What Are the Rules of Good Writing … Really?

Not everyone can write a story well … yet.


Let’s be honest here: anyone can write a story.

Not everyone can write a story well, though. And saying that doesn’t imply that someone who doesn’t write well isn’t capable of writing good stories. It can take years to learn not only how to write well, but to incorporate good writing into your own personal style.

Every writer has their own idea of what good writing means, but in general, some rules are universal. Here are a few.

Write the way you talk

The most unrealistic stories, the ones most difficult to get lost within, are sometimes those whose word choice just isn’t believable. This goes for both dialogue and narration. Sentences need to be simple and ideas need to be communicated clearly. Think of the conversations you have with your friends. When you elaborate on things, you use the simplest language possible so that everyone in the room can understand you. You don’t do it on purpose; it’s just habit. Form that same habit in your writing as well.

Vary the lengths of your sentences

This is all about flow. Think of how music sounds. It’s made up of short and long notes. They keep the song interesting. Was it really hard for you to read those last four sentences? Of course it was, because they were all relatively the same length. Your prose, even in the length of your sentences, cannot be predictable. Variety is essential, even when we’re looking at the most basic elements of writing.

Prioritize your verbs

This is not to say you aren’t allowed to use adjectives and adverbs. Adjectives and adverbs are the whipped cream on top of your pie: verbs (and nouns) must come first. They ARE the pie. They drive your prose forward and give audiences a reason to keep reading. There are those out there who skip over colorful descriptions. Not everyone likes whipped cream.

Stay positive

No, not optimistic (though, as a writer, that’s important too). You might write, “I don’t ever want to catch him not being honest with me again,” and most of your audience, after a few read-throughs, might understand what you mean. But this is avery negative sentence, in that its structure puts negatory language at the forefront. Instead, write, “I never want to catch him being dishonest with me again” or “I never want to catch him lying to me again.” It’s shorter and easier to understand that way.

Good writing takes practice. No matter how experienced you are, you will still catch yourself making mistakes. What makes a good writer is that they learn to recognize and correct these mistakes. The more you study good writing, the better writer you will become.

What’s the “good writing” rule you struggle with the most? Are you getting better at catching yourself making the same mistakes? What has helped you learn to recognize them?

Image courtesy of lifehack.org.

One thought on “What Are the Rules of Good Writing … Really?

  1. Thank you for this list of rules! They are really on point. I think I have most issues with the first rule. Then again English is not my native language, so writing can get really frustrating at times!

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