Apr 27, 2010

W is for Writing Wrongs

Timeless Advice

In 1895, Mark Twain produced a scathing critique of Fenimore Cooper's The Deerslayer, outlining 18 key mistakes in his writing. Those 'literary offences' make for a good list of what not to do, or how not to 'Write Wrong'. I've reworded the list in 2010 lingo, and put the emphasis on what you should do, but if you'd like to see the whole article click here.
  1. A story must accomplish something (confirm a premise) and arrive at a conclusion.
  2. Every scene must be a necessary part of the story and help develop it (move the story forward).
  3. Characters should be alive (even vampires/zombies should be vivid with depth), except for the corpses and the reader should be able to tell the difference.
  4. All characters must have a valid excuse for being there.
  5. Dialogue should be realistic for the character in that particular situation, have a meaning and purpose, be relevant to the story and stay on topic, maintain the reader's interest, propel the story and stop when they have nothing more to say.
  6. The personality of your character fits with their actions and dialogue.
  7. A character's manner of speaking remains consistent throughout the story.
  8. Do not assume the reader is ignorant - check your facts.
  9. Refrain from relying on miracles (or magic) to solve the protagonists problems, if they do employ magic, then it should be written in a way that suggests it's plausible and reasonable.
  10. The reader should be able to feel a deep connection with the characters, love the good ones and hate the bad.
  11. Characters should be so clearly portrayed that the reader can almost guess how they would react to a particular situation.
  12. Make sure the premise is clear in the narrative and not just come close.
  13. Use the right word, not its second cousin (I couldn't edit that - it was too cute).
  14. Cut all surplus text.
  15. Do not hold back necessary details (especially in mysteries!)
  16. Have a well edited manuscript, the writing should not be sloppy.
  17. Use good grammar.
  18. Keep the structure and style simple and straightforward. 

Thank you Mr Twain, and on an irrelevant note, I want my house to look like the Twain residence:
I'm sure I'll only need a few renovations - this is what I have to start with:

The girls have received such a great response at their book review blog Paper Dolls, thank you for encouraging these young bloggers!


  1. Many of Mark Twain's quotes make me laugh. I've used a few of them on my blog.

    This is a great list, and it shows that even though much about writing has changed, the nuts and bolts haven't. And boy was Twain ahead of his time with zombies!

    Came over from Niki's blog. Glad I did.

  2. I love Twain's quotes. :) And I think with a few minor tweaks, your house will be ready in no time!

  3. If I squint, the two houses almost look the same. :P

    These are all good reminders. I think I keep to most of them, but lately I have loosened up a bit as well. I think my writing has become more playful, for better or for worse.

  4. Great list!! I think it's interesting how writers back then used to trash each other's work. Now it's all supportive and watch what you say or else! How times change.

  5. That is a great list! As for the houses, Twain's is beautiful and your's is very nice too! :)

  6. I love mark Twain. I especially love this quote: “The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.” :)

  7. Thanks for the list. Plenty of information for me to go by. Thanks for the link and I have something for you on my blog. It will be posted later today.

  8. Great list to keep in mind when writing. And I agree, a few little tweaks and your house is almost there!

  9. Oh, how I love Mark twain - love him!! I can see the similarities between your house and his - no problem. *giggles* :-)

  10. Love the list!
    Love Mark Twain!
    I wish I had the first house too. :)