Rule #11 of 32 Simple Rules to the Writing the Best Novel Ever


I’m dissecting the article Hunting Down the Pleonasm, by Allen Guthrie, using it as a cattle prod to search for little nasties in my manuscript.  Yep, you can join in the fun, too.  Let’s take a looksee at topic #11

11: Avoid sounding ‘writerly’. Better to dirty up your prose. When you sound like a writer, your voice has crept in and authorial intrusion is always unwelcome. In the best writing, the author is invisible.

My take on this, is to not always be perfect.

I have to admit… I’ve started sentences with “and” and “but”.  Correct?  No, of course not.  So why do it?


Voice is very important, especially in first person. Your character is narrating the entire story.  Do YOU think in complete sentences?  No, of course not.

We need to write how it is believable.

I recently had an editor try to “correct” this paragraph of dialog:

“You’re pretty, and have nice legs, and beautiful brown eyes, and an amazing smile if you’d ever use it, but you can’t see all these great things because you’re always too hung up on wishing you had what everyone else does.”

They wanted me to change it to be grammatically correct.  Their suggested edit:

“You’re pretty, have nice legs, beautiful brown eyes, and an amazing smile if you’d ever use it…”

The reason I pushed back on this is because the character is very emotional and upset.  He is rattling off a list of things popping into his head (and not thinking at all what he is saying)  The editor’s suggested change made it sound like he was dictating a letter with no emotion at all.

Luckily, despite not being ‘correct’ – my dialog stayed.  It is more believable this way, and conveys ten times the emotion.

Have you ever had to defend your choice of “bad” grammar/style?

Click here to tweet: Write bad to write good. Rule #11 of 32 Simple Rules to the Writing the Best Novel Ever from @jennifermeaton



13 responses to “Rule #11 of 32 Simple Rules to the Writing the Best Novel Ever

  1. This has always been one of the problems I’ve had when critiquing – at what point are you intruding on the author’s voice or storytelling to say “it doesn’t work.” I’m getting better but it’s still hard for me.

  2. Grammar is my bugaboo, a habit that’s hard to break. I will stray from The Path when writing dialogue, but it’s hard for me to write partial sentences in the narrative, or to end a sentence with a dangling participle. I am currently reading a fantasy tale that is wonderful, written by a multi-published author, but she constantly uses phrases as sentences and it’s a bit disconcerting to me! She manages to do it quite well, so I might take a lesson from her when I’m writing my own stuff. Thanks for reminding me to ‘dirty up my prose’ a little! 🙂

  3. I agree that writing, where it’s absolutely correct, can become stilted and unrealistic. You just have to make sure what you write is understandable, too!

  4. I wonder what will happen when I get to an editor. I have tons of dialogue in my WIP that is nearing completion of the second edit. I will stand up for it unless it is just obviously a gaffe.

    • As long as the dialog draws the story forward you should be Fine. If you have sections where they talk about weather and weather is not intrinsic to the story, prepare for deletions.

  5. I’m with you on how a character speaks–or not. What about ‘um’ and ‘huh’? These find their way into everyday speech and should be allowed. I’ve been told to remove even though they belong to the character’s personality.

    • I’ve had editors tell me the same thing. We’ve compromised by keeping the first one and removing all the others. The first one got the idea I. The readers head of the “ummm” while not being repetitive.

  6. Wow, 100% with you on that one! I’m glad you stood your ground.

  7. Editors should edit punctuation, not voice. Imagine what an editor would have done to Ulysses ….

  8. Funny isn’t it? We learn all the rules and then we have to unlearn them again. Very interesting post.