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.

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