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Guaranteed Popular Writing by phantom-inker Guaranteed Popular Writing by phantom-inker
The top ten ways you can guarantee your writing will be cool.

I wrote this up because I was sick and tired of seeing the same beginner writing mistakes over and over and over and over and... well, you get the idea. These mistakes are repeated ad nauseam even by people who ought to know better, so I decided I'd do something about it.

And no, I'm not an English teacher. I'm a degreed computer scientist --- but I'm also well-known as a grammar nazi. (I've at times been both a proscriptive grammarian and a structural linguist, so my objective here is not to correct things that intentionally deviate from standard English, but to correct things that unintentionally deviate.)

This is stored as an image so that there's no ambiguity about what I intended to say. Actually, it's designed as a printable document, and I've included a PDF version for those of you who would like to print this out for reference. This document is freely shareable. Download it, print it, share it with your friends, and maybe, just maybe, there will be a little less unreadable gibberish out there as a result.


Update, five years later: While this deviation continues to be much-loved by the literati, it's received no shortage of criticism from inexperienced writers, particularly fanfic writers. And so I will say this to those who would criticize: Before you start your complaint, read some books on writing, read some essays on writing, read Stephen King's On Writing, and make sure you know what you're talking about. Whether you like it or not, if you want your work published, if you want other authors to take notice, and if you want your readers not to toss your work aside in disgust, then correct grammar and spelling are required, plagiarism is theft, adverbs are evil, punctuation is strict, and second draft equals first draft minus ten percent.
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miny1229 Featured By Owner Feb 14, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Thanks! Good advice!
Animedemon001 Featured By Owner Nov 4, 2014  Hobbyist Writer in a nutshell.
Awesomely-Happy-Hero Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
This is very interesting... though I have to say it comes across as a bit abrasive, you do highlight a lot of very common problems that a lot of newer writers make, and I think that someone with a sense of humor about themselves could come away from this a lot better for it. One thing I will say, though, is this; as a Fanfiction writer, I find that there are really two reasons people end up writing characters out of character; the first is that they're bad writers, obviously, but the second (and admittedly rarer) reason is that they really should be moving on to original characters! Too often do I see character traits and backstories that are incredibly well thought out and realistic, but are wasted on pre-established characters.
Crimson-Dragon-King Featured By Owner Aug 28, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Nice Job! :)
Crimson-Dragon-King Featured By Owner Aug 28, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Nice Job! :)
joyful-basilisk Featured By Owner Aug 30, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
I wrote you a story. I only read the left column, but that's the important one, right?

jhnonn was a really superly duperly cool duude who rlly licked a boy named clark who was super duper sexxi and cool ^hi clark^ he said ^i lik you^ but clark could not liyk him back bcause he was.........SUPERMAN!!1! ^I AM SORRY^ he wispered *I AM SUPERMAN AND CANT DATE U^ ^THAT IS OKAY^ rplied jhnonnn ^BECAUSE I AM A SUPER SEXY COOL DRAGON MAKEUP CRYSTAL JESUS BOOK NAZI OF JOY!^ and then they banged

If I was going to criticize this list, it would simply be for the lack of a note on the evil of giant chains of ellipses (particularly with the wrong number of periods.) Ergh, they send a shiver down my spine. :I
phantom-inker Featured By Owner Sep 2, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Also, that's a great story.  Tell me your street address so I can mail you your letterbom — I mean, mail you the proper congratulations you've earned. ;)
joyful-basilisk Featured By Owner Sep 3, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you so much, I spent hours weaving my words to create this delicate web. The beautiful tale of "jhnonn" and his "clark" is something that will be passed through the ages. 

I may be a little sensitive to ellipses. I revise writing for my friends, who are the kind of people who use them more than periods. "I'm just not sure........................this is" kind of bad. 
phantom-inker Featured By Owner Sep 4, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Gah!  That's horrendous.  I forgot people could even do that, mainly because I blocked out of my memory all the times I've seen it (and worse abominations like "Uhh,,,,, okay" — and yes, those are indeed mutilated commas).

