Writing - Rules of the Road

Contributed by Valerie Allen

Writers are always striving to be successful . . . to hone their craft.

Well to be successful, every writer needs to be aware of the most common standards in the publishing industry.

Here are some basic rules for clear text and easy reading:

1.    Use a word processing program. You may enjoy the kinetic energy that comes from hand written work, but ultimately your manuscript must be in a word processing document to meet publication standards.

2.    Use one inch margins on all sides; justify text. Chapter headings are typically centered.

3.    Use 12 point type, simple fonts. Times New Roman is universally accepted but sometimes titles or chapter headings are done in a different font to add interest or focus attention for the reader.

4.    Use one space at the end of a sentence. When typewriters were popular the rule was two periods at the end of the sentence due to differing sizes of letters.

5.    Dialogue requires quotation marks.
    (“Where are you?”)

6.    Start a new paragraph with each different speaker. This is especially important when there are more than two speakers.

7.    Keep the speaker’s action and dialogue in the same paragraph.
    (“What are you doing?” Valerie asked, as she entered the kitchen.)

8.    Use subject verb sentence structure.
    (USE: “This is important,” Valerie said.)
    (NOT: “This is important,” said Valerie.)

9.    For time sequence use both words: and then.
    (USE: She picked up a pen, and then wrote a note.)
    (NOT: She picked up the pen, then wrote a note.)

10.    Punctuation marks go inside quotation marks.
    (“Here I am,” Valerie said. “Where are you?”)

11.    An apostrophe replaces a missing letter (goin’, don’t. 'tis)

12.    Use italics for internal thoughts of the characters.
    (USE: That nasty old women!)
    (NOT: That nasty old women!, Valerie thought.)

13.    Limit the use of exclamation points (!) and dashes (-)

14.    Use only one punctuation mark at the end of a sentence.
    (USE: “You did what?”)
    (NOT: “You did what?!!!”)

15.    Avoid clich├ęs.

16.    Avoid over-use of fillers in your sentences: that, very, just, really, maybe, perhaps, got

17.   Consider if a character is  “asking” or “telling.” 
   (USE: “What time is it?,” Valerie asked.) 
   (NOT: “What time is it?,” Valerie said.)

Follow these basic rules to have your work appear professional and appeal to editors, agents, and publishers as well as to your readers.

Valerie Allen writes fiction, nonfiction, short stories and children's books. Amazon.com/author/valerieallen. She assists writers with marketing via AuthorsForAuthors.com. She hosts two major annual events in warm and sunny Florida. Meet the Authors Book Fair in the Fall and the Writers' Conference: Write, Publish, Sell! in the Spring. Vendor tables and presentations encourage networking and marketing to increase book sales. Book Display options are available for authors throughout the USA. Valerie loves to hear from readers and writers! Contact her at: VAllenWriter@gmail.com


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Karen Cioffi said...

Valerie, great pointers for writers. And when submitting manuscripts, writers need as many tips as they can get. Thanks for sharing with us!

Linda Wilson said...

Thank you, Valerie, for a helpful post. I learned from an editor that some grammar rules need to be studied each time you use them as we can't remember them all. I'm with you on your rules except two. I've used ?! at the end of two sentences in my book of about 30,000 words for emphasis, which I've seen done many times, although the rule books might not allow it. And the other is on #17. I've never seen a comma after a question mark and found in The Chicago Manual of Style on page 271 the rule to omit a comma or period when a question mark or exclamation mark is used. I'm curious to know if you agree, and also to know which style book you use. I understand style books do differ in some of the rules.

Karen Cioffi said...

Linda, I've occasionally used the ?! at the end of sentences. I'm not exactly sure how publishers and agents view this practice.

I also eliminate the comma after a question mark or exclamation mark in dialogue. Am curious which style guide Valerie is referencing.

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