Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Dan’s Rules of Writing

I never thought that I would need to publish my "Rules for Writing," but here we are.  I've found myself in an editorial role often enough of late that having a few rules written down will--hopefully--make explaining how to write a little easier.

Got thoughts?  Let me hear 'em.

Rules are after the jump:

1. Write in the active voice. 

If you can’t do this, you’re fired. 

No really. The profession requires active writing. Passive voice diffuses or eliminates agency, creating weak ideas and overall confusion. No one wants that.

If you can’t write in the active voice, you probably need to reconsider your reasons for wanting to write in the first place, even for something as simple as a blog or website. 

2. Avoid unnecessary prepositional phrases & adverbs. 

To quote Shakespeare, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” Extra words reduce clarity. 

If the elimination of a word or phrase doesn’t change a sentence's meaning, that phrase is unnecessary.

3. Don’t write in the 1st person unless the story itself is actually about your unique opinion or experience.

For example, AFF’s Quick Takes articles are about what I, as Senior Writer at AFF, saw during a game. This includes my opinion by definition. “Here’s what I saw…” is a critical component.  

By comparison, an article previewing Army opponents probably does not need my personal opinion—unless that opinion is part of a specific hot-take meant to create controversy. Do this  only occasionally and always with specific intent. Even then, it’s usually a better idea to frame hot takes in terms of “us” or “we” if possible. Using first person plural invites the audience to be included in a discussion or opinion.

4. Always write with intent. 

Know *why* you’re writing something & write specifically to that end. 

To put that another way, it’s wrong to assume that one’s unique opinion is important. Articles need to have a purpose. If someone were to ask, “So what?” or “Who cares?” know the answer & write to that end.

This is true within articles, too. Don’t just write because you feel like you ought to say *something*. Either say something specific, or stop talking. 

5. Don’t end sentences (or clauses) with prepositions.

6. Make an opening argument & a closing argument. 

Put your best point last, so people remember it.

7.  Never undersell an opponent. 

Events are most exciting when they involve struggle & overcoming the odds. 

Our heroes make mistakes, & embracing those mistakes makes for good writing. 
We want to see our heroes struggle but then overcome the challenge. That’s human nature, & it makes for logical storytelling.

Real life is random, chaotic, & disappointing. Writing needs to bring clarity to the chaos. We create this through theme and/or scene and story structure. That’s true regardless of the kind of writing.

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