Keith Waterhouse was born 6 February 1929, and died 4 September 2009
Keith Waterhouse’s 12 Ground Rules for Writers
- Use specific words (red and blue) not general ones (brightly coloured).
- Use concrete words (rain, fog) rather than abstract ones (bad weather).
- Use plain words (began, said, end) not college-educated ones (commenced, stated, termination).
- 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?).
- Don’t overstate: fell is starker than plunged.
- Don’t lard the story with emotive or “dramatic” words (astonishing, staggering, sensational, shock).
- Avoid non-working words that cluster together like derelicts (but for the fact that, the question as to whether, there is no doubt that).
- 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.)
- Don’t use unknown quantities (very, really, truly, quite. How much is very?).
- Never qualify absolutes. A thing cannot be quite impossible, glaringly obvious or most essential, any more than it can be absolutely absolute.
- Don’t use jargon, clichés, puns, elegant or inelegant variations, or inexact synonyms (BRAVE WIFE DIED SAVING HER SON is wrong; wife is not a synonym for mother).
- Words are facts. Check them (spelling and meaning) as you would any other.
Waterhouse was a British writer. He wrote 16 novels, including Billy Liar, countless plays and film scripts, and a twice-weekly newspaper column for 40 years.
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