Showing posts with label writing rules. Show all posts
Showing posts with label writing rules. Show all posts

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. She assists writers with marketing via 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:


What Makes Good Fiction: Plot Driven vs. Character Driven

Write What You Know or Write What You Love?

Where Do You Find Writing Ideas?

Writing Elements Mix – Is There a Right Balance?

Writing can be thought of as a recipe, a handful of plot, a quarter cup of setting, a third to a half cup of dialogue, and a half cup of action and forward movement. Then you also need to add just the right amount of theme, character, and style. Stir it all together and bake for several months (might be longer, depending on your oven), and that’s it.

Ah, if it were only that simple.

Today, there are a number of rules to writing that didn’t plague writers years ago when the world was slower and people actually had time to sit and read at a leisurely pace. Writers had the luxury of setting scenes in detail and didn’t have to worry about ‘telling’ too much.

Now, publishers want your story to begin with a BAM. Grab the reader right away, or you’ll lose her. And, it’s important that setting and telling are limited. In addition, don’t forget to magically weave backstory for your characters seamlessly into the mix.

So, what is the right balance of writing elements that will create a successful story?

Well, there really isn’t a pat formula. Each story will call for its own particular amounts of elements, and each publisher will have her own set of rules that the author must adhere to. But there are certain basics that all stories must contain.

The five basic elements of a story are:

Plot: The arrangement of circumstances and/or events in the story, including conflicts and resolution.

Character: Without the main character and supporting characters the plot is useless. It is the character’s struggle to overcome the conflicts or obstacles in his path that gives the plot life.

Setting: This element includes the physical backdrop of the story, the time period and location.

Atmosphere or Tone: The mood, including the setting, characters and their clothing, weather, and other elements within the story, determines the tone of the story.

Style: The author’s way of expressing herself is the style. Sentence structure, diction, choice of words, point of view, imagery, and symbols are all means of conveying a story that is unique to the author.

In regard to the amounts or balance of each element, the objective is to create a story that continually moves forward toward a satisfying conclusion while holding the reader’s attention. You can have a plot driven story, or a character driven story, you can also have a story with a lot of dialogue, but you need to be sure the story is focused, coherent, and engaging.

Often, as you self-edit your own work, you won’t be able to see if the elements are just right; you should have it critiqued and have an editor take a look at it to see if you’re on the mark. And, then after all that, it will be up to the publisher’s editor to give the final say on whether you have just the right balance of writing elements for a successful story.

Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children's author and children’s ghostwriter as well as the founder and editor-in-chief of Writers on the Move. You can find out more about writing for children and her services at: Karen Cioffi Writing for Children.

Check out the DIY Page and don’t forget to sign up for The Writing World Newsletter - it has great monthly writing and book marketing tips and it's FREE.

Get your copy of Walking Though Walls (a middle-grade fantasy adventure set in 16th century China).


Children’s Writing – Creating your Main Character P1

How to Write Better Endings to Your Stories

Taking Inspiration for Fiction from NonFiction

On Mourning the Loss of Ask Amy for Her Daily Wisdom with My Oatmeal and Coffee Each Morning

  The Guest Blogger with Typewriter  She Used  in Early Ann Landers Days To #WritersontheMove Subscribers and Visitors: Amy Dickinson just a...