If you’re new to the world of writing, first off – welcome! You’ve just dipped your toe into a wonderful and supportive community. Much of the time everyone stumbles over each other with offerings of help and advice, and that’s awesome! But some of the time, even though things are said with the kindest heart, they’re not always right. So, for your convenience, I’m gonna bust some writing myths wide open for you, as well as highlight some common errors so you don’t make them!
Write what you know.
I don’t know who first came up with this little nugget, but I can assure you – they’re wrong. Of course there are the likes of Patricia Cornwell and Kathy Reichs who draw on their own professions for inspiration, but there are also the likes of James Patterson, who has never served as a member of the police force. By all means, write what you know if you want to, but if you’re a doctor and want to write about a slug that relies on rock poop to survive, do that. It doesn’t matter. If you’re veering toward something more factual, no problem! Just research, research, research. Write what you want.
It’s never alright.
I cannot stress this enough. It drives me nuts. It is never all right to use the world alright in a work of fiction that you are sending out into the world. Frequently I see it used and I shake my head. I saw a debate on this recently and so many people said – it’s ‘alright’. NO! It’s absolutely not. Nor is it alright during dialogue and all right through the rest of the book. There is one hard, fast rule. And that is – it’s all right!
Yelled, exclaimed, retorted.
Said is perfectly fine. In fact, it’s beautiful. Perfect. You might think that using exclaimed sounds awesome, but you’re weakening your prose for a number of reasons. First – if someone is yelling, show through their behavior, words, and body language that they’ve raised they’re voice. Second – said is so beautifully transparent. It’s so common that our brain skips right over it. It’s natural and it doesn’t bog down your book. Use it. Said is awesome!
Do you really need that dialogue tag? Probably not, and let me show you why by using a snippet of my upcoming book These Simple Scars:
I held up my hands, palms flat out. “It’s okay. I don’t want you going to any trouble.” It sure looked like he would rather be doing anything else.
Dylan slapped his hand on the counter, sending a slight jolt through me. “Of course it’s no trouble. A pretty girl like you in need of help. Garrett would love to, wouldn’t you Garrett?”
There’s not a single dialogue tag in there because I use action/beats instead. You can see clearly who’s talking without the ‘I said’ ‘he said’. That’s not to say don’t use tags. As I’ve shown above, tags are awesome, but they’re not needed after every scrap of dialogue and by learning to use action or description, you’re strengthening your writing. This was taught to me by one of my amazing editors, Rebecca Carpenter, and it’s advice I treasure.
Shrugging and nodding.
It’s all right to have a few shrugs, and a sprinkle of nodding heads. What’s not all right is to specify what’s being shrugged or nodded. We don’t shrug our chests or fingers, we shrug our shoulders. Therefore, when you use the word shrug or shrugged, you don’t have to specify ‘shoulders’ – we already know! The same goes for nodding. We don’t nod our toes or our lips, we nod our head. So just leave it at nodding. I have to add, that I am still guilty of this little slip up, and my wonderful editor, Kate Foster, still has to point these out to me.
Cannot, have not, would not, I would, She would, did not.
The list is endless. For the love of all things holy, contract. Don’t write that stuff up there ^. You’re making your work chunky and hard to read. Can’t, Haven’t, Wouldn’t, I’d, She’d, Didn’t. That being said, sprinkle a couple through it you want, but contract as often as seems natural.
This is one that is commonly overlooked by both new and experienced authors alike, and sometimes it can even show where the author has written a few chapters in the same day. The reason is because we get certain words stuck in our head and then we reuse them over and over without realizing we’re doing it. I do this. I admit it. And then I have to weed them out again. Just be on the lookout. Close word repetition can be easily avoided. (That is, using the same word multiple times close together.)
I really can’t put it any better than Gary Provost form www. Writerswrite.co.za The below belongs to him, not me, and it just shows how important varying your sentence length is.
Do not rely on your spell checker.
Candidate for a Pullet Surprise
by Mark Eckman and Jerrold H. Zar
I have a spelling checker,
It came with my PC.
It plane lee marks four my revue
Miss steaks aye can knot sea.
Eye ran this poem threw it,
Your sure reel glad two no.
Its vary polished in it’s weigh.
My checker tolled me sew.
A checker is a bless sing,
It freeze yew lodes of thyme.
It helps me right awl stiles two reed,
And aides me when eye rime.
Each frays come posed up on my screen
Eye trussed too bee a joule.
The checker pours o’er every word
To cheque sum spelling rule.
Bee fore a veiling checker’s
Hour spelling mite decline,
And if we’re lacks oar have a laps,
We wood bee maid too wine.
Butt now bee cause my spelling
Is checked with such grate flare,
Their are know fault’s with in my cite,
Of nun eye am a wear.
Now spelling does knot phase me,
It does knot bring a tier.
My pay purrs awl due glad den
With wrapped word’s fare as hear.
To rite with care is quite a feet
Of witch won should bee proud,
And wee mussed dew the best wee can,
Sew flaw’s are knot aloud.
Sow ewe can sea why aye dew prays
Such soft wear four pea seas,
And why eye brake in two averse
Buy righting want too pleas.
So there you have it. Some myths busted, and some common mistakes pointed out so hopefully you can avoid them! Write on!