Now for my personal top three unbreakable rules. I apologise in advance for seething.
3. sneaky attributive adjectives bundled in to wreck orderly action sentences instead of rolling up their sleeves, going predicative and getting clauses or even sentences of their own. For example:
- She hit her head on the floor when she fell (orderly action sentence).
- She hit her permed and highlighted head on the polished hardwood floor as she fell (now wrecked with sneaky attributive adjectives).
- Her head looked softened by her perm and was golden with highlights but hit the floor like a rock anyway as she fell, bouncing off the hardwood and leaving a smear of blood on its polished surface.
2. This is about description too. No exceptions, no contextual considerations, just no. Never - never - have a character look at themselves in a mirror early on in the first chapter and describe their looks. Don't. When was the last time you looked in a mirror and thought to yourself that your eyes were brown and your nose was small and straight? Don't ever. If someone you knew sighed in exasperation at that annoyingly wayward curl and tucked it behind her ear with a rueful grin, wouldn't you want to punch her in the neck? Just don't.
1. This is my tip-top of all time writing no-no (and the reason I used Fowler instead of Strunk and White earlier). It's rude, it's wrong, it's stupid, it's generic he. It's the daft idea that you can use he, him and his to talk about all of humanity: e.g. Man breastfeeds his young. Strunk and White reckoned he or she is clumsy, singular they is illiterate and so generic he is the only choice left and, besides, only silly-billies will complain.
Well, call me demanding, but I'll take my writing advice from someone who's not flummoxed by an evolving pronoun system. See, the silliest, most ignorant thing about saying number agreement trumps gender agreement . . . is that number agreement has shifted once before and the sky didn't fall. You used to be plural; the singular was thou. You was also more polite; thou was more intimate. Politeness won. You became singular/plural and thou dropped out of use.
I can just imagine the mediaeval grammar mavens reaching for the smelling salts. Woah! Changes in the pronoun system! Number distinction lost! You-ing social inferiors instead of thou-ing them! Will English survive? It will. It did. And it will again. Anyway, we've got y'all, youse and y'guys coming along to do some of the plural grunt work again. (I wonder if Strunk and White would have welcomed them.)