Writing tips
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Before we go any further, let me introduce you to “Allen Guthrie's 32 Infamous Writing Tips”


Allen Guthrie, an acquisition editor for Point Blank Press, wrote up a 'white paper' called 'Hunting Down the Pleonasms' that has become a cult classic. I think every writer should post this list on the wall near their computer.

'Hunting Down the Pleonasms' I can’t stress strongly enough that writing is subjective. We all strive for different goals. Consequently, we all need our own set of rules—and some of us don’t need rules at all! Personally, I like rules. If nothing else, it’s fun breaking them.

 1: Avoid pleonasms. A pleonasm is a word or phrase which can be removed from a sentence without changing its meaning. For example, in “Hunting Down The Pleonasm”, ‘down’ is pleonastic. Cut it and the meaning of the sentence does not alter. Many words are used pleonastically: ‘just’, ‘that’ and ‘actually’ are three frequently-seen culprits (I actually just know that he’s the killer can be trimmed to I know he’s the killer), and phrases like ‘more or less’ and ‘in any shape or form’ are redundant.

 2: Use oblique dialogue. Try to generate conflict at all times in your writing. Attempt the following experiment at home or work: spend the day refusing to answer your family and colleagues’ questions directly. Did you generate conflict? I bet you did. Apply that principle to your writing and your characters will respond likewise.

 3: Use strong verbs in preference to adverbs. I won’t say avoid adverbs, period, because about once every fifty pages they’re okay! What’s not okay is to use an adverb as an excuse for failing to find the correct verb. To ‘walk slowly’ is much less effective than to ‘plod’ or ‘trudge’. To ‘connect strongly’ is much less effective than to ‘forge a connection’.

 4: Cut adjectives where possible. See rule 3 (for ‘verb’ read ‘noun’). 


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Informative sites and blogs.

How Publishing Really Works.com/

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5: Pairs of adjectives are exponentially worse than single adjectives. The ‘big, old’ man walked slowly towards the ‘tall, beautiful’ girl. When I read a sentence like that, I’m hoping he dies before he arrives at his destination. Mind you, that’s probably a cue for a ‘noisy, white’ ambulance to arrive. Wailingly, perhaps!

 6: Keep speeches short. Any speech of more than three sentences should be broken up. Force your character to do something. Make him take note of his surroundings. Ground the reader. Create a sense of place.

 7: If you find you’ve said the same thing more than once, choose the best and cut the rest. Frequently, I see the same idea presented several ways. It’s as if the writer is saying, “The first couple of images might not work, but the third one should do it. If not, maybe all three together will swing it.” The writer is repeating himself. Like this. This is a subtle form of pleonasm.

 8: Show, don’t tell. Much vaunted advice, yet rarely heeded. An example: expressing emotion indirectly. Is your preferred reader intelligent? Yes? Then treat them accordingly. Tears were streaming down Lila’s face. She was very sad. Can the second sentence be inferred from the first? In context, let’s hope so. So cut it. If you want to engage your readers, don’t explain everything to them. Show them what’s happening and allow their intelligence to do the rest. And there’s a bonus to this approach. Because movies, of necessity, show rather than tell, this approach to your writing will help when it’s time to begin work on the screenplay adaptation of your novel!

 9: Describe the environment in ways that are pertinent to the story. And try to make such descriptions active. Instead of describing a book lying on a table, have your psycho-killer protagonist pick it up, glance at it and move it to the arm of the sofa. He needs something to do to break up those long speeches, right?

 10: Don’t be cute. In the above example, your protagonist should not be named Si Coe.

 11: Avoid sounding ‘writerly’. Better to dirty up your prose. When you sound like a writer, your voice has crept in and authorial intrusion is always unwelcome. In the best writing, the author is invisible.

 12: Fix your Point Of View (POV). Make it clear whose head you’re in as early as possible. And stay there for the duration of the scene. Unless you’re already a highly successful published novelist, in which case you can do what you like. The reality is that although most readers aren’t necessarily clued up on the finer points of POV, they know what’s confusing and what isn’t.