So consider "Misuse of ellipses" to be the missing eleventh entry here.
phantom-inker Featured By Owner Sep 2, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
When I created this, the goal was a top-ten list of (in my opinion) the worst offenses, not a catch-all of every possible written horror.  Improper use of ellipses is at least tolerable; whereas naming your lead character Ghffarrhga'hargh ought to be punishable by — well, if not death, at least a good beating with a cat o'nine tails.
Brisingr-Arget Featured By Owner Apr 19, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Why I have only discovered this now, I don't know.
FlameSwordedLink Featured By Owner Dec 16, 2012  Student General Artist
Also, you could just send them to my LA teacher.
ShayLaLaLooHoo Featured By Owner Nov 29, 2012  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
They should teach this in every English class in the world.
MeTheAwesome Featured By Owner Oct 1, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Toon many fonts are never cool unless it's Geronimo Stilton.
WonHitWonder Featured By Owner Jul 31, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Great list! Although I've been reading The Road for class and there are effloads of fragments, missing punctuational marks, and no quotation marks for text... :dead: But he's Cormac McCarthy, he can do whatever he wants. I, on the other hand, can't.
AirGirl13 Featured By Owner Jul 10, 2012  Student Writer
Well, I am a beginning writer, and I am always self concous when people read my work. I feel ten times better knowing I don't do any of this. Thanks for the confdence boost (and good laugh)!
StoneButterflies Featured By Owner Jan 8, 2012  Student Digital Artist
I'm bringing this to newspaper club next time. I've read some writing there that has litterally made me cry.
Although I have switched fonts between different character perspectives... ^^;
EnvyLuvrFMA Featured By Owner Dec 16, 2011  Student Writer
This is AMAZING! Thank you so much for this! I'm an avid fanfic writer, and I adore this! There's just one thing I disagree with...
Adverbs aren't always evil. Using them sometimes can really add to your story. For example:
The girl slowly walked across the street.
Adding slowly to that sentence tells you how fast the girl was walking, which helps the readers get a better picture of what's happening. The only time adverbs are actually bad is if you use them way too much. That's when they just clutter up the story.
Other than that detail, the entire thing was great! Take notes, authors of tomorrow, this is how you get recognized!
LovelessEssence Featured By Owner Nov 20, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
THANK YOU!!!!! Sorry, I have this writing class I'm taking, and we have to grade others on their work, and all of this is so true.
MasterInsanity Featured By Owner Nov 10, 2011  Professional Writer
What if you're writing a note that the character's reading? Is it appropriate to use a different font there, for their handwriting?
phantom-inker Featured By Owner Nov 12, 2011  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Short quotations when spoken should be placed inline, in "quotation marks," just as with any other spoken text; and written text should be italicized if it's not being read aloud. It doesn't matter whose handwriting it is, or even if it's handwritten at all. Now, as for longer quotations:
Longer quotations should be placed in a blockquote like this, indented. Depending on the context — and a handwritten note may qualify, unless it is being read aloud — it may be appropriate to italicize the entire block of text. If you're attempting to render a handwritten note verbatim, you may want to insert a photograph or scan of the exact picture, as this is the only way you are ever legitimately allowed to "change fonts," and even there you're not really changing fonts but dropping in replacement content. But if you are presenting plain text, it should be printed in the same font, no matter what the text is. In general, you should never switch fonts; doing so is jarring to the reader regardless of its purpose.
MasterInsanity Featured By Owner Nov 12, 2011  Professional Writer
Okay, thanks :D
HaveTales-WillTell Featured By Owner Nov 2, 2011  Professional Writer
:thumbsup:8-) Well said.
PanteraSunrise Featured By Owner Oct 18, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
Hahahaha! Thank you so much! It's about damn time someone finally said this. Honestly, it's horrifying trying to find a decently written story on these websites anymore.

P.S. I knew I was favoriting it by #9. :D
shinodaholic Featured By Owner Oct 18, 2011
This is a good list. I already follow most of these rules in my writing.

I have to admit that I have broken at least one of these rules, though. One of my characters has unusual speech marks, but that's to differentiate her from the other characters. It is something I used when she was first introduced in one of my fanfics, and I'm not going to change it now, because it's part of the characterisation.

I also sometimes forget to spell-check. Of course, the main purpose I have for spell-check is to find any typos I missed (and sometimes words I'm not totally sure how to spell due to a similar word also being correct in other situations e.g. practice/practise).

I do sometimes use adverbs as well in stories I write, but I don't go overboard. If it seems appropriate, I include it.

I do write fanfics as well. I have put most of them on dA, and they have helped me get better at my stories. They're more like practice (not sure if that's the right version of the word) for original fiction. You temporarily borrow someone elses creations so that you learn how to use them when you create your own. I've started moving from fanfic to original fiction now, but the experience from writing those fanfics has been worthwhile. And it's given me some original characters to work with who have no direct connection to any specific fandom.

