7.15.2006

Some Basic Guidelines on Writing Well

How to Write Good

1. Avoid alliteration. Always.

2. Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.

3. Employ the vernacular.

4. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.

5. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.

6. Remember to never split an infinitive.

7. Contractions aren't necessary.

8. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.

9. One should never generalize.

10. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "I hate quotations. Tell me what you know."

11. Comparisons are as bad as cliches.

12. Don't be redundant; don't use more words than necessary; it's highly superfluous.

13. Be more or less specific.

14. Understatement is always best.

15. One-word sentences? Eliminate.

16. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.

17. The passive voice is to be avoided.

18. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.

19. Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.

20. Who needs rhetorical questions?

21. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.

22. Don't never use a double negation.

23. capitalize every sentence and remember always end it with point

24. Do not put statements in the negative form.

25. Verbs have to agree with their subjects.

26. Proofread carefully to see if you words out.

27. If you reread your work, you can find on rereading a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.

28. A writer must not shift your point of view.

29. And don't start a sentence with a conjunction. (Remember, too, a preposition is a terrible word to end a sentence with.)

30. Don't overuse exclamation marks!!

31. Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of 10 or more words, to the irantecedents.

32. Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.

33. If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.

34. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors.

35. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.

36. Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing.

37. Always pick on the correct idiom.

38. The adverb always follows the verb.

39. Last but not least, avoid cliches like the plague; They're old hat; seek viable alternatives.



(stolen of course thanks to Her Royal Goat Tenderness)

36 comments:

Mallika said...

*grin* Great list.

Julia said...

Rule 40. Don't be afraid to break the rules...

Anonymous said...

I always liked Mark Twain's advice: "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a firefly."

Anonymous said...

I am suspicious Miss Snark. Why are you in such a good mood this morning?? Is that George I hear in the background??

Zachary Gole said...

25. Verbs have to agree with their subjects.

Am I missing something, or shouldn't that be "Verbs has to..."?

Bonnie Shimko said...

I loved these!!!

Battlerocker said...

I feel like a more good writer already.

E. Dashwood said...

I agree with Julia. It would be tedious, but I could find examples of every one of these rules broken by an accomplished, even great writer. I remember a list by Elmore Leonard, a great writer, which was roundly criticized by other, but different, great writers.

Good writing is plays with the language.

ilona said...

Rule 40. There are no rules in writing, only guidelines. If you're going to stray from the guidelines, know why you're doing it and make it work.

Maya said...

Remember to never split an infinitive.

I love it.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

My favorite colloquialisms tend to be things one of my best friends says. She was born in northern Minnesota and speaks with a vaguely Scandinavian accent. If she’s really miffed at someone she may say, “I’d like to show them where the bear went in the Buckwheat!”

Someday, some way, I’m going to put that into a story. It’s too much fun not to find a place in some character’s mouth.

I’d say, “Hi Shirley!” but I know she doesn’t read this blog. She hasn’t touched a keyboard since Royal made its last typewriter. I think computers scare her. That dates her too, doesn’t it? Well, she’s not here to scold me for suggesting she’s “older than the hills” or “older than dirt.”

Hildieblog said...

I remember this list from Jr. High English class in the 70s . . .

Anonymous said...

That Twain quote is, "..between lightning and a lightning bug."

Ken Boy said...

And, of course, know when to ignore the rules.

lizzie26 said...

Ah,#6 has always been a sticking point with writers. "Never split an infinitive." Not true. It stems from Latin where you can't split an infinitive because it appears as one word. Sometimes sentences read better with a spit infinitive. For instance, "You have to watch yourself really" sounds terrible, but "to watch" is the infinitive. It sounds better written "You have to really watch yourself." So go ahead, it's 2006. We don't speak Latin. Split the infinitive!

Pepper Smith said...

Actually, not splitting infinitives is a grammar teacher rule, and not a rule of grammar.

Fun list! I'm so glad I've managed to weed the vast majority of those out of my writing.

Sal said...

William Safire's "Fumblerules for Writers" is the credit I've seen with these.

WitLiz said...

OH GOD! There went my entire novel. Is that why I haven't heard from you MS?

Anonymous said...

The first Anonymous enters stage right, strolling along, checking his traps...

"That Twain quote is, "..between lightning and a lightning bug."

Aha! Caught one.

helen said...

""You have to watch yourself really" sounds terrible, but "to watch" is the infinitive. It sounds better written "You have to really watch yourself." "


"You really have to watch yourself" is even better, though!

Chiron O'Keefe said...

As one anonymous pointed out to the other, the Mark Twain quote is slightly different:

The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—'tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.

Another favorite of Twain's:
Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very”; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.

The jokes on the link are HILARIOUS! Can't pick my favorite... Either "Chained to their desks" or "My agent called?"

*still chuckling*

Anonymous said...

I made it most of the way through the list, but "Take the bull by the hand" made me spew tea over my new laptop.

Great list. So snarky.

Brady Westwater said...

If I had the time or the energy I would write a post that would break every one of these rules. But I agree they are good points to keep in mind - with the most important rule being - don't be afraid to break ruules

HawkOwl said...

Yeah, that works for high school students or technical writing, but no one writes fiction that way. And you don't have to be a "good" writer or "know why you're breaking the rules," either. If it sounds good, do it. If you can't tell the difference between what sounds good and what doesn't, maybe writing isn't for you.

nbm said...

"irantecedents" -- what you find in Persian history, or your grandpa's angry speeches?

Lydia said...

Pfffth. More "writing rules" piffle.

Here's my rule: Write well.

PunditMom said...

Advice I never knew I needed, but thoroughly enjoyed! Thanks, Miss Snark!

http://punditmom1.blogspot.com

E. Dashwood said...

Particularly when writing dialogue, following these rules is what not to do. Few speak--maybe Miss Snark or KY--in grammatically pristine sentences. Dialogue following these rules would sound unnatural.

BuffySquirrel said...

I've always liked this one:

It's a good rule of thumb to avoid adjectives and adverbs altogether.

Although, it does have to be said, the person putting it forward was being serious...

Dwight The Troubled Teen said...

40. Eschew obfuscation.

Maggie said...

I suppose the thing to do is never to break those rules by accident. Because anything you do on purpose will be useful to a high school english class studying your Literary Masterpiece.

Pepper Smith said...

Hmmm. It's been a very, very long time since 7th grade grammar class, but isn't an adjective that modifies another adjective technically an adverb? Or has my brain short-circuited again?

Anonymous said...

I agree with julia and e dashwood. Elmore Leonard is one of my favorites. -JTC

just Joan said...

and i'm gonna be the goodest writr ever in the whole world now after reading those rules (or not) cause they're like a lightbulb on fire or something!!

:D

Thanks for those! I needed a good laugh today.

just Joan said...

Oh, and as Miss Snark's title suggested, the rules are like the Pirate code . . . they're more like guidelines, anyway.

Rudolf Helder said...

I just wanted to say from the buttocks of my heart that in my honest personal opinions the remembrance of more than over 38 rules of grammar is no sinecure for someone by any age, standard, or state of mind, as is the case with the majority in the US of the beautiful A, who by my own estimations, when engaged in writing even the shortest shopping list manage to misspell any doubt about their ability to have even an inkling of understanding about what words mean, how they ought to be written - with two or 3 left feet? - spoken, or interpreted correctly, especially by the cashier. And that's just my two cents rubbing against one another in my pocket like testicles in a scrotum, which is where most of my writing originates from, if you get my drip. So, #$@&* grammar, and wright like an ennemal!

Anomalious