Talking Squid recommends George Orwell’s rules for writers from “Politics and the English Language”:
- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
We also commend (while admitting they are not for everyone, especially suspense writers) Kurt Vonnegut’s Eight Rules of Fiction from Bagombo Snuff Box:
- Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
- Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
- Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
- Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.
- Start as close to the end as possible.
- Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
- Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
- Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
With regards to clear and potent style, Talking Squid recommends Strunk and White’s Elements of Style.
If these fail to suffice, Talking Squid cannot praise highly enough Matt Cheney’s Ten Indispensable Rules for Writing:
- If you use adjectives in your prose, do not use nouns. If you use nouns, you must not use verbs. If you use verbs, try to avoid verbs that specify a particular city.
- When specifying particular cities in fiction, do not use cities that have been specified in poems. Poems have so few things left of their own anymore that we should let them have their own cities.
- When writing poems, use many different points of view. Poems without multiple points of view are too strident. Prose is allowed to be strident on certain political holidays, but poems that are strident tend to resemble over-ripe fruit, and nobody likes that.
- Bad writing is usually caused by over-ripe fruit, but often enough there is too little rain during the season, and that isn’t any good, either. More good writing is produced by rain than by drought.
- Do not write about the thing that annoyed your brother the last time you wrote about it, because he’s bigger than you and he’s got a mean streak and there are plenty of other things to write about, like the weather.
- If you write about the weather, use as many adjectives as you can, or else your nouns will wilt and become adverbs.
- Some coaches insist adverbs are stronger than nouns, but an independent panel of statisticians has proved otherwise. Despite appearances, though, statisticians don’t like nouns so much as they adore conjunctions.
- If you use foreign phrases in your writing, be careful to use the correct pronunciation.
- There are really only three plots: the queen cried because the city became a piece of over-ripe fruit; the king killed himself because the political holiday was ruined by the weather; and the thing that annoyed your brother caused him to hate nouns.
- If you write a play, call it a poem, because otherwise everyone will assume it’s a blog post, and trust me, you don’t want that.
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