Exploring the art of prose


CRAFT Aphorisms

It’s the end of January!

Each Monday this month, we’ve published forty different aphorisms about writing. And now we’ve come to the end. So here’s the full list of 160 aphorisms.

You can read them all here, but we’ve also included a downloadable pdf:  CRAFT Fiction Aphorisms.

Print them out. Delete some. Add more. See which ones ring true for you. Cut those out and post them above your work space. Write. And write. And write.


  1. Fiction should connect the writer to the reader.
  2. Fiction should not be written with a reader in mind.
  3. Fiction can be written as though writing a letter to a friend.
  4. Fiction should use language in a way that pleases and surprises.
  5. Fiction cannot rely on language alone.
  6. Fiction should deal with the passing of time.
  7. Fiction should be vertical not just horizontal.
  8. Fiction should be interesting.
  9. Fiction should connect to the outside world.
  10. Fiction should address questions that are essential to the writer.
  11. Fiction should transfer an understanding of the way the world works to the reader.
  12. Fiction can experiment with form.
  13. Fiction can respond to other works and writers.
  14. Fiction can mimic reality.
  15. Fiction can create alternate realities.
  16. Fiction should tell a truth.
  17. Fiction can be all lies.
  18. Fiction should create an emotional response in the reader.
  19. Fiction should tell a simple story.
  20. Fiction should consider complex questions.
  21. Fiction should resist paraphrase.
  22. Fiction should surprise and yet convince.
  23. Fiction should be in the past for the writer.
  24. Fiction should be in the future for the reader.
  25. Fiction should be layered.
  26. Fiction can be a glimpse into the writer’s mind.
  27. Fiction should be an argument.
  28. Fiction can be an exploration of an obsession.
  29. Fiction can be an exploration of unresolved tension.
  30. Fiction should not preach to the audience.
  31. Fiction should stay in touch with the emotional project.
  32. Fiction should focus on story in the first draft.
  33. Fiction should focus on plot in the revision process.
  34. Fiction should require deep thinking and concentration.
  35. Fiction should write into the mystery of life.
  36. Fiction should be an exploration of what you don’t know.
  37. Fiction should be a pathway to honesty.
  38. Fiction should focus on images that are in the world.
  39. Fiction should ask questions of the world.
  40. Fiction can arise from charged images.
  41. Fiction should connect with readers through the senses.
  42. Fiction should be built sentence by sentence.
  43. Fiction can hinge at the middle of the project.
  44. Fiction can end with a dramatic action at the close.
  45. Fiction can conclude with an ending that opens up the mysteries for the reader.
  46. Fiction should focus on the details.
  47. Fiction should focus on the privileging and order of experiences.
  48. Fiction should capture something that’s temporal.
  49. Fiction should identify the truth of the emotional moment.
  50. Fiction can be about choosing the right image.
  51. Fiction should not be about imposed symbols.
  52. Fiction should allow details to move from simple to complex thought.
  53. Fiction should be constructed of units of action that build towards an ending.
  54. Fiction should consist of a thesis, antithesis and synthesis.
  55. Fiction can question the existence of free will.
  56. Fiction should present the thing that has to happen as the unforeseen.
  57. Fiction should question whether a character can transcend his/her own character.
  58. Fiction should investigate something about a character that the character doesn’t understand.
  59. Fiction should create meaning by an intersection of story and plot.
  60. Fiction should have an inciting incident or trigger that sets off the plot.
  61. Fiction should focus on a story goal.
  62. Fiction should consider whether the character can achieve his/her story goal.
  63. Fiction should have obstacles that block the story goal.
  64. Fiction should present a final attempt at achieving the story goal.
  65. Fiction should present a climax between two or more people or between man and nature.
  66. Fiction can have a happy ending if the character behaves against character.
  67. Fiction cannot have a happy ending if the character acts as always.
  68. Fiction can produce a feeling of elation in a reader with a happy ending.
  69. Fiction should be about a small local goal in the story.
  70. Fiction can be about a little moment.
  71. Fiction should have an eye on the outside world.
  72. Fiction should be the result of concentration and thinking deeply.
  73. Fiction can surprise the writer.
  74. Fiction should choose the dramatic units that say something about character.
  75. Fiction can make the reader look elsewhere.
  76. Fiction can be a sleight-of-hand.
  77. Fiction should be pictured outside of the writer’s mind.
  78. Fiction should be a balance between beautiful language and forward moving action.
  79. Fiction should exist in time.
  80. Fiction should be vertical (movement) as well as horizontal (words).
  81. Fiction should be a balance of scene and summary.
  82. Fiction should be interesting and dramatic.
