Since I joined a couple of writer critique groups back in the early 1990s, I learned a lot of basic guidelines for good writing. The majority of them made a lot of sense to me. And as a reader as well as a writer, I now notice some awkward, clunky writing that miss the following points.

• Stay in point of view—no head-hopping inside a scene.
• Write as much as you can in active voice; don’t be passive.
• Leave out the boring stuff.
• Use modifiers sparingly (some say not at all, but I don’t agree with that—see below).
• Never use a semi-colon in fiction. (I break this one every so often, just because I’m a rebel.)
• Learn and use all the rules of grammar.
• Spell check over and over again.
• Get critiques and edits.

Then there were other rules I had trouble with:

• Show, don’t tell. In my opinion, this can lead to choppy writing and lack of interesting details. Yes, show action, but tell descriptions.
• No prologues. Come on. Sometimes they’re exactly what’s needed. They can pull the reader in and explain some backstory so there’s no “info dump” later on. I agree, though, that they need to be done very well. Many best-selling authors use them. Why shouldn’t the rest of us?
• No epilogs. I have two reasons for using them in my Paula PI books—one is that as a reader myself, I like to know what happens with some of the characters later on. In a mystery in particular, it’s hard to wrap up all the loose character threads during the hopefully action-packed ending. The second reason was simply because it was a senseless rule. (There’s that rebel again).
• Don’t use he said/she said. Have the character do something instead (cough, sigh, drink coffee, drink beer, whatever). Sorry, after a while of reading all these small actions (especially the coffee drinking) it gets old AND intrusive AND boring. He said/she said is invisible to most readers. It doesn’t stop them. So, why not use it? I do both the saids and the small actions, mixing it up.
• Split infinitives are evil. Only if you’re an English teacher who hasn’t kept up with the times. When Latin was in use, this was a necessary rule. It’s not one for those of us who speak English. And sometimes splitting the infinitive makes the sentence much stronger: “to boldly go where no man has gone before’ has a much better cadence than “To go boldly where no man has gone before.” Right? Right. When we were motorhoming I found a great bumper sticker that we promptly put on the couch: “Boldly going nowhere.”

But I digress.

One warning about head hopping:

If you do head hop between scenes, be sure the reader knows right away whose head you’ve hopped into if you’ve changed it since the last scene. The book I’m reading currently has made this mistake several times, and it always make me stop in order to figure out I’m in a different head.

So, the biggest rule is to do what works. What works is smooth writing that doesn’t in any way make your reader stop reading to figure something out. This is okay for non-fiction. Not so much for fiction. Thus the rules about using good grammar and spelling in particular.


Grammarly, the grammar checkers, did a study, which was posted on Huffington Post not too long ago.


Grammarly proofread 400+ freelancer profiles from all eight categories of the Elance platform for grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors. To adjust for quality of work, they only selected freelancers with an average rating of four stars or above. Then they looked at correlation between earnings and number of mistakes. They hope the direction of the data spurs some thought and conversation about the importance of good writing. Their goal is to raise awareness for the importance of good writing. Here’s the chart with their findings:

grammar infographic

Here’s the link to the Grammarly site in case you’d like to check some of your own writing for errors: It couldn’t hurt!


Here’s to good writing!


What’s wrong with this sentence? (In previous sentences in the article quoted from, it is explained the writer is talking about great white sharks.)

“Researchers at OCEARCH, which captured, tagged and released the sharks aboard their 126-foot former Bering Sea crabber have found that the sharks swim south much faster than once thought.”

My mind immediately saw those sharks released on the former crabber. I pictured them flailing around on the deck. Then when I looked at the sentence again, I thought it was too long and complicated. I also realized that the researchers did not capture the sharks while the sharks were aboard their boat. Next I caught on that since it was the researchers who captured, tagged and released the sharks, the word “which” following “Researchers at OCEARCH” is incorrect. “Which” should have been “who.” It was the researchers who captured the sharks, not the organization they work for. Not to mention the missing comma after the word “crabber” and the needed Oxford comma. All problems could have been fixed by taking apart the sentence and rearranging everything so it both made sense and was easier to read. Making it two sentences would have helped immensely.

I do not claim to be an expert on grammar, and I’m only pointing out things that I’m sure were wrong. But if I’m mistaken about any of my points, I wish some of the experts out there would let me know. I know that learning does not end until the moment we die. I’m here to learn.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many errors in one sentence in a newspaper article, but I have to wonder. If you don’t believe me, it was here (unless they since corrected it):


I am so flabbergasted, I am now speechless, a rare event for me.