Probably. Well, it’s probable that all successful novelists, who’ve actually published novels, have tricks of the trade. It’s virtually certain that some novelists, particularly those who have not published one, are sans tricks of the trade.

Just in case you’re doubtful about whether writers even have “tricks of the trade,” there’s a good book titled, “Writers’ Tricks of the Trade: 39 Things You Need to Know About the ABCs of Writing Fiction.”[1] Right off, most readers will note the incongruity of 39 “tricks of the trade,” and the “ABCs of writing fiction” in the same sentence. What are they? Tricks or ABCs? Starting with tricks is putting the bridle on the horse’s tail.

Rather than cite, agree, or disagree with the generic tricks of the trade, I will focus on famous novelists, and leave the vast sea of almost-famous novelists to a later blog. In the August 2018 edition of Oprah Magazine, O Books Editor, Leigh Haber interviewed Anne Tyler.[2] The interview is fascinating for what she volunteered, more so than what questions was asked. When asked whether she still wrote long-hand, she answered, “When I finally type into the computer, I glide too easily over mistakes, or lies, which is how I think of them. Writing longhand, I can feel, Oh, I didn’t tell the truth there. I wasn’t being authentic.” That’s one ethical trick of her trade—tell the truth or you won’t be authentic.

When asked about a sequence of books about the same character over many years, she answered, “Originally, I had a different character opening the book and was going to weave in Willa’s childhood using flashbacks. But I thought, No, that’s cheating. So I started with Willa.” That’s another Anne Tyler trick of the trade. Don’t cheat.

When asked about the suffering her character, Willa, experienced in a book, she answered by relating her own personal reaction to death. “When my husband died more than 20 years ago, I remember wondering, how will I get through the rest of my life? I decided not to think about that, but to have a good cup of coffee. The coffee tasted good. It was a nice day. Bit by bit, the years went by. That’s what I wanted for Willa.” With that answer Anne Tyler gave us another great tip about she gets by. Don’t give grief too much thought. Have a cup of coffee. That’s tip number three. Don’t write what you don’t know. 

Because I write a good deal about the law, both nonfiction and fiction, and because I teach legal ethics in a good law school, I see “tips of the trade” as illustrations of the rigid code of ethics imposed on lawyers.  In that life, I’ve learned a tip or two by the confluence of law over writing. To get a license, lawyers must be certified as having high moral character and being ethically fit to practice. That’s a good tip for writers too. If you’re an untruthful, unreliable, untrustworthy, near-do-well, there’s almost no chance you’ll become a published author, unless you include an author’s note as a prologue confessing to your own rascally life. Then, you’ll be writing what you know. Not a best seller necessarily, but a seller nonetheless.

[1] By Morgan St. James. It’s quite good, but one wonders the process of identifying only 39 out the thousands that are “tricks of the trade.”

[2] Anne Tyler is an American novelist, short story writer, and literary critic. She has published 20 novels, the best known of which are Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, The Accidental Tourist, and Breathing Lessons. All three were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction with Breathing Lessons winning the prize in 1989. She has also won the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize, the Ambassador Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. In 2012 she was awarded The Sunday Times Award for Literary Excellence. She is recognized for her “brilliantly imagined and absolutely accurate detail,” and her “rigorous and artful style” and “astute and open language.” Because of her style and subject matter, she has been compared to John Updike, to Jane Austen, and to Eudora Welty, among others.