The 5 Most Important Style Rules for Novelists

Most writers will tell you that the thinnest book on their shelf also contains some of the best wisdom (and possibly the most dogeared pages). The Elements of Style by William Strunk Junior and E.B. White is a go-to for nearly every teacher high school English teacher and so valuable to so many writers because it’s rules are so simple and the list of them is (relatively) short. I recently revisited my copy to single out the five most valuable pieces of style advice for novelists.

Rule #1: Place yourself in the background. As an author, your goal is to disappear completely.The story is told how you planned it without any evidence that it needed your direction. You want your reader focused on the details of your plot, the characters and the setting.

Rule #4: Write with nouns and verbs. Put simply, who does what? At its center your novel has to be about the nouns (your characters) and the verbs (what they do).

Rule #11: Do not explain too much. “It is seldom advisable to tell all,” White says. For a reader to truly internalize the story – they must draw the connections between the details you present them with. A story that is over explained, is an uninteresting one.

Rule #13: Make sure the reader knows who is speaking. This goes people simply adding in quotation marks. Does each of your characters sound different? Is your narrator consistent and distinct? Your reader should be able to picture and recognize each one of the characters who have dialogue or narration as part of your story.

Rule #19: Do not take shortcuts at the cost of clarity. Avoid cliche and be sure to include vivid details. Be sure to elaborate on what makes the people, places and events in your novel specific and unique.

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