Rules for Writing Fiction
by Mark Twain
According to Mark Twain in his essay, Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses, there are eighteen
rules governing literary art in the domain of romantic fiction: These eighteen rules outlined by Twain require:
1. That a tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.
2. That the episodes in a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help to develop it.
3. That the personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to
tell the corpses from the others.
4. That the personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there.
5. That when the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human
beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of
relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject at hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the
people cannot think of anything more to say.
6. That when the author describes the character of a personage in the tale, the conduct and conversation of that personage
shall justify said description.
7. That when a personage talks like an illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven- dollar Friendship's Offering
in the beginning of a paragraph, he shall not talk like a negro minstrel in the end of it.
8. That crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader by either the author or the people in the
9. That the personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a
miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable.
10. That the author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and in their fate; and that he
shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones.
11. That the characters in a tale shall be so clearly defined that the reader can tell beforehand what each will do in a
In addition to these large rules, there are some little ones. These require that the author shall:
12. Say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.
13. Use the right word, not its second cousin.
14. Eschew surplusage.
15. Not omit necessary details.
16. Avoid slovenliness of form.
17. Use good grammar.
18. Employ a simple and straightforward style.
If you have never read Mark Twain's essay Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses, you have missed out on one
of the funniest things Mark Twain ever wrote. The entire essay is available on various web sites on the Internet.