I've even written a story that had too many paragraph breaks. A friend mentioned it when he read it. One of the two pieces of constructive criticism I've recieved in the last year for any of my stories. I'm not going to repeat that.

And even with some of my truly horrible, unpublished, older fanfics, I still followed most of these rules.

/long comment
Miaxi Featured By Owner Oct 10, 2011  Hobbyist Writer
The adverbs rule is for journalistic writing, not for prose. In factual writing you want to convey the facts, so you make your language as sober as possible. In creative writing you want to convey an image, and how else to do that than to use image-loaded words?
Aish-the-cat Featured By Owner Oct 5, 2011
I've actually read a book without quotation marks in it before. It's called 'Mockingbird' and it's by Kathryn Erskine.
Skuhweer Featured By Owner Oct 3, 2011  Hobbyist Writer
I pretty much agree with most of this. I'm iffy on the adverbs bit, simply because I feel that writing isn't really about taking things away, so much, as it is about readability. Wordiness is definitely something to keep in mind and avoid, but cutting adverbs out entirely, to me, seems like it would lead to stiff writing.

And then there's number nine. I agree as far as dialogue and thoughts go. Telepathy, however? I think that, for whatever reason, there's not a set precedent for it, so it's hard to say how a person should do it. :I, for one, first encountered telepathic communication in a Mercedes Lackey novel and she did kind of like this with the colons and the italics, which I may or may not agree with,: because, really, I'd probably go with something else, like italics and quotations marks - as you suggested to someone else earlier. So, uh, yeah.
IsabellaMichel Featured By Owner Oct 2, 2011  Student Writer
Absolutely agree with this. Wonderful. :heart:
happy-camper123 Featured By Owner Oct 2, 2011
I wish I could favourite this more than once.
Bluewyrm Featured By Owner Oct 2, 2011
Actually, a few of these depend very much on what you're writing and why you're doing it.

If it's prose... yeah, all but 4 and 5 are non-negotiable. I personally like to stick to the identifiable protagonist and leave the horrible fan-fiction unwritten, but in certain hands, even the downright bizarre can become interesting. What's too out there depends on the reader...

And some times it's just not worth arguing. I've seen a few really strange crossovers that were actually entertaining, and some of the old speculative fiction had totally alien aliens as the main chars. (Incidentally, although fan fiction may be legally questionable, as long as one doesn't try to make money off of it most companies wouldn't protest. It's free advertising!)

All of the others are good points.

(Fellow grammer Nazi reporting for duty, btw. No misplaced prepositional phrases on my watch!)
LukasEnricBS Featured By Owner Oct 2, 2011  Hobbyist Writer
Am I the only one that would pay to see n4 as a movie? (Well if you remove inuyasha)
phantom-inker Featured By Owner Oct 2, 2011  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Sssh, don't tell Hollywood that! They might actually film it :(
LukasEnricBS Featured By Owner Oct 2, 2011  Hobbyist Writer
They'd film anything if you told them it would sell
HeatherFoxV Featured By Owner Oct 1, 2011
Well said :D
AmaranthFlamesoul Featured By Owner Oct 1, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
The only one I disagree with is the adverbs one - I like to know -how- someone is yelling/sleeping/eating/farting/whatever.

But otherwise, this is funny as hell and more fanfiction writers should read it. XD
TheWickedKid Featured By Owner Oct 1, 2011  Hobbyist Artist
The only thing I disagree with is "writing is about what you can take away."

This is not so. Adverbs should be used whenever you want to set a tone [He looked at her quizzically]. However, when used for emphasis, they're usually disposable.
inalaska Featured By Owner Oct 1, 2011
I love you so much for this.
crazyfangirl2 Featured By Owner Oct 1, 2011
I think I love you. Will you marry me?? :D
WyvernLetDie Featured By Owner Oct 1, 2011  Professional Writer
Just letting you know, I submitted this to #theWrittenRevolution's favorites for you. It was auto-accepted, 'cause I'm special.
TheLoneMackerel Featured By Owner Sep 30, 2011  Student Digital Artist
I love your metaphors.
thestarsprism Featured By Owner Oct 1, 2011
"You could write all of Lord of the Rings in a single paragraph and it wouldn't lose any meaning." :giggle:
IcyPheonix Featured By Owner Sep 30, 2011  Student General Artist
Thank you, this is awesome.
Another thing-and I am guilty of this up until recently as I never actually learned about this since almost none of my English was creative writing (why teach something fun like creative writing, we'll teach essays and crap instead) and thus, never had to utilize this in work I did- is the usage of periods or commas inside a quotation mark and which one to use when. Lots of people probably make this mistake too. (I'm just going to copy-paste how it was explained to me as I can't put it any better)-

You can't have two periods in a sentence. Then the end of it just becomes a sentence fragment. You can write some thing like this though:
The man reached across the table for the last scone. "I hope you weren't going to eat this." He took a bite and smiled.
You would use a comma if you are going to write, "I hope you weren't going to eat this," he said, taking a bite of the scone.


