Every writer has their quirks, their peccadillos. Here are some of mine…
Never use ‘said’ or ‘suddenly’ outside of dialogue: The first is simply because I find it boring, lacking in substance, flat and uninteresting; ditching it forces me to be more creative in describing conversations. While I’m not nearly as averse to adverbs as Stephen King, ‘suddenly’ is an exception, as to me it feels like the easy option, too obvious a choice; again, it’s about challenging myself to find another way. The only place I’ll use them is in dialogue, spoken by characters, as we tend not to be so picky when we talk – there the obvious option is the one we usually go for.
Rarely use similes: This is because I worry they could end up becoming a crutch, relied upon too often, and because of potential anachronisms. Imagine a character thundering along; an obvious simile there is ‘like a juggernaut’, but if you’re writing a medieval-based fantasy, it strongly risks jarring people out of it; they’re far more likely to imagine a lorry than a powerful warrior, and that’s an anachronism. A little pedantic, perhaps, but details really matter to me. When I do use a simile, it invariably references something already established in the world, and familiar to the reader, and usually it’s spoken by a character.
Paragraph etiquette: I’m particularly picky when it comes to my paragraphs. I try to limit them to six lines, eight at most, with only very rare exceptions when I see no other option, when it can’t be tidily broken down. I also avoid lines finishing on full stops; commas and semi-colons are fine, but for some reason full stops feel awkward to me. I also avoid words being broken over two lines, split with a dash, as again it feels awkward. Lastly, I have a special distaste for stretched-out lines, with large gaps between words, something you’ll see even in professsionally published books sometimes. All this means I probably sweat over paragraphs more than most. Worth the effort? You decide.
Word repetition: A common writing rule, I know, but I’m especially strict about it, ensuring I always have two or more, preferably more, ways to refer to someone during a conversation, for example. The anthropomorphic characters I prefer certainly help in this regard.
Semi-colons: I love them; adore them; almost worship them; and almost certainly overuse them. I genuinely find them to be one of the most useful punctuation marks around, helping provide rhythm and interest to prose, and dialogue especially, expressing those pauses longer than a comma, but not as long as a full stop. When it comes to fragmented and stream-of-consciousness speech, they’re the only choice.
Italics: When I want a word to be stressed, italics are my go-to option. Capitals make it seem like shouting, to me, while italics are emphasis. That distinction then allows me to combine them for those moments a character REALLY loses their composure. Again, as with semi-colons, I worry I overuse them, but I’m determined to provide as much texture as possible.
Running exposition: I hate this. I mean hate this. Positively loathe it. Explaining everything as you’re going along ruins pacing and rhythm, and also risks treating the reader as an idiot, like they need their hand held at all times. The worst kind is that during conversations; one character speaks, then there’s a lengthy paragraph detailing them, then another character speaks, then there’s two lengthy paragraphs detailing them and the events they’ve referred to, and before you know it a few lines of dialogue have taken three pages to play out. It’s hugely inefficient, frustrating and off-putting, so I avoid it strenuously. Exposition in my work is exclusively delivered through appropriate characters, in measured amounts, at suitable times.
Point of view: Here’s an area where I’m a lot more flexible than many writers. I rarely ever present things through a character’s eyes, and even more rarely while streaming their thoughts about events. I prefer a looser approach, that I tend to envision in terms of a camera. A scene would start with one character, following what they do; then, when they meet a group of others, it would pull out, attempting to ensure everyone gets equal attention; at close of encounter, it may refocus on the original person, or zero in on another, taking things in a different direction. The hope is this provides a fluid, natural, adaptable kind of storytelling. Again, you decide if it works.
What are yours? Do mine make sense, or are they pointless? Productive, or counter-productive? I’m fascinated to know. This is my passion, after all. 🙂