When I left Corporate America to become a writer, I had received some excellent advice from a partner at the firm I was employed by. He had shared with me his most guarded resource for good writing, one that he kept closely by his side, one that he often referred to while writing a legal brief – Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses, by Mark Twain.
Upon leaving his corner office that day, he warned me. “Download it. Read it on your commute,” he said with a thin smile. “But be warned,” he added, “you will laugh out loud.”
He was right on both accounts. This is a brilliant piece of writing. Not only is this laugh out loud reading, it delivers so many important rules for a writer to follow. One of my favorite things to do is pump this piece through the persona of my IVONA text-to-speech engine, Amy–in her stoic British accent–who gets me to laugh while serving as my muse.
Below is an excerpt from Mark Twain’s observations of Fenimore Cooper’s work.
“There are nineteen rules governing literary art in domain of romantic fiction — some say twenty-two. In “Deerslayer,” Cooper violated eighteen of them. These eighteen require:”
Here is my favorite from that list:
10. They require 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. But the reader of the “Deerslayer” tale dislikes the good people in it, is indifferent to the others, and wishes they would all get drowned together.