Would William Faulkner lie to you?

William Faulkner, the sage of Mississippi.
William Faulkner, the sage of Mississippi.

I DON’T WRITE like him.

I don’t even try.

But I love to read William Faulkner.

His sentences were too long.

His paragraphs were too long.

But his writing was exquisite.

Every time I grow tired of writing, I simply read a few passages from William Faulkner and I’m ready to go again.

Not only did he leave behind volumes of classic literature, Faulkner also gave us seven of his own rules for writing fiction.

You may call them rules.

I think they are gospel.

1: Take what you need from other writers and maybe they will someday steal from you.

I think the writer, as I’ve said before, is completely amoral. He takes whatever he needs, wherever he needs, and he does that openly and honestly because he himself hopes that what he does will be good enough so that after him people will take from him, and they are welcome to take from him, as he feels that he would be welcome by the best of his predecessors to take what they had done.

2: Don’t worry about style. Let the story create its own style.

I think the story compels its own style to a great extent, that the writer don’t need to bother too much about style. If he’s bothering about style, then he’s going to write precious emptiness–not necessarily nonsense…it’ll be quite beautiful and quite pleasing to the ear, but there won’t be much content in it.

3:  Write from every experience you’ve ever had.

To me, experience is anything you have perceived. It can come from books, a book that–a story that–is true enough and alive enough to move you. That, in my opinion, is one of your experiences. You need not do the actions that the people in that book do, but if they strike you as being true, that they are things that people would do, that you can understand the feeling behind them that made them do that, then that’s an experience to me. And so, in my definition of experience, it’s impossible to write anything that is not an experience, because everything you have read, have heard, have sensed, have imagined is part of experience.

4: Know your characters well and let them write the story.

A student once asked Faulkner: Is it more difficult to get a character in your mind, or get the character down on paper once you have him in your mind. Faulkner told him:

I would say to get the character in your mind. Once he is in your mind, and he is right, and he’s true, then he does the work himself. All you need to do then is to trot along behind him and put down what he does and what he says. It’s the ingestion and then the gestation. You’ve got to know the character. You’ve got to believe in him. You’ve got to feel that he is alive, and then, of course, you will have to do a certain amount of picking and choosing among the possibilities of his action, so that his actions fit the character which you believe in. After that, the business of putting him down on paper is mechanical.

5: Don’t shove dialogue down your readers’s throats.

I think it best to use as little dialect as possible because it confuses people who are not familiar with it. That nobody should let the character speak completely in his own vernacular. It’s best indicated by a few simple, sparse but recognizable touches.

6: Don’t wear out your imagination. Keep it fresh for tomorrow.

Never write yourself to the end of a chapter or the end of a thought. The only rule I have is to quit while it’s still hot. Never write yourself out. Always quit when it’s going good. Then it’s easier to take it up again. If you exhaust yourself, then you’ll get into a dead spell and you’ll have trouble with it.

7: Nobody cares about your excuses.

I have no patience, I don’t hold with the mute inglorious Miltons. I think if he’s demon-driven with something to be said, then he’s going to write it. He can blame the fact that he’s not turning out work on lots of things. I’ve heard people say, “Well, if I were not married and had children, I would be a writer.” I’ve heard people say, “If I could just stop doing this, I would be a writer.” I don’t believe that. I think if you’re going to write you’re going to write, and nothing will stop you.

Do I agree with Faulkner?

Why shouldn’t I?

As long as he is William Faulkner, and I’m not, I will believe everything he tells me.

William Faulkner wrote about Mississippi. My Novel, Little Lies, is about Mississippi, too. He wrote rural. I wrote Vicksburg. 

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