Thursday, 6 February 2014

On this day...

Today would have been the 85th birthday of one of my favourite writers and columnists, Keith Waterhouse (6th February 1929 - 4th September 2009). As well as being the author of sixteen novels (including Billy Liar) Waterhouse wrote a twice-weekly newspaper column for many years and was one a Fleet Street's most respected and most read journalists.

He also penned what are probably the best Ground Rules for Writers ever written (barring, of course, my own *ahem* modest contribution...)

They're well worth reading:


  1. Use specific words (red and blue) not general ones (brightly coloured).
  2. Use concrete words (rain, fog) rather than abstract ones (bad weather).
  3. Use plain words (began, said, end) not college-educated ones (commenced, stated, termination).
  4. Use positive words (he was poor) not negative ones (he was not rich—the reader at once wants to know, how not rich was he?).
  5. Don’t overstate: fell is starker than plunged.
  6. Don’t lard the story with emotive or “dramatic” words (astonishing, staggering, sensational, shock).
  7. Avoid non-working words that cluster together like derelicts (but for the fact that, the question as to whether, there is no doubt that).
  8. Don’t use words thoughtlessly. (Waiting ambulances don’t rush victims to hospital. Waiting ambulances wait. Meteors fall, so there can be no meteoric rise.)
  9. Don’t use unknown quantities (very, really, truly, quite. How much is very?).
  10. Never qualify absolutes. A thing cannot be quite impossible, glaringly obvious or most essential, any more than it can be absolutely absolute.
  11. Don’t use jargon, clich├ęs, puns, elegant or inelegant variations, or inexact synonyms (BRAVE WIFE DIED SAVING HER SON is wrong; wife is not a synonym for mother).
  12. Words are facts. Check them (spelling and meaning) as you would any other.


4 comments:

  1. Thanks Tim; this post has been duly saved in my 'writing' folder and I will be re-reading before I edit my manuscript!

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  2. I'm a big fan of Waterhouse's novela and columns. I have his little book "Waterhouse on Newspaper Style", which is useful for any writer.

    Then there's also Mr Leonard:


    “Elmore Leonard's Ten Rules of Writing

    1. Never open a book with weather.
    2. Avoid prologues.
    3. Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.
    4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said”…he admonished gravely.
    5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
    6. Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."
    7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
    8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
    9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.
    10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

    My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

    If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”

    ReplyDelete
  3. I could not agree more! Too many people involved, too many policies, too much paperwork... Great post. Mel

    ReplyDelete
  4. “I want this!” This is something that everyone has in mind. But how do you get what you want when you are all cramped in front of the computer for long hours?freelancer

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