This was taken from Mark Twain's wicked 1895 essay "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses", which is mainly a criticism of Cooper's story "The Deerslayer".
Twain wrote: "I may be mistaken, but it does seem to me that "Deerslayer" is not a work of art in any sense; it does seem to me that it is destitute of every detail that goes to the making of a work of art; in truth, it seems to me that "Deerslayer" is just simply a literary delirium tremens."
- A tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.
- The episodes of a tale shall be necessary parts of
the tale, and shall help develop it.
- The personages in a tale shall be alive, except in
the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell
the corpses from the others.
- The personages in a tale, both dead and alive,
shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there.
- When the personages of a tale deal in
conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as
human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and
have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of
relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject in hand, and be
interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the
people cannot think of anything more to say.
- When the author describes the character of a
personage in his tale, the conduct and conversation of that personage
shall justify said description.
- When a personage talks like an illustrated,
gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven-dollar Friendship's Offering
in the beginning of a paragraph, he shall not talk like a Negro minstrel
at the end of it.
- Crass stupidities shall not be played upon the
reader by either the author or the people in the tale.
- Events shall be believable; the personages of a tale shall confine themselves
to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle,
the author must so plausably set it forth as to make it look possible
- The author shall make the reader feel a deep
interest in the personages of his tale and their fate; and that he shall
make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones.
- The characters in tale be so clearly defined that
the reader can tell beforehand what each will do in a given emergency.
In addition to these large rules, there are some little ones. These require that the author shall:
- Say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.
- Use the right word, not its second cousin.
- Eschew surplusage.
- Not omit necessary details.
- Avoid slovenliness of form.
- Use good grammar.
- Employ a simple, straightforward style.