Monday, October 3, 2011

Style Checklist for Writers

For those of you who are in the editing stages of your story, you might want to take a peek at this style checklist.

1.  Check your sentences. Do they begin with the words “there” or “it”? Sometimes it’s necessary to use “there” or “it”, but replacing these words with something more specific makes for stronger writing.

2.  Is your writing tight? Or do you go on and on and on like a lonely, old lady? Are you double-talking? For example, as a sample of this type of writing, you’d need to think or ponder what it would be like to express and communicate your thoughts and ideas with abundant or surplus, maybe even redundant, repetitions. Are you scratching your head right now? That’s exactly how your readers would feel if you wrote this way.

3.  Are you repeating what you've already told or shown your readers? For example, Riley thinks about asking Julie on a date and plans on giving her a rose. Then, he runs into Gary and tells him what he’s going to do. When Riley finally sees Julie, he gives her a rose and asks her out. The reader is disappointed because this is the third time she’s read this. The writer had two choices. He could’ve shown Riley’s angst over his first time asking a girl out, and when he finally sees her, his nerves melt away. This isn’t considered repetition because something different occurs. Or the writer could’ve skipped the first part, where Riley agonizes about asking her out. Instead, Riley could go right up to Julie and then his nerves could kick in. This way, the writer is still showing the same emotions, but this is more immediate.

4.  Are you using clichés? While it’s okay to use clichés in dialogue (sparingly), you want to avoid using them in narration. Try to find a fresher way of saying the same thing.

5.  Are you trying to be clever by using words that are above your readers’ vocabulary level? This doesn’t make you look smart. Well, maybe it does, but many readers are turned off by authors who “show off.” If they have to check words in the dictionary just to understand your story, they’ll probably pick up an easier read—one they can lose themselves in.

6.  Is the text fluent, varied in rhythm, and the right tone for your genre?

7.  Does every conversation advance the story and reveal something new about the plot or characters? If not, why is it there? Eliminate as much fluff as possible to tighten your story. Dialogue is one area where writers often become long-winded.

8.  Would your character really speak that way? Would anyone? Keep the dialogue real but compelling. While we might talk about the weather in real life, we don’t want to read about people having small talk. You also want to ensure your character stays in character. For example, Grandma said, “Hey, peeps. I’ll hang with y’all in a sec. Just chill.” Would that fit your story and your genre? Would readers believe this?

9.  Do you replace “said” with other verbs like “whispered, muttered, screamed, yelled, mumbled, giggled, spat, etc…? For some reason, writers are afraid to use “said.” Learn to love this verb because it blends in with the story. That doesn’t mean you need to write “Peter said”, “Jerry said”, “Molly said” after they’ve spoken. Try to mix things up a little by using action tags, too.

10.  Watch for passive writing. For example, “The story was read by the little boy” is passive. “The little boy read the story” is active. Hint: Watch for “by.” That can be an indication that your sentence is passive.

There are many things you should look at when editing. Don’t limit yourself to this list. Use the checklist as a cheat sheet and go from there.

Which one of these “rules” have you broken? Which is the hardest to follow? Are any of these new to you?

Lynnette Labelle


  1. This is an excellent checklist, thanks!

  2. This is why I am in good hands...and I'm adding this to my cheat sheet,I have it posted above my laptop.

  3. Your explanation of redundant writing made me laugh. I loves - borrowed - your check list.

  4. I tucked this post away so I'll have it to go back to. Thanks.

  5. Thanks for your nice comments. Have a great day!

    Lynnette Labelle

  6. These are definitely great things to watch out for! Thanks for the list!!!