1. Dialogue should be brief.
2. It should add to the reader’s present knowledge.
3. It should eliminate the routine exchanges of ordinary conversation.
4. It should convey a sense of spontaneity but eliminate the repetitiveness of real talk.
5. It should keep the story moving forward.
6. It should be revelatory of the speaker’s character, both directly and indirectly.
7. It should show the relationships among people.
What are your writing rules? Do they fit under Cicero Grade‘s Rule One?
“Read over your compositions, and when you meet a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.”
“[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?