Rules for Good Writing

Below is a list of Rules for Good Writing that I have culled from several websites.

Your input is crucial.

Kindly enter a ‘comment’ to this post first showing those you agree with, those you strongly disagree with, and then any opinions you have.

For example:


DISAGREE 2,4,6,8,10

#6. Seven or eight exclamation points per 100,000 words is fine


1.      Using adverbs is a mortal sin

2.      Never open a book with weather. If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a charac­ter’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long.

3.      Avoid prologues: they can be ­annoying, especially a prologue ­following an introduction that comes after a foreword. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want.

4.      Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But “said” is far less intrusive than “grumbled”, “gasped”, “cautioned”, “lied”.

5.      Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” … he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin.

6.      Keep your exclamation points ­under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.

7.      Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose”. This rule doesn’t require an explanation.

8.      Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apos­trophes, you won’t be able to stop.

9.      Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

10.  Don’t go into great detail describing places and things. You don’t want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.

11.  Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them.

12.  If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

13.  Read it aloud to yourself because that’s the only way to be sure the rhythms of the sentences are OK

14.  CUT: only by having no ­inessential words can every essential word be made to count.

15.  You don’t always have to go so far as to murder your darlings – those turns of phrase or images of which you felt extra proud when they appeared on the page – but go back and look at them with a very beady eye. Almost always it turns out that they’d be better dead.

16.  Beware of clichés.

17.  Try to be accurate about stuff.

18.  Never use the word “then” as a ­conjunction – we have “and” for this purpose. Substituting “then” is the lazy or tone-deaf writer’s non-solution to the problem of too many “ands” on the page.

19.  Write in the third person unless a ­really distinctive first-person voice ­offers itself irresistibly.

20.  Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.

21.  Cut out the metaphors and similes.

22.  Increase your word power. Words are the raw material of our craft. The greater your vocabulary the more ­effective your writing.

23.  Concentrate your narrative energy on the point of change. When your character is new to a place, or things alter around them, that’s the point to step back and fill in the details of their world. People don’t notice their everyday surroundings and daily routine, so when writers describe them it can sound as if they’re trying too hard to instruct the reader.

24.  Description must work for its place.

a.       It can’t be simply ornamental.

b.      It ­usually works best if it has a human element

c.       it is more effective if it comes from an implied viewpoint, rather than from the eye of God.

d.      If description is coloured by the viewpoint of the character who is doing the noticing, it becomes, in effect, part of character definition and part of the action.

25.  Introduce your main characters and themes in the first third of your novel.

26.  If you are writing a plot-driven genre novel make sure all your major themes/plot elements are introduced in the first third, which you can call the introduction.

27.  Develop your themes and characters in your second third, the development.

28.  Resolve your themes, mysteries and so on in the final third, the resolution.

29.  Carrot and stick – have protagonists pursued (by an obsession or a villain) and pursuing (idea, object, person, mystery).

30.  Be alert for possibilities of paragraphing.

31.  Be alert for possibilities of using plain familiar words in place of polysyllabic “big” words.

32.  If you’re writing historical fiction, don’t have well-known real characters as your main protagonists.

33.  Be economic with descriptions. Sort out the telling detail from the lifeless one.

34.  Write dialogue that people would actually speak.

35.  Respect your characters, even the ­minor ones. It is worth thinking about what your minor characters’ stories are, even though they may intersect only slightly with your protagonist’s.

36.  Avoid redundant phrases, distracting adjectives, unnecessary adverbs.

37.  Pace is crucial.

38.  Never forget, even your own rules are there to be broken.


3 thoughts on “Rules for Good Writing

  • Disagree: 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 14, 18, 19, 20, 21, 24a, 24b, 24c, 27, 28, 31,

    Agree: 3, 12, 13, 16, 17, 22, 23, 24, 24c, 25, 26, 28, 30, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38

    Proposed rule not constructed in the format of a rule: 15


    (Or is it a ball one moves down field?)

    Thank you for raising the standard yet deeper into the fray.

  • Nice Share!, Keep Up the good work!!! 🙂

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