Sarah Waters’ ten rules for writing fiction

Pen writingI enjoyed British author Sarah Waters’ World War II novel The Night Watch, and I absolutely adored her wonderfully atmospheric, Gothic novel The Little Stranger.

So when I saw this Aerogramme Writers’ Studio post with the author’s useful writing advice – Sarah Waters’ ten rules for writing fiction – I had to see what this talented author could offer to other writers.

Lots of great advice here about what (at least in my case) I know I should be doing, but might not. Tsk, tsk.

The Little Stranger book coverLike Waters, I love to read widely, but when I’m wrapped up in a story, I’m often not looking at the writing with an author’s eye to see ‘how’ the author achieves it.

Her advice on cutting out much of your work is also key, even if I freely admit I’m not so great at following this advice in my own work. I also liked her point on how you should respect all your characters, even the minor ones, and ensure you’ve thought through their motivations and personality traits, even if they have small roles in your book.

So, lots of good advice for writers and readers here. Now if I could only internalize this and use all this great advice myself…


  1. Catherine on August 16, 2013 at 11:38 am

    Thanks for this. Loved the tips and it looks like a good site. You are a mine of information Kimberly! I did know there was a patron saint for writers..

    • kimberlysullivan on August 16, 2013 at 4:50 pm

      Thanks, Catherine…and hi from Taiwan. Hope you’re enjoying those beautiful Corsican beaches and see you soon in Matera!

  2. Julia on August 16, 2013 at 2:08 pm

    I agree with her. I do all that, actually…

    • kimberlysullivan on August 16, 2013 at 4:51 pm

      Brava, Julia. It’s all very good advice, but I’m glad she also admits to not always reading with a writer’s eye and simply getting wrapped up in the story. I’m often the same. : )

  3. almostwritten on August 16, 2013 at 2:10 pm

    Thanks a lot for this post!

    • kimberlysullivan on August 16, 2013 at 4:54 pm

      I don’t know about you, but I always love this expert advice. I have so much to learn, and i’m happy writers are so generous with their advice.

      • almostwritten on August 19, 2013 at 11:41 am

        Absolutely! Especially when their advice is this practical and useful. It amazing to read tips from the best!

  4. Nicola Layouni on August 16, 2013 at 10:29 pm

    Hello, m’dear. Another interesting post,

    This part had me nodding like crazy:

    ‘And, ­crucially, only by understanding [The Rules!] what they’re for and how they work can you begin to experiment with breaking them.’

    I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get so wrapped up with obeying the current rule du jour, I forget to treat them like the ‘Pirate Code’. They’re guidelines, not gospel. 🙂

    • kimberlysullivan on August 17, 2013 at 4:53 pm

      Hear, hear, Nicola. I loved this, too. I think they should be guidelines, but I also get nervous about writing by a kind of paint-by-the-numbers format. Creative people following rules too doggedly should certainly give us pause. Of course, it’s easier for established authors to flaunt them entirely than the rest of us mere mortals…. : )

  5. Michael Evans Photographer on September 14, 2013 at 3:37 am

    Brilliant stuff here! Hello, and thank you for dropping by my blog and liking my post – very much appreciated! All the best, Michael

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