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Old 01-11-2008, 01:44 AM View Post #1 (Link) Scotty's Guide to Effective Writing
ScottyMcGee (Offline)
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Okay so SOME of it is based on my AP English Language and Composition textbook.
But let's say I decided to break it down my own style.
The book goes by "Principles," and I will do just that.
This guide is NOT necessarily a punctuation or grammar guide, but simply a guide to write effectively. From wordiness to passive voice, qualifications and useless jargon.

LAST EDIT: Jan. 27th, 2008
Sorry I've been slacking with the editing on this guys, I've been having a lot of crap to take care of. The new section I added is about cliches.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Principle 1: Be Active


We've all heard to embrace the active voice, but being passive doesn't necessarily mean it's grammatically incorrect. For those of you who wish to know when the passive voice SHOULD be used, read further.

Passive Voice is OKAY in these scenarios:

1. When the cause of the action is unknown. For example, "My bike was stolen today." We don't know who or what stole your bike, and therefore there is no need for a direct action.
2. When you don't wish to reveal the cause of the action. For example, "An error was made." But by whom or what? We don't know.

Other than those two scenarios, the active voice SHOULD be used. For those of you who don't know what an active sentence is, it's a sentence where the subject is doing the action. Whereas in a passive sentence, the subject is being acted upon. The passive voice is looked down upon because it can be wordy and hard to understand at a first glance. Active voices are short, clear, and concise.

Weak: The politician's rating was hurt by the recent scandal.
Strong: The recent scandal hurt the politician's rating.

Of course that's a simple example, you can go wild with stronger verbs and whatnot, but that's a simple example of active vs. passive.


Principle 2: Avoid Needless Qualifications


This I am sure we are all culprits of, I've seen it and I've done it. Needless qualifications can be both vague and excessive. What I mean by excessiveness and vagueness is when we add words and phrases like "very," "sort of," "kind of," and "seemed like."


Weak: John was a very good pianist.
Strong: John was a virtuoso pianist.
or John played beautifully.

Weak: It seemed like some sort of monster.
Strong: It was a hideous beast.

Again, not the best examples, these are very simple, but you get the point.

The only time I would be okay with this, and this is not coming from the book, is when you are writing dialogue or in first person view. When in those two situations, it's realistic, because we all talk like that. But when you're writing in the third person, omniscient view, try to be as clear and concise as possible. Be vivid.
"Good" and "well" are very vague. How is it good? How is it well? "Very good" is a very drab phrase that can mean anything. People also explain words excessively. For example:

Michael is more unique than John.

There are no degrees of uniqueness, you're either unique or you're not. Maybe try something such as, "Michael is unique, whereas John is not."
Here is a small list of common ones.

Wrong:
more unique
the very worst
completely full


Correct:
unique
the worst
full


The worst is simply THE worst. To say "very worst" is excessive.
Completely full is almost redundant. We already know it's full.

Principle 3: Don't Work for the Department of Redundancy Department

Redundancy is when a writer needlessly repeats an idea. It's redundant to say "a beginner lacking experience" because the word beginner already implies that there is no experience.
Here is a list of redundancies.

Redundant:
refer back
few in number
small-sized
grouped together
end result


Concise:
refer
few
small
grouped
result



Principle 4: Don't be Vague



Don't simply ramble and drag on your writing. Choose specific and descriptive words. Vagueness weakens your writing because the reader guesses what you mean instead of concentrating on the full idea and style.

Weak: She is a great communicator.
Strong: She speaks persuasively.

The question with the weak sentence is how exactly is she a great communicator? There are thousands of ways to communicate, Internet, mail, e-mail, carrier pigeons. Does she communicate by force? By sucking up? How?
Ah, persuasively, there we go. She speaks persuasively. Now we know that she's good with words and speech.


Principle 5: Avoid Cliches


When I talk about cliches, I'm not talking story-wise, but writing-wise. Cliches are not only unoriginal, but they're boring and lack style. Don't ever use cliches, they're a cheap way to write instead of making up your own analogy or manner of expression.

Here are a few well known cliches, both writing and dialogue:

beyond a shadow of a doubt

it's like finding a needle in a haystack

"It's quiet, too quiet."

like peas in a pod

a ballpark estimate

in the blink of an eye

easy as one, two, three

play favorites

"Mi casa es tu casa."

"Mano y mano."

hanging by a thread

taken by storm

After I'm done with this, I am planning to write an entire thread about cliches to avoid in every genre. Fantasy, sci-fi, mystery, romance, etc.

More to come later.

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						Last edited by ScottyMcGee; 01-28-2008 at 02:51 AM.
					
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Old 01-15-2008, 07:09 PM View Post #2 (Link)
The Incredible Night Elf (Offline)
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Hey, this is a pretty useful little post.

A lot of simple rules that we should all follow but often over-look...

*dances*
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Old 01-17-2008, 01:43 AM View Post #3 (Link)
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Oh, I have some comments .

Passive voice is actually okay in a lot more scenarios than you gave. You can use passive voice as a way to pull down the tension from an action sequence or other scene in which there is some form of tension. Its a way of using language to pull the reader back a little. Otherwise you leave the reader with a heightened emotional state (or at least heightened attention) only to leave the reading wondering when the change happened. It's okay to use passive voice if you use it properly. Never use it in action or moments of tension.

On the subject of vagueness, I guess it depends on how you use it. If you use vagueness in such a way that it forces the reader to think, then it could work very well, but if you're just being vague in moments which need development, then it doesn't work.

Good post nonetheless!
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Old 01-25-2008, 11:46 PM View Post #4 (Link)
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Great post, Scotty! Very thorough!
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Old 02-21-2008, 03:20 AM View Post #5 (Link)
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ooh principle 2 and 3 felt directed at me. ahaha. i shall watch out for those ones.
4... seems harder to do... I was always taught in essay writing to 'state things' so it's a strong sentence like 'She is a great communicator," which was your example of a weak one. Oh dear, I will definitely try~~
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Old 07-23-2008, 01:45 PM View Post #6 (Link)
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The only time extra words in writing are permissible are in first drafts, especially when said first draft is written during Nanowrimo...
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Old 07-26-2008, 10:57 PM View Post #7 (Link)
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This helps LOTS thanks sooo much!
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Old 07-27-2008, 12:57 AM View Post #8 (Link)
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I saw a t-shirt with Principle #3 written on it before...
Thanks Scotty it was really informative!
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Old 07-27-2008, 02:19 AM View Post #9 (Link)
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Ichy. . .you JUST saw this?
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Old 07-27-2008, 04:00 AM View Post #10 (Link)
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I just saw this.

Is that a problem?
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