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Sunday, 10 March 2019

The basics of good writing

Whatever you are writing, whether it’s fiction, non-fiction, a novel, a short story, an article or any other piece of written work, there are some basic ‘rules’ that always apply. At least, if you intend to get published.

Here’s my list. Can you think of any other points that need remembering when writing?

·         There's only one way to create a good writing style and that is to write regularly. Write every day, even if only for a few minutes. This old cliché is actually a good one – practice makes perfect.

·         Don’t rush through your story desperate to reach the end. Take your time and write every scene with detail and care.

·         Be correct with your facts. Double check everything. If you submit work to an editor containing incorrect information that editor will not look favourably on anything else that you submit.

·         Avoid clichés. Even though I’ve broken my own rule above. Also, use adverbs sparingly, particularly when attached to speech attributions e.g. he said merrily. They can make your work seem amateurish.

·         Make every word count. Don't waffle and don't pad out unnecessarily. Look at your sentence structure. Could it be written more succinctly?

·         Ensure spelling and punctuation are correct. Be especially aware of punctuation around dialogue. If you aren’t sure, copy word for word a published extract of dialogue. You will soon see the pattern.

·        Avoid exclamation marks unless they are in dialogue. An exclamation mark is a kind of indicator telling the reader that they should be surprised at this. It doesn’t work within narrative, as it would smack of ‘author talking’. Fine in dialogue – used occasionally.

·         Watch for repetitions of individual words and phrases. It’s so easy to get into a habit of saying things in a certain way. In the end you barely notice the repetition. However, an editor will.

·         Don’t become so self-critical that you can’t move forward. Have faith in your written words, and remember, the more you write, the better you will become.

·         Don't write in stone. Be aware that your first draft is just that. Your work will improve with editing and polishing.

·         Never be satisfied with your first draft, polish until it shines.

·         Present your work as perfectly as you can. Writing for publication is a professional business, so be professional with your approach and your presentation.

·         Unless otherwise stated, your manuscript should be typed, double spaced on one side of A4 paper or on an A4 document, with good margins all around and pages numbered. Some publications will want the title, your name and page number in the header. Check individual guidelines.

·         Include a brief covering letter or email with your submission saying what you are sending, and any brief relevant information about yourself.

·         Include a title page, giving the title of your work, word count, your name, address, email and telephone number.

·         Read your work aloud. Listen for anything that doesn’t sound smooth. It may just need a slight tweak to make perfect.

Are there any golden rules that you abide by?