 13: Don’t confuse the reader. If you write something you think might be unclear, it is. Big time. Change it or cut it.

 14: Use ‘said’ to carry dialogue. Sid Fleischman calls ‘said’, “the invisible word.”

 15: Whilst it’s good to assume your reader is intelligent, never assume they’re psychic.

 16: Start scenes late and leave them early.

 17: When writing a novel, start with your characters in action. Fill in any necessary backstory as you go along.

 18: Give your characters clear goals. Always. Every scene. And provide obstacles to those goals. Always. Every scene. If the POV character in a scene does not have a goal, provide one or cut the scene. If there is no obstacle, add one or cut the scene.

 19: Don’t allow characters who are sexually attracted to one another the opportunity to get into bedunless at least one of them has a jealous partner.

 20: Torture your protagonist. It’s not enough for him to be stuck up a tree. You must throw rocks at him while he figures out how to get down.

 21: Use all five senses in your descriptions. Smell and touch are too often neglected.

 22: Vary your sentence lengths. I tend to write short, and it’s amazing what a difference combing a couple of sentences can make.

 23: Don’t allow your fictional characters to speak in sentences. Unless you want them to sound fictional.

 24: Cut out filtering devices, wherever possible. ‘He felt’, ‘he thought’, ‘he observed’ are all filters. They distance the reader from the character.

 25: Avoid unnecessary repetition of tense. For example: I’d gone to the hospital. They’d kept me waiting for hours. Eventually, I’d seen a doctor. Usually, the first sentence is sufficient to establish tense. I’d gone to the hospital. They kept me waiting for hours. Eventually, I saw a doctor.

 26: When you finish your book, pinpoint the weakest scene and cut it. If necessary, replace it with a sentence or paragraph.

 27: Don’t plant information. How is Donald, your son? I’m quite sure Donald’s father doesn’t need reminding who Donald is. Their relationship is mentioned purely to provide the reader with information.

 28: If an opinion expressed through dialogue makes your POV character look like a jerk, allow him to think it rather than say it. He’ll express the same opinion, but seem like a lot less of a jerk.

 29: Characters who smile and grin a lot come across as deranged fools. Sighing and shrugging are also actions to avoid. Eliminating smiles, sighs and shrugs is almost always an improvement. Smiling sadly is a capital offence.

 30: Pronouns are big trouble for such little words. The most useful piece of information I ever encountered on the little blighters was this: pronouns refer to the nearest matching noun backwards. For example: John took the knife out of its sheath and stabbed Paul with it. Well, that’s good news for Paul. If you travel backwards from ‘it’, you’ll see that John has stabbed Paul with the sheath! Observing this rule leads to much clearer writing.

 31: Spot the moment of maximum tension and hold it for as long as possible. Or as John D. MacDonald put it: “Freeze the action and shoot him later.”

 32: If something works, forget about the rule that says it shouldn’t.


Back to basics.

Punctuation : What’s the point?

OK, let’s start with some basics, those little punctuation squiggles that look insignificant on the page are very important, without them the meaning gets lost, use them incorrectly and the result can be chaotic.

For instance, if I was to say “I hate vain people; like you, I find them detestable” then the person would probably agree, but a slight alteration to the punctuation and it becomes I hate vain people like you; I find them detestable” – and we have the spark for a good argument…

Or imagine the history book that omitted a full stop in this sentence: ”Charles the first walked and talked half an hour after his head was cut off”

A nice easy one for you there, the full stop should be between TALKED and HALF.

The next one is a bit more difficult.

What is, is, what is not, is not; is it not?*

(For the answer, highlight the sentence with your mouse, all will be revealed.)

The point is this: you can clearly see that we need accurate punctuation to express on paper what is intuitively easy with speech. Even famous authors struggled with punctuation; George Orwell disliked Semi-colons so much he wrote an entire novel without using one!