  83. Fiction should use at least three senses in each scene.
  84. Fiction should represent an opportunity for the reader to escape or be more alive.
  85. Fiction should be built on a foundation of craft.
  86. Fiction should be active not passive.
  87. Fiction can use an outsider as a narrator.
  88. Fiction should present a protagonist who is emotionally changed by the events of story.
  89. Fiction can use a first-person voice to inhabit character.
  90. Fiction can use a second-person voice to separate self from self.
  91. Fiction can use a second-person voice to directly address the reader.
  92. Fiction can use a second-person voice to directly address a character.
  93. Fiction can use a third person-omniscient voice to shift point of view.
  94. Fiction can use a third-person voice to shift narrative distance.
  95. Fiction can alter narrative distance to shift dynamics.
  96. Fiction can consider musical dynamics and camera angles in revision.
  97. Fiction should use free indirect style to access character.
  98. Fiction should present a voice that’s elided with the voice of the character.
  99. Fiction should present a point-of-view character that’s moved by the events.
  100. Fiction can present multiple points-of-view and the reader is the one that’s moved.
  101. Fiction can be written in scenes, out of order.
  102. Fiction can shift point-of-view within a scene if the opening is wide.
  103. Fiction should represent the writer working out a problem.
  104. Fiction can be very built and constructed, with a greater emphasis on plot.
  105. Fiction can be very simple, with a greater emphasis on story.
  106. Fiction can move from good to great in the revision process.
  107. Fiction can play with time and repetition in the revision process.
  108. Fiction can identify motifs in the revision process.
  109. Fiction should present the character with a choice toward to the end.
  110. Fiction should present dialogue that’s active and not exposition.
  111. Fiction should never use dialogue to tell what’s going on.
  112. Fiction can effectively use repeated dialogue.
  113. Fiction can effectively use dialogue that is counter to the character’s thoughts.
  114. Fiction should start as close to the end as possible.
  115. Fiction should start where something is about to happen.
  116. Fiction should create a plot that gets to the thematic issues.
  117. Fiction can combine two stories in order to deepen and strengthen the story.
  118. Fiction should connect the beginning and the end of the story.
  119. Fiction should consider whether a flashback can impede momentum.
  120. Fiction can use reordering of events to create dramatic tension.
  121. Fiction should put the most important thing about a story at the start.
  122. Fiction should start with an action.
  123. Fiction should teach the reader how to read.
  124. Fiction should consider the character’s wants and needs.
  125. Fiction can be a math problem.
  126. Fiction should present a character who chooses one need over another.
  127. Fiction should show that a character has an interior conflict.
  128. Fiction should show character traits in action.
  129. Fiction should present the character trait in every scene.
  130. Fiction can have an ending that shows a character has a glimmer of another way to be.
  131. Fiction can have an ending that shows a character stuck in their way of being.
  132. Fiction can provide facts upfront in order to delve deeper into character.
  133. Fiction can provide an ending that shows a reversal.
  134. Fiction should illustrate simple wisdom about how things are.
  135. Fiction should show a character making small subtle changes throughout.
  136. Fiction should not show a character making a sudden change at the end.
  137. Fiction can end with an epiphany.
  138. Fiction can end without an epiphany.
  139. Fiction should use the knowledge of the writer’s image system to reach the universal.
  140. Fiction should start with something of interest.
  141. Fiction should allow the reader’s mind to jump to the story’s mind.
  142. Fiction should allow the beginning and end to speak to each other.
  143. Fiction should start with an imbalance.
  144. Fiction should be about writing.
  145. Fiction should use the first draft to get something down.
  146. Fiction should use the first draft to find clues to the subconscious.
  147. Fiction should go beyond the personal to pure imagination.
  148. Fiction should find the metaphor for the story between the first and second drafts.
  149. Fiction should be concerned with the rhythm of the sentences.
  150. Fiction should be concerned with the dynamic range of the sentences.
  151. Fiction should make a reader feel.
  152. Fiction should capture the mind at work.
  153. Fiction should not make the logical relationship between sentences obvious.
  154. Fiction should allow the reader to do work.
  155. Fiction should trust the reader.
  156. Fiction should cause the reader to get a thrill moving from one sentence to the next.
  157. Fiction should recognize that no one wants to be convinced.
  158. Fiction should handle revision in pieces at first.
  159. Fiction should make meaning in each word.
  160. Fiction should not use cliché as it removes it from the real.

by Laura Spence-Ash