Seven Imperfect Rules for Improving your Fiction

23 January 2018

With under three weeks remaining to enter the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize, author Frances Maynard has written her ‘Seven Imperfect Rules for Improving your Fiction’ to help this year’s entrants to improve their fiction.

Frances entered the beginning of her novel Not That Way to the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize in 2016, and was shortlisted for the Prize. She published her novel with Mantle/Pan Macmillan under the title The Seven Imperfect Rules of Elvira Carr in August 2017, to acclaim from literary critics, fellow authors and readers.

Here are her Seven Imperfect Rules for Improving your Fiction:

  1. The beginning has to be compelling. You need to suggest as early as possible that your character will need to do something about a difficult situation.
  2. Rather than racking your brain for a plot, think more about exploring a situation. Ask, ‘What if? …’
  3. There should be something special or interesting about your central character. They should be someone we could care about.
  4. Dialogue needs to be convincing. We don’t speak in perfect sentences!
  5. Characters need conflict. We might not have faced the same ones, or not ones so bad, but we’ve all had troubles and set backs. Reading about fictional ones can illuminate your own.
  6. Show don’t tell. Help your reader notice things but let them think and discover things for themselves – always the best way to learn anything.
  7. There is no special writer’s language! Don’t show off at your readers’ expense with long words, foreign terms etc. A novel should be for readers, not therapy for the writer.

The Fiction Prize is the only one of its kind run by the University of Cambridge and it has gone from strength to strength, with over 300 entries from female authors aged 21 and over. The Prize costs £12 to enter and it provides a unique opportunity for unpublished authors to launch their literary careers (many of the previous shortlisted authors and winners have now published novels). The deadline for entries is midday on Friday 9 February 2018. Read more about how to enter here.

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Notes to editors:                           

About the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize

The Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize was founded in 2010 by Professor Janet Todd OBE, then President of the College. Aspiring authors are invited to submit an opening to a novel (up to the first 50 pages), accompanied by a synopsis of how the novel progresses and concludes. Entrants must be female, aged 21 and over and resident in the UK.  The winner will receive a cash prize of £1,500 and a consultation with sponsors Peters Fraser Dunlop.

About Lucy Cavendish

Lucy Cavendish is the only women's college in Europe exclusively for students aged 21 or over, and a unique part of the University of Cambridge. Its undergraduate and postgraduate students come from over sixty countries, and a wide variety of educational and professional backgrounds. Many have changed careers or overcome significant challenges in order to reach University. The College is particularly strong in Medicine, Law, Engineering, Veterinary Medicine, Psychology, the Social Sciences and English.

Contact information:

Lucy Cavendish College, University of Cambridge – Kate Coghlan, Communications & Marketing Manager, T: 01223 768426, E:

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