Rule #1

[W]hen a sentence is made stronger, it usually becomes shorter.” -E. B. White

“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very.’ Your editor will delete it, and the writing will be just as it should be.” -Mark Twain

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining–show me the glint of light on broken glass.” -Anton Chekhov

Though each quote says something different, they’re all saying essentially the same thing: Don’t let your writing get in the way of your story. This is my Rule One; most writing rules can fit under its banner.

When meeting fellow writers, editors, or Grammarphiles, ask what their one defining rule is. You’ll put them on the spot (so rude), but usually the awkwardness is worth suffering through. I’m especially keen on finding rules that cannot fit under Rule One; I have yet to really find any, but I’ll be very excited when I do!

What is your one defining rule? If you think through your editing process, I’m sure you’ll find it. Does it fit under Rule One?

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3 thoughts on “Rule #1

  1. You’re right, that’s a tough one to answer. I don’t really have any rules I actually think about while writing, instead hoping what I know will sneak its way in all by itself. But when editing I definitely do. I’ll subvert your “Rule #1” and take it to mean the first chronologically, not by importance. When I edit, the first thing I do is find all of the words that I consider to be signs of bad writing. First, the sensory words. See, feel, hear, taste, smell, and all forms of those. Highlight all of those, and rewrite the sentences containing them.
    “Clayton felt the writhing of chitinous bodies under his fingers,” can easily be edited to “Chitinous bodies writhed under Clayton’s fingers.” It takes out the filter and makes it more immediate.
    Good luck condensing that into a nice one-sentence rule. 😉

  2. Wonderful Post! I sometimes get caught up in the mechanics of writing and forget about the actual story. The following quote was said by Stephen King. “When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.”
    I have been trying to master this activity for a while now. Writing (stories) is still slightly novel to me, but I hope with each post I get better.

    By the way, I loved the third quote. I usually like to add detail and make my stories come off of the page. I hope I don’t overdo it!

    Thanks for the post! It was helpful, and your other post on a professional website is inspiring. I found some techniques that I will implement from now on in order to get more traffic.

    Phew, sorry for the long comment! I get carried away sometimes:)

  3. I seem to get caught up in my story during the first draft, but once I start rereading it, I delete what feels like 90%! That technique definitely strengthens my writing, so I have to recommend it 😉 Sometimes, though, it is like murdering children. I find that, a day or two after I’ve–ahem–murdered them, I’m happier that they’re gone!
    Thanks for commenting, and I’m thrilled you found something useful!

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