I recently came across the late Elmore Leonard's Ten Rules of Writing.
Leonard was a novelist, most famously of crime fiction. But his rules apply surprisingly well to fundraising writing.
Here they are, along with my annotations for fundraisers:
- Never open a book with weather. (Probably not a good idea for a fundraising appeal either. Unless it's about a hurricane.)
- Avoid prologues. (Yes!)
- Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue. (Yes!!)
- Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said. (Yes!!!)
- Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. (I think fundraisers are allowed a little more. Something like two or three per 500 words.)
- Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose." (Probably.)
- Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. (Even more sparingly in fundraising. Dialect is hard to read.)
- Avoid detailed descriptions of characters. (They're real people in our case. But still, go easy.)
- Don't go into great detail describing places and things. (So true for us.)
- Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. (Super advice; develop a sense of what readers tend to skip.)
