Rules for Writing and Storytelling

This is the handout I’ve prepared for the writing workshop today. Have I missed anything?


Omit needless words

Write transparently

Show don’t tell


Therefore avoid these words in narrative:

Adverbs (usually end in -ly)

BE verbs (thus continuous tenses and passive voice)

Sense-words (see, hear, etc)

Bookisms  (sob, shout, request, etc.)

Parasites (really, certainly, pretty, um, etc)




Which was, who was, that was.



Every scene should:

Make internal sense (the characters really would do that)

Furthers the plot (setting the scene for something important later)

Reinforce the theme (the robot is a symbol for democracy)

Be entertaining or interesting (or in some way make the reader keep reading)

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  • Adam Thaxton

    This is a pretty good primer handout, very succinctly goes over the basics without being intrusive. Gonna snag this before I go to my own meeting today and build off it.

    My favorite method for detecting passive voice is to mentally add “…by zombies” at the end of a sentence. If it still makes sense, it’s passive voice.

    You know, like:

    “She was being hunted.”


    “Something was hunting her.”

    • dan

      Very good point.
      Those “rules” aren’t ironclad. If you have a good reason to break them, then do so.
      As Kenny Endo says “if you break a rule and you’re aware of it, it isn’t a mistake; it’s style.”

      • Adam Thaxton

        I’ve also heard “rules are there to enhance your creativity, not restrain it. If you can’t be interesting unless you break the rules, what you’re saying probably isn’t interesting to begin with.”

        So, yeah, the concept of “rules as training wheels” is not an alien one, and in fact is best. Especially when dealing with English, the crazy old drunk man of languages.

        • dan

          I definitely agree.
          Except about the crazy old drunk man thing. English is a very nice language. It’s just hard to appreciate from the inside.

          • Adam Thaxton

            *points, snarling*

            I am forced to agree with you.
            But its beauty doesn’t stop it from being an angry drunk man.

          • dan

            Are you saying Hemmingway IS the English language? Well I certainly like the guy’s writing philosophy, but I have a feeling our language predates him…:)

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