Sunday, 27 July 2014


Hello WEPers. Thank you for posting such excellent entries for the last challenge. There are many memorable ones - just to remind you...who will forget Lisa fell in love with her husband's picture before she met him? Who will forget Sally's picture-filled story? As always, I loved reading your posts and always look forward to each challenge. I do wish we could convince more to join us, but it seems difficult (most of you excluded) for people to commit to anything permanent these days, or commit to posting more than once.

I have added some more links to my USEFUL LINKS tab in the sidebar. There are some great links to help improve your writing, but I know most of us ignore links, which is why I'm pointing them out. This article is so good I'm reprinting it with some of my own edits, but it is a fine example of the caliber of the links. This one is especially useful to novel/short story writers.


We, the writers, need to remain invisible when we're writing. This helps us show rather than tell what's taking place in the story. If you have a facility for language and imagery and the sound
 of your voice pleases you, invisibility is not what you are after, and you can skip
the rules.
Still, you might look them over.
1. Never open a book with weather.
If it's only to create atmosphere, and not a character's reaction to the weather, you 
don't want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people. 
There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways
to describe ice and snow than an Eskimo, you can do all the weather reporting you
2. Avoid prologues.

They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that 
 after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in nonfiction. A prologue in a 
novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want.

There is a prologue in John Steinbeck's ''Sweet Thursday,'' but it's O.K. 
because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all 
about. He says: ''I like a lot of talk in a book and I don't like to have nobody 
tell me what the guy that's talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks 
like from the way he talks. . . . figure out what the guy's thinking from what he 
says. I like some description but not too much of that. . . . Sometimes I want a 
book to break loose with a bunch of hooptedoodle. . . . Spin up some pretty words 
maybe or sing a little song with language. That's nice. But I wish it was set aside 
so I don't have to read it. I don't want hooptedoodle to get mixed up with the story.''
3. Never use a verb other than ''said'' to carry dialogue.
The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But
 "said" is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. I once noticed Mary 
McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with ''she asseverated,'' and had to stop reading to 
get the dictionary.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb ''said'' . . .
. . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin.
 The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can

the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used 
to write historical romances ''full of rape and adverbs.''
5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the 
 of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.
6. Never use the words ''suddenly'' or ''all hell broke loose.''
This rule doesn't require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use ''suddenly'' 
tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with 
apostrophes, you won't be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the 
flavor of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories ''Close Range.''
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
Which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway's ''Hills Like White Elephants'' 
what do the ''American and the girl with him'' look like? ''She had taken off her hat 
and put it on the table.'' That's the only reference to a physical description in the 
story, and yet we see the couple and know them by their tones of voice, with not
 one adverb in sight.
9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.
Unless you're Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language or write 
landscapes in the style of Jim Harrison. But even if you're good at it, you don't 
want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.
And finally:
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
A rule that came to mind in 1983. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick 
paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer 
is doing, he's writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at 
the weather, or has gone into the character's head, and the reader either knows 
what the guy's thinking or doesn't care. I'll bet you don't skip dialogue.
My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.
If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.
Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can't allow what we learned 
in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative. It's my 
attempt to remain invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious 
writing. Words can get in the way of what you want to say. (Figure that out).
If I write in scenes and always from the point of view of a particular character -- 
the one whose view best brings the scene to life -- I'm able to concentrate on the 
voices of the characters telling you who they are and how they feel about what 
they see and what's going on, and I'm nowhere in sight.
What Steinbeck did in ''Sweet Thursday'' was title his chapters as an indication, 
though obscure, of what they cover. ''Whom the Gods Love They Drive Nuts'' is 
one, ''Lousy Wednesday'' another. The third chapter is titled ''Hooptedoodle 1'' 
and the 38th chapter ''Hooptedoodle 2'' as warnings to the reader, as if Steinbeck 
is saying: ''Here's where you'll see me taking flights of fancy with my writing, 
and it won't get in the way of the story. Skip them if you want.''
''Sweet Thursday'' came out in 1954, when I was just beginning to be published, 
I've never forgotten that prologue.
Did I read the hooptedoodle chapters? Every word.
I hope you find the above tips helpful.
Don't forget AUGUST'S CHALLENGE - TAKING CHANCES. Hopefully you will help me 
publicise the challenge by copying the image into your sidebar and perhaps mentioning 
it in a social media post. 

As I say on the Current Challenges page: Begin or end your story with these words…
’There was once a chance I didn’t take.’ If posting photos, let the photos tell 
the story.


  1. Great tips, Denise, thanks for posting. Though have to confess that he said she said in dialogues feels a bit tedious to me, reading and writing both. Minority viewpoint.

    1. I know what you mean, but they say 'said' is invisible, yet you see the other ways of doing it. I try to eliminate all the tags if I can show who's speaking without the tags. Makes you work harder, but probably improves the story. Thanks for coming by, Nila. Appreciate it!


  2. Leave out the part that writers skip - LOL!

    1. Yes, and now I watch the parts I skip, and he's right.

  3. Useful and helpful. Something I see sometimes is 'out of nowhere'.
    I suppose the mistakes have to be made before we mature as writers.

    1. When we read our earlier writing we hopefully see improvements.

  4. Hi, Denise...

    So good advice here. I need to take a few pointers on some of these. Although I DO love my description. LOL. But I think/hope I don't over do it. Atmosphere is important to me and 'setting' an amazing stage for my characters is part of how I write.

    1. You and me both re description Michael. Love it.

  5. Best advice - leave out the part reader skip! So true. We all know it when we read it in others, the hard part is recognizing it in our own stuff.

  6. Thanks for posting these tips Denise. Good reminders. I know I fall into the category of "infrequency" here; sorry about that. I just seem to have gotten out of the habit of blogging.

    Have a good weekend.

  7. I loved the ten rules. I haven't read Steinbeck. I know, how could I not. Remember, I'm a fantasy writer. I've read Tolkien, Lewis, Rowling and others. But I now have a new word, hooptedoodle. Love it.

  8. The article you have shared here very awesome. I really like and appreciated your work. I read deeply your article, the points you have mentioned in this article are useful. |


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