Wednesday, March 06, 2013

A Cheeky Look at the Rules of Writing

When I first started writing I made a lot of mistakes. I still do. My major problems stem from bad habits. For example, when writing dialogue, I tend to use a lot of exclamation marks. I know I shouldn't. I know that I'm going to have to go back through my manuscript and cut them all out. But when a scene is exciting I forget and fall back into my old ways.

I was thoroughly chastised once by a fellow writer, who read an unedited chapter of a novel I was working on. He counted 25 exclamation points - and that was just one chapter. I'm so embarrassed to admit that! Oh my gosh! There I go again! Ack! I can't help myself! I love exclamation points. They allow me to express myself in ways that a period cannot. And that is the problem. If I have to use an exclamation point, I am telling not showing.

Exclamation points, along with several words that I've learned to cull from my vocabulary are, unfortunately, a no-no in the literary world. My writer friend told me that editors will allow four per novel. Now, I don't know if that's true, but I can tell you one thing - there is no way in a blue moon that I am going to be able to limit myself to four exclamation points in a 300 page novel. It's impossible! See? There I go again.

For what it's worth, I no longer have 25 exclamation points in that chapter. I have zero. I'm heartbroken. I'm also wondering why my English teacher never told me that someday I would have to give up these little wonders. I mean seriously, why make them at all if you can't use them? Who decided to cut them out anyway? I may just stage a protest in defence of the lowly exclamation point. But not now, I have to make sure the following words and phrases are not used either:
  • Almost, actually practically, probably, naturally, virtually, undoubtedly, positively, definitely, suddenly, really, absolutely (oh what the heck, get rid of anything with -ly on the end!)
  • As you must know
  • So - Yep, you can't use it. It's like so not appropriate! I'm not even sure why, but this was one of the words listed in a book I have on words to avoid.
  • But - Again - why?
  • Just - Okay, I get this one. This word must be weeded out of the English language.
  • Oh - Really? Oh?
  • Well - Why? I don't know.
  • Little - You can use tiny, minuscule, small, wee, but apparently not little.
  • Tiny - Oops! My mistake, you can't use tiny either.
  • It goes without saying - So there really is no point in saying it.
  • As you can see - If you can see it you don't have to say it.
  • Anyway - Yeah, I don't get that one either. 
  • Then - Try to explain a series of events without it. Go on - I dare ya!
According to some, these are words and phrases that have to be done away with if you are a writer. Some of them are filler words. For example: I just went to the supermarket, is better said - I went to the supermarket. See what I mean? "Just" is not needed. 

I have learned recently that some of these words are being allowed once again. I've also learned that the rules of grammar we studied in school, probably won't apply once you get out of it. These rules seem to change every year. 

For now, go through your manuscript and weed out the above mentioned words and phrases. Some of them may be legal now, but don't worry about that, because once you go through the weeding process you'll have tightened up your manuscript. 

Oh, and one more thing - don't forget to get rid of your exclamation points!

Until Next Time,


Peter Black said...

Laura, thanks for this fun post of tips to improve writing -- or at least to satisfy the current "rules."
I'm with you on "who decided to cut them out anyway."
I say who ARE these people to decide for everyone else on these matters; the rules are likely to change again, some time in the future!

Marian said...

Thanks Laura. I just want to say that I totally enjoyed this little piece of writing. So anyway that's what I'll say.

Laura J. Davis said...

Thanks Peter & Marion. Writing can be frustrating enough without all the "rules". This is why I am so thankful for editors!

Carolyn Wilker said...

Thanks for your humorous post on writing. I teach my students about -ly words... and exclamation points.

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