To raise your standards of communication using the written word it is therefore essential to have a thorough understanding of good punctuation.

Broadly speaking, punctuation can be divided into three groups

UNITS OF SPACE Sentences & paragraphs

SEPARATORS & JOINERS Full stops, colons, semi colons, commas, brackets, hyphens & dashes.

SYMBOLS THAT AID THE READER Question, exclamation & quotation marks, apostrophes, italics, bullets, underlining, and asterisks.

In an effort to keep these ‘lectures’ concise I’ll cover these groups in a later post.

 Phil Raynor. 


Sentences & paragraphs

Every time we speak, we use sentences.

Sentences are easy to recognise, yet they are hard to define.

They should be clear, unambiguous, logical and interesting to the reader.

From a practical standpoint, a sentence should express a single idea or thoughts that are related to that idea.

As a rule of thumb, they should be complete in thought and complete in construction.

The sentence should lead naturally to the next one, forming a coherent, logical flow that carries the reader along. Ideally, the following sentence should carry them even further so that when the sentences are joined to form a paragraph it is done in a natural manner so that the reader is barely aware they have been joined because they are encompassing one common idea.

Just like I did. ^ ^ ^

There is enough scope in the English language to create a sentence of any size and shape, try to avoid the ‘long-winded’ sentence or ‘Gobbledegook’ like the following example:

The aspirations of the common man, limited, but not bound by the treaty, would have been galvanised even further were it not for the sub clause that the enlightened politicians of the technologically inferior states had insisted be included.

ZZZZZ… sorry, I nodded off for a moment there. Please don’t write like that.

HINT Write as naturally as possible, get your thoughts down on paper in a hurry if necessary, but when you examine your first draft look at your individual sentences and ask yourself “What can I take out of this sentence to make the meaning clearer?

Phil Raynor 

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When is a hyphen not a hyphen?

Answer; when it is a dash.  

The hyphen (-)

The hyphen was once a common punctuation mark on typewriters, when a long word might have been split between two lines.

The hyphen is still used in a number of other areas:

Use a hyphen when adding a prefix to some words. The purpose of this hyphen is to make the word easier to read. If you were to leave the hyphen out of a word like re-examine, it would be reexamine, which would be harder to read.

Understand that some words do not require a hyphen to separate the prefix from the word, such as restate, pretest, and undo. Let a dictionary be your guide for when to use the hyphen after a prefix.

When you use a hyphen, the two words have to rely on each other.
For example: re-arrange. Cara is his ex-girlfriend.

Use hyphens when creating compound words from separate words.

eg: "The up-to-date newspaper reporters were quick to jump on the latest scandal. "

Use a hyphen when writing numbers out as words. Separate the two words of any number under one hundred with a hyphen.

eg:: There are fifty-two playing cards in a deck. ("The amount is one hundred and eighty" is a common error in US English, where the "and" is usually omitted. Elsewhere in the English-speaking world, however, the "and" is usually included.)

Be careful with spelling out numbers above one hundred — if the number is used as an adjective, it is completely hyphenated, since all compound adjectives are hyphenated (This is the one-hundredth episode.). Otherwise, a hyphen should only occur if a number greater than 100 occurs within the larger number, e.g., He lived to be one hundred twenty-one.

                                                                                   The dash ( -- or — )

The dash should be used when making a brief interruption within a statement, a sudden change of thought, an additional comment, or a dramatic qualification.

It can also be used to add a parenthetical statement, such as for further clarification, but should still be relevant to the sentence. Otherwise, use parentheses.

Keep in mind that the rest of the sentence should still flow naturally. Try to remove the statement within the dash from the sentence; if the sentence appears disjointed or does not make sense, then you may need to revise. There should be spaces before and after the dash in British English.

An introductory clause is a brief phrase that comes — yes, you guessed it — at the beginning of a sentence.

This is the end of our sentence — or so we thought.

To be continued.

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