LessAmoreV’s (Incomplete) Rules of Writing
Dear authors and screenwriters,
I wrote you a style guide/unsolicited writing advice because I’m an authority on the subject (A-level in English). (Inspired by The Banned List):
- (Unwritten) Show don’t tell.
- Never use alteration in any context
- Don’t start a piece describing the weather
- Try not to have a character similar to Holden Claufield. It is not a favourable comparison because people are tired of that vernacular and also it would (hopefully) spectacularly miss the point of your work to get it diluted to Just Another Angsty 1st-Person Teen Narrator.
- No ellipses at the end of a sentence (I break this one a lot)
- "Is that a thing?" "That’s not a thing." NEVER USE EVER. A stupid Americanism that’s both lost in translation and is rubbish in the first place.
- Never describe anything or anyone “irreverent”
- Write numbers in full: “Seven” not “7”, except when referring to statistics, page/chapter numbers etc
- The line “She/he’s got a point” is off limits.
- No exclamation marks!
- In quotes, when separating the elided parts: “…” not “…” (space the dots)
- Never have a character say “I don’t care what people think.” There is nobody in the world who doesn’t care what people think of them and it is a tired cliche for a character to genuinely have this attitude. Also, if there is a sensitive soul underneath this tough exterior, that is an archetype that has also become a tired cliche and the audience won’t care or stick around long enough to see it revealed.
- No archetypes/no obvious subversion of archetypes
- Never describe people going to a music festival as “revellers”
- Always understand the origin of a slang term or something could be misinterpreted
- If using italics, be sure that the content is consistent. If the narrator is sarcastic in italics at one point and then showing the thoughts of a character the next, it’s going to get confusing.
- "Going to" not "gonna" and "want to" not "wanna"
- Never directly refer to anyone as a fictional character or a figment of somebody’s imagination. That meta stuff has a place but those lines don’t belong in it.
- Never describe a cat as curious
- Never relate how emotionally messed up a person is to how good they are in bed
- Avoid “literally” (Rob Lowe on Parks and Rec: exception proves the rule)
- If enough has already been said, don’t write “nuff said”
- Do not write “all of the above”, “as before” is proper.
- Never have anyone ask what a gift is before they open it. Nobody really does that, unless they’re an asshole.
- If someone dies, don’t have a character hysterically crying “Wake up!”
- Never use “ironically”, especially before describing irony. It is overused and isn’t as clever as people think, but if you must, it should speak for itself.
- Don’t rhyme “serious” and “delirious”
- Don’t rhyme “vicious” and “malicious”
- In a life or death/leave or stay situation, don’t have a character say they’d honourable or heroically stay to die and then follow that with a scene convincing them not to. It is a tedious plot device and if they have given up, why should we care?
- No one likes a self-righteous moralistic character, because pointing out someone on a moral high ground is a reductive and uninteresting way of describing how immoral someone is by comparison.
- No character gets to say “You just don’t get it, do you?”
- Pointing out cliches is a cliche
- Don’t have a character talk about the medium of film/television, e.g. “my life is not a movie”, unless especially meta (see Community)
- If no comment is necessary, don’t write “No comment necessary”.
- Never directly refer to a rhetorical question as such. It doesn’t make a character look clever, it makes them look conceited.
- "What are you talking about?" is off limits
- No obnoxious or wacky answer phone messages
- Don’t start a sentence with “three words” or a variation thereof and then have them said.
- No news stories to propel the action forward, remember the #1 Unwritten Rule of Writing: show don’t tell.
- Don’t have characters’ speech overlap and start-stop to establish awkwardness, especially with love interests
- Avoid “Thank you?” with the inflection of a question to show confusion
- Avoid sentences ending with open-ended “…or…?”
- Bleeping out long parts of a naughty sentence with the odd non-dirty word injected is not funny anymore (it never really was), same goes with the room going quiet as someone says something embarrassing loudly, also a blender in the background of a scene replacing a beep.
- Voice recognition misinterpreting a character isn’t funny because, a) it’s been done to death, and b) no one uses voice recognition.
- When in doubt, don’t use “when in doubt” in any context.
- Fragments. Stop. It.
- Unless something is actually official, you’re not allowed to say it’s official.
- "Summarise" not "sum up"
- Don’t put the names of books/films etc in quote marks, the capital letter show that you’re referring to something. If you must, put it in italics.
- Infamous is a terrible adjective to describe something possibly slightly controversial a bit.
- Never replace a dirty word with ‘the proverbial’.
- "Wait, what?"
- Never knowingly use a cliche on purpose, eg. “truth really is stranger than fiction.”
No “insert [something] here” jokes.
No conversations beginning with “What are you thinking about?”
- No references to being dropped on the head as a baby relating to stupidity
- "I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed" is not allowed
- No fetishising of a straight female’s “lesbian college years”, it’s homophobic
- Also the whole “it was a phase” thing is off limits, ditto homophobic
- no “when in doubt”s
- Quirky is not a compliment, in fiction especially
- Never have a character say aloud “did i just say that out loud?”
- "I didn’t sign up for this"
- "Are you high?"
- Don’t use “decimate”. It doesn’t mean what you think it does.
- Avoid “thought provoking”. Don’t tell your audience what to think.
- No “thanks you”s to unwanted “i love you”
- Shut up about something being based on a true story. It doesn’t make something better.
Also remember that rules are meant to be broken.
(by Jessica Goldkind and Rebecca Azhdam on McSweeney’s)
Printed plate left folded through digitization; a new topography created.
From p. 496 of Frost and Fire: Natural Engines, Tool-marks and Chips, by John Francis Campbell (1865). [Here]
List of Books to Finish Before I Get Back to University
- S,M,L,XL - OMA/Bruce Mau
- Delirious New York - Rem Koolhaas
- Mutations - OMA
- Life Style - Bruce Mau
- Agenda - JDS Architects (3/4 finished already)
- Paranormality - Prof. Richard Wiseman (half finished)
- Cosmos - Carl Sagan
- Beware Wet Paint - Alan Fletcher (on account of the upcoming exhibition)
I go back September 26th. This will be exhausting but probably completely amazing. I’m also super stoked I own all these books.