Twenty simple tips for stronger writing
Updated: Oct 12, 2019
Sometimes, I go through my old files from past writing seminars and conferences to brush up on what I've learned. Today, I compiled a list of 20 rules that I've heard described and taught many times.
It doesn't hurt to take another look at some of these tips.
Maintain a single POV (point of view) for every scene.
Omit needless words. Yes, less is better than more.
Avoid up and down: he stood up, she sat down—he stood, she sat.
You can almost always delete “that.”
Give the reader credit: not everything needs to be spelled out.
Avoid negative descriptions: she didn’t answer her phone, and he didn’t get out of his car. Instead, say: she ignored her ringing phone, and he sat in his car.
Limit your adjectives, and pick the strongest adjective: Every eye was on the jaw-dropping, beautiful woman. Every eye was on the gorgeous woman.
Avoid dialog ping-pong. That makes for boring dialog.
Avoid too much stage direction: showing every movement of every character.
Avoid clichés, in words, phrases, and situations.
Avoid on-the-nose writing. (Writing that exactly mirrors real life.)
RUE (resist the urge to explain): Bailey [was sad. She] sat the table and dried her tears.
Show don’t tell. Most of the time. Occasionally, telling is appropriate.
Cut any text or scenes that do not deepen character or advance plot. Be ruthless.
Use specifics. They add the ring of truth, even in fiction.
Avoid character names that sound similar: Shane and Dane. Also, avoid using the same first initials: Beth and Bailey.
Avoid using punctuation, font style, and sizes. “She …was… DEAD!”
Use an ellipsis when a character is trailing off in thought: Edith had thought she knew Joseph, but now. . .
Use an em dash where a comma doesn’t provide a strong enough break: The picture drew her in—obscuring the sunlight gliding across the hardwood floor, the clink of glassware, and the murmurs of the coffee shop’s late-afternoon crowd.
Also use an em dash to show interruption:
“Hi, Maria. I thought Mother would be in—”
“Julie!” Artie called from the front desk.
Of course, there are many rules authors use. This is just a short list to help you think about some lessons that you might have forgotten.
Write on, friends!