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New Rules for Writers

Most of these are actually old rules, but these offenses have popped up repeatedly in documents I’ve edited, so they’re worth dusting off and revisiting.

  • Avoid using buzzwords, especially in a way in which they were not originally intended. Examples include: impact, utilize, incentivise. Impact used to be a noun that referred to the effect of a collision; utilize means “to find a profitable or practical use for,” and incentivise just makes me shudder. Affect, use, and motivate are more reader friendly and easier to spell.

  • Do not fill your novel (or report) with clichés. Hanging by a thread, cold as ice, dead as a doornail (whatever the hell that means) are old hat and old school. You can be more creative.

  • Why use ing verbs when present tense verbs work harder?
    Sloggy: She was jogging down the sidewalk when a car suddenly started veering off the road…
    Crisp: She jogged down the sidewalk. Suddenly, a car veered off the road

  • Keep verbs phases together whenever possible.
    Acceptable: She dropped Micah off and picked the book up.
    Better: She dropped off Micah and picked up the book.

  • If you’re writing a novel, do not have adult siblings bicker like children. It is not entertaining. Really.

  • Introduce characters one at time, please. If you throw too many at the reader all at once, none of them stick.

  • Don’t give your characters sound-alike names such as Dan, Dave, and Dean, even if they are brothers or psychic twins. Help your readers keep everyone straight with names like Moon Unit, Dweezil, and Ahmet. (Kidding! Those are Frank Zappa’s kids’ names. But you get my point.)
L.J. Sellers is an award-winning journalist and editor and is the author of the Detective Jackson mysteries, The Sex Club and Secrets to Die For. She also loves to edit fiction and works with authors to keep her rates affordable. Contact her at:
L.J. Sellers
Write First, Clean Later

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  1. Agree with all these. But the last one was a stitch. LOL

  2. Excellent advice. I see these errors frequently as well.

  3. Top notch advice! The are all tip-offs to weak writing.

  4. I agree with you LJ -- especially on the naming of characters. It is so frustrating to read a book and not be able to keep the characters straight. It drives me nuts.

  5. I'm waiting for Elle to comment about Anne McCaffrey's character names in the Dragonriders of Pern series! LOL. One can also get too different when naming, and that confuses the reader, too.



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