Monday, April 16, 2012

Basic Tenets for Good Writing

copyright 2012, Pat Bertram

Opinion has supplanted intellect. There is no reason to learn the facts if an opinion is as acceptable as the truth. Nowhere is this as obvious as on the internet. Everything here is debatable: news stories, celebrity lifestyles, even encyclopedia entries.

When it comes to good writing, however, there are certain basics that are not debatable. Whether we are bloggers, content producers for various websites, novelists, these are all tenets we must heed:

1. Use dynamic verbs and concrete nouns, and keep adjectives and adverbs to a minimum. Watch for word qualifiers such as “a little,” “quite,” “somewhat.” They undermine our authority and make our writing seem indecisive.

2. Action first; reaction second. Cause first, effect second. “He finished smoking his cigar, then he aired out the room.” Not: “He aired out the room after he finished smoking his cigar.” When we don’t use the proper sequence, our writing seems unfocused.

3. Use active voice; too much use of passive makes our writing seem muffled.

4. Don’t be clever just for the sake of cleverness, don’t complicate the obvious, and don’t be unconventional for the sake of being exotic; ultimately, our readers will feel used or confused, and we will lose them.

5. Punctuation, spelling, and grammar do count. Content is important, but what good is all our wisdom if we come across as dolts?

6. Strive for clarity, economy, grace, and dignity. We can string words together, but without at least a couple of these elements, our writing will not be worth reading.

Pat Bertram


Pat Bertram is a native of Colorado. When the traditional publishers stopped publishing her favorite type of book — character and story driven novels that can’t easily be slotted into a genre — she decided to write her own. Second Wind Publishing liked her style and published four of Bertram’s novels: Light Bringer, Daughter Am I, More Deaths Than One, and A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and one non-fiction book, Grief: the Great Yearning.


Kim Smith said...

Pat, love the last one, and SO true! So many writers today forget that once they are published they are public domain. Keeping a little grace and dignity would be much appreciated by their readers!

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Here, here, Pat! Way to go. This is a super list. Thanks for coming over to MB4 today to blog with us!

Pat Bertram said...

Thank you for having me here, Aaron. In this age where anyone can publish anything (and do), these tenets are especially important. Books can't be read if they aren't readable.

Kim, public domain? Oh, no! I guess I better practice what I preach and continue to be gracious. (When I can.)

Mickey said...

Being too clever is something I've increasingly found in best sellers. My main grip is when a character withholds information for no intrinsic motivation but only to create "suspense" in the story.

Pat Bertram said...

Withholding information, especially if a character knows the information but the author won't tell the reader is just cheap. The first commandment of storytelling is "Though shalt not bore thy reader." The second is "Though shalt not cheat thy reader."