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Controversial Writing Advice: What To Follow & Ignore

Updated: Dec 15, 2023

KWE Publishing Newsletter - 05/04/23

When it comes to writing, there's a lot of advice out there. Sometimes, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by it all!

One of the most beautiful and frustrating things about writing is that there are very few rules you absolutely have to follow. Yes, there are grammatically correct sentences, and avoiding technical errors is important, too. Even the most basic of rules can be broken, though. A fragmented sentence can convey heartbreak or fear. Passive voice can shift the focus of a sentence.

So what advice should you follow, and what should you ignore? Keep reading to hear our take on some common pieces of writing advice!

Rule # 1: Keep your sentences simple.

This is a piece of advice most of us were probably given when we were taught to write as children. Writing simple, easy-to-understand sentences ensures your point gets across to your readers—something you obviously want in your story.

However, complex sentences do have their place, and what is considered complex will depend on the genre, the subject matter, and the age of the ideal audience. For example, a book focused on anatomy aimed at medical professionals would likely include some complex sentences in order to convey complex ideas. In a children's book, a complex sentence might be used to show the absurdity of a character.

So, should you keep your sentences simple? Well, it depends. A sentence can be complex and still be easily understood; remember, "simple" isn't the same as "clear." As long as your sentences are clear and you vary your sentences (because making every sentence too complicated can bog down the reader), you don't always have to follow this piece of advice.

Rule # 2: "Said" is dead.

When I was in seventh grade, my classmates and I were given a long list of words that we could use to replace "said" in our writing. "Said is dead!" the sheet proclaimed. I wanted to write well, so I took this advice and used just about every dialogue tag but "said" in my writing.

In theory, this advice wasn't inherently bad. Using "said" as your only dialogue tag can get a little boring. On the other hand, using a different dialogue tag every single time a character speaks can distract the reader from what the characters are really saying.

What's our verdict on following this piece of advice? Use dialogue tags beyond "said" to emphasize the context and set the mood. Look at the following examples to see what we mean:

"What are you doing?" she said.

"What are you doing?" she rasped.

The first sentence can be read in a fairly natural manner, and this can be perfect if you want to move the reader along. The second sentence has more of an ominous feel due to the word "rasped." Using unique dialogue tags can help your sentences stand out—just make sure you don't overuse them!

Rule # 3: Write consistently from the same point of view.

Again, this is a rule that I heard in grade school. This "rule" makes sense in some contexts; if you're writing a children's book, changing the point of view over a few short pages will confuse young readers.

However, if you're writing a novel, changing the point of view throughout your story can give readers insights into a variety of characters. You can also use different points of view to push the story along and clue readers in on important information that other characters might not know.

Just like the other pieces of advice we've mentioned, this one can definitely be ignored when it suits the story. This typically works best in fiction books, but occasionally giving readers a peek into another character's thoughts in a non-fiction book can bring a unique twist to your story, too,

Ultimately, it's good to know what common writing advice is out there; in some instances, these pieces of advice can help your writing shine! And sometimes, it's worth it to break the rules, too.

Have you heard of these pieces of writing advice? Are there other pieces of writing advice you're unsure whether you should follow? Share your thoughts with us; we love hearing from you!

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