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Jonathan Franzen’s Ten Rules for Writing Fiction

Jonathan Franzen's Ten Rules for Writing Fiction

In 2010, inspired to Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing, The Guardian asked some of the world’s most respected writers to share their best tips for writing fiction. Here’s the list American novelist and essayist Jonathan Franzen provided.

  1. The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.
  2. Fiction that isn’t an author’s personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn’t worth writing for anything but money.
  3. Never use the word “then” as a ­conjunction – we have “and” for this purpose. Substituting “then” is the lazy or tone-deaf writer’s non-solution to the problem of too many “ands” on the page.
  4. Write in the third person unless a ­really distinctive first-person voice ­offers itself irresistibly.
  5. When information becomes free and universally accessible, voluminous research for a novel is devalued along with it.
  6. The most purely autobiographical ­fiction requires pure invention. Nobody ever wrote a more auto­biographical story than “The Meta­morphosis”.
  7. You see more sitting still than chasing after.
  8. It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.
  9. Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.
  10. You have to love before you can be relentless.


About Jonathan Franzen
Jonathan Franzen is the author of four novels (FreedomThe CorrectionsStrong Motion, and The Twenty-Seventh City), two collections of essays (Farther AwayHow to Be Alone), a personal history (The Discomfort Zone), and a translation of Frank Wedekind’s Spring Awakening. He was born in Western Springs, Illinois and now lives in New York City and Santa Cruz, California.




  1. 16 April 2013 / 2:21 am

    I’m not sure I understand #5 …but the rest all sounds sensible, although #8 is a bit harsh!

    • 16 April 2013 / 1:43 pm

      fictionzoo, I think #5 is a way of saying that back before the Internet, writers would visit the locations that their novel was set in and collect information that ran the gamut from traditions, customs, culture and architecture and history. It was an intensive process that really set their novels apart and made them unique. Now, all that information is at your fingertips, so all that extensive research has gone down in its value in terms of the effort needed to collect it.

      #8 isn’t harsh, it’s actually true. I get distracted all the time :/

      • 17 April 2013 / 6:17 pm

        You’re right – we often assume we know a place without actually going there. The internet is also a huge distraction – I guess I’m lucky that my ‘writing spot’ is in my loft and out of range of my wifi connection! So, with this in mind hopefully my writing will develop…

  2. nora
    4 October 2015 / 8:35 am

    Living in a place is not something that you can reproduce with Google. It’s pathetic that anyone thinks so or believes it to be devalued by the “at your fingertips” myth. Unless your writing self-absorbed confessional pap.

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