Here are some notes form my workshop on guidelines - why they work, and how to break them so everything works, sounds good, and your words hit the reader exactly the way you want them to.

Remember, this is the short version. If you are interested in having me teach this session at a writer’s conference, please contact me.

To start, here are several very important but often forgotten rules of English:

1. Avoid alliteration. Always.
2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
3. Avoid cliches like the plague. (They're old hat.)
4. Employ the vernacular.
5. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
6. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.
7. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
8. Contractions aren't necessary.
9. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
10. One should never generalize.
11. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: "I hate quotations. Tell me what you know."
12. Comparisons are as bad as cliches.
13. Don't be redundant; don't use more words than necessary; it's highly superfluous.
14. Be more or less specific.
15. Understatement is always best.
16. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
17. One-word sentences? Eliminate.
19. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
20. The passive voice is to be avoided.
21. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
22. Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
23. Who needs rhetorical questions?

Now, seriously, these are all good guidelines in general, but now let's go over some of the rules we hear about in writers groups, both live and online, and at conferences.

Head Hopping - A scene should be written from the viewpoint or POV (Point Of View) from one character only. This tightens the scene, and bonds the reader more effectively with that character. A scene is going to be more exciting when the viewpoint leaves some unknowns, creating some suspence and/or tension. Then they will have to keep reading to find out how the other character(s) in the scene feel about the action. Tighten the focus of your character, and that makes the reader focus as well.

No Independent Body Parts - this is when a character throws their arm over their head. We know what the writer means is that the character raised their arm over their head, they didn't really pull off their own arm and throw it across the room. But despite "knowing" what is happening, the picture presented makes the reader mentally find the picture of the way it is, not the way it was said. That small distraction loses the tight focus of the scene. If you say the action the way it really is, with no body parts flying through the air, that tightens the scene and makes the reader focus on the point of why the arms are raised. In other words, this is simply another way to keep your writing tight. Write as it really happens, don't make the action flowery, make it real.

Weasel Words - These are the uber-common words that float into every conversation - was and look, for starters. These words are fine to use, but often a better word can be chosen to convey the action more dynamically. The dog was walking. First this is passive. To put more action into that, delete the 'was' and show how the dog was walking. The dog strutted across the road with his head high and tail wagging. 

Another Weasel Word is look. Instead of just 'look', how is the character looking? A quick glance? A furious stare? A loving gaze? That said, it's okay to say 'look' just as it's okay to say 'was', but be careful not to overuse them. But in the case of 'look', please do not under-use it. If you replace every usage of the word 'look' with something else it will sound ridiculous. I've seen many beginning authors replace 'look' with 'gaze' for every usage, to the point that it sounded ridiculous. A 'look' can be a 'gaze', but a 'gaze' is not always a 'look'.  In other words, you can replace the use of Weasel Words very effectively, but if you eliminate them completely, it ends up sounding worse. Known when to make the change, and when to leave it. Remember, in God's green earth, weasels are good for something, we just don't want them in hoards.

There are more of these general writing rules that I won't list here, I think most of us know many of them. Please, use the rules - they're called rules because they work. But when you have a good reason to break them, know how they work so you can break them well.

Good luck, and happy writing.

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