"I hope you weren't going to eat this," said the man, taking a bite of the scone.
You CAN use a ? or ! and still have a period, like "Were you going to eat this?" he asked.


"I'm sorry!" he apologized.
Of course, names can also take the place of he/she or the noun acting as the subject, as in 'man'.

I've put a period at the end of my sentences in the quotation marks when someone was done speaking since I was never taught not to or corrected on it. I've set about fixing that now.

Also, I am guilty of using ~ rather than italics to show someone speaking telepathically(not thinking though, that was always italicized) but are two reasons for that 1) I tend to write things out by hand first and, writing italics by hand is tricky 2) It started when I was RPing with a friend through private messages(not on dA) and unfortunatley each msg had a character count and italicizing things added < i > and </ i > to the character count, which when you end up with a rather long reply those take up space. I just found ~ to work as a better indicator.

Adverbs in moderation aren't that bad though, and when used properly they do work or else, why would we have them?
alldragonsrawesome Featured By Owner Jul 24, 2011  Student
This would make a great poster for an English teacher:XD:
AlysaTaladay Featured By Owner Jul 20, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
Paragraph breaks . . . damn you deviantART for screwing with my paragraph breaks. And my indents. I happen to like 'em that way, thank-you. And screw dA and the internet for whatever it is they all have against italics. Those happened to be necessary!
I love this. I know my writing is incoherent, but still . . . I know good writing when I see it, and this needed to be said.
So, say you have a character who can only be heard in the mind of the POV. You want to differentiate that from people speaking in the room, so would you use quotes, arrows (<< which I've seen used before for telepathic speech), or an asterisk (which is what I have been doing)?
phantom-inker Featured By Owner Jul 20, 2011  Hobbyist Digital Artist
There are a limited number of emphatic punctuation forms acceptable within English: You can either switch to italics to indicate thoughts, or you can wrap communicative speech in "quotation marks." However, both forms can be distracting to a reader if not used carefully.

For telepathy, as it is communicative like speech, I would recommend a combination of the two:
"Do you know whether it's safe?" thought Alex.
"No," replied Betty.
She doesn't know the half of it, thought Alex. "Well, best head out anyway. Ladies first."

No style guide — not MLA, not Strunk & White, not the Chicago Manual of Style, not the Oxford English Dictionary of American Usage and Style — either mentions or recommends usage of arrows (<< or >>) or asterisks (*); thus I would avoid these and restrict yourself to more established forms of punctuation.

When a character is thinking to himself or herself, it often reads better to embed the thoughts directly into the narrative. Compare these two paragraphs:
Alex looked around the room. This place is ugly, he thought. Not like home. All those dingy pots everywhere. They look like the dead animals I saw on the Discovery Channel last week. This place gives me the creeps; I have to get out of here.
Alex looked around the room. This place was ugly, and a far cry from his home. Dingy pots and pans were strewn everywhere, reminding him of dead animals he'd once seen on a nature show. He had to get out of here; the place was giving him the creeps.

These are very similar, but the second paragraph reads more smoothly, because it better follows one of the writer's golden rules: Show, don't tell. Most writers tend to avoid italicized thoughts in favor of embedding thoughts into the surrounding narrative, as demonstrated in the second paragraph above.
AlysaTaladay Featured By Owner Jul 20, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
^_^ Thanks! Yeah, science fiction writers are the lords of strange punctuation. There's no established rule for telepathy, so everyone does something different. In my case, the character has a second voice in his head that speaks to him, and he switches between answering in thought and answering out loud. I had a bad experience once in having to remove all formatting from a glitched file, and then having to go back and find every single instance of an italicized word.... I used them as little as possible after that (although MS Word now has safeguards against such horrors).
TheCreativeClash Featured By Owner Feb 5, 2011  Student General Artist
:XD: My English teacher would love this.
SchoolGirl22 Featured By Owner Jan 30, 2011  Student Artist
That's really cool, I'll print this out as a reference. You see, my friend, Alison, and I are making a manga, and this would be an awesome referece sheet for our writing part.
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