell, for instance, if someone else is writing from the gut, and whether or not you are reading the right books is up to you. “Show, don’t tell” is easier to spot (although it is a rather complex principle,and I really ought to write several more posts about it), and I do try to say something in the comments when I read something that is a particularly good example of showing. I will try to do it more. : )

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