Three Technical Rules to Get Right, So Your Writing Is Not Dismissed

Monday, January 10, 2022

Very few writers enjoy reading articles and blog posts about the technical aspects of writing. It's much more fun to read the inspiring posts and Cinderella stories--or even how-tos about building better characters or writing an attention-grabbing beginning.

However, I recently finished judging some contest entries, and falling down in the technical area can actually be the difference between your piece going to the final round of judging--or not. You can have the best story idea. You can create amazing characters whom readers want for best friends. You might include sensory details and perfect dialogue. But none of that matters if you put too many ellipses, write run-on sentences, or forget to break a conversation into paragraphs. Of course, there are a ton of grammar and punctuation rules, but those three I just mentioned confuse a lot of writers. Let's talk through them.

1. My number one pet peeve is...the overuse...of...ellipses. Ellipses can be used in a quote to show that some words are missing. They can also be used to show a pause or someone trailing off on a thought. Like an exclamation point or adverb, they should be used...sparingly! (I couldn't resist.) For a flash fiction piece, this means using ellipses not at all or one time. You can use a dash or comma to show someone pausing in a line of dialogue. You can use use dialogue tags. You can use periods even. But do yourself a favor, and during revision, cut out those ellipses. 

2. The other two are not pet peeves. They are rules. Run-on sentences are often confused with the correct use of phrases, separated by commas, to show that there are a string of thoughts rushing out from the point of view character. But there's a difference between using that technique, and forgetting to punctuate sentences correctly. Mostly try to remember this: if you have two complete sentences next to each other, they need a conjunction and a comma. The other choice is to put a semicolon. Finally, you can put a period and divide those up! Examples:
  • Wrong: Eloise couldn't wait for her job interview for a dream position she tried on five outfits and she asked her loser boyfriend which one was best he didn't like any of them now, she doubted herself.
  • Correct: Eloise couldn't wait for her job interview for a dream position. She tried on five outfits, and she asked her loser boyfriend which one was best; he didn't like any of them. Now, she doublted herself.
3. I know this last and final rule I want to discuss can seem like a waste of space on the page, but remember readers, especially if you are writing for under 18, like white space. In a written conversation, every time a new character has a line of dialogue, start a new paragraph. Plus if one person says something, but the other person does an action as a result, that action needs to go in a new paragraph. Here's a correct example:

"What led you to apply for this job, Eloise?" Mrs. Smith asked.

Eloise crossed and uncrossed her legs. She cleared her throat.

Mrs. Smith smiled warmly. "Take your time, please. I know job interviews make people so nervous."

"I love children," Eloise finally croaked out. "My dream has always been to have my own preschool classroom, and this job and center are perfect for me." Her voice grew stronger, as she imagined herself in the middle of the room of four-year-old students.

Mrs. Smith glanced up and down at Eloise's resume. "You certainly have the experience we're looking for."

End scene.

It's hard to find your own mistakes. And I don't think you need to hire an editor for every single piece you write and submit somewhere (especially that aren't book-length). But I do think allowing another person to read it and even point out where things seem off is important. If you don't have anyone like this, then let the piece sit for at least a day and create a checklist of your common mistakes to look for when you edit it.

After all, you want your piece to be judged on the content and writing style--not the technical errors.

Happy writing!

Margo L. Dill is an editor, writer, and publisher of Editor-911 Books. To find out more about her, check out or Her next WOW! class, Writing Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction, starts on January 26. Check it out here

Photo of pencil above by Pink Sherbert from


Renee Roberson said...

These are all solid tips! I have a bad habit of using too many adverbs and repetitive words, so I have to put something aside and double check later for those types of mistakes. I think dialogue tags are tricky for a lot of people and something I notice a lot, too. My best advice for that is to pick up a book and see how other writers do it. My favorite book for grammar questions is called "Grammar Girl Presents an Ultimate Writing Guide for Students." While it's geared towards high school and college students, she breaks down all the basics in such a helpful way!

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Yes! We all have rules we struggle to remember but that's why asking someone else to read our work can be such a big help. They catch things we miss.

Cathy C. Hall said...

Agree, Margo! Nothing stops a reader (or a contest judge) like a writing misstep or poor grammar and punctuation.

It also helps to read. A LOT. I'm a big believer in good writing seeping into your psyche from all that reading. And than ending up on the page.

At least, it worked for me. :-)

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Cathy is so right. Read, read, read! And don't just read stories on sites where people post w/o being edited. When I read those stores, I see the same odd mistakes that I see in contest entries.

Christie said...

I’m totally new to WOW but have been writing and proofreading for others for some time. This blog topic caught my eye because to me, reading a great piece of work is often marred by frustration at some authors’ technical deficiencies. I think I could add to this list, but I’m going to definitely bookmark this one and I’ll be coming back to WOW for more input and inspiration. Thank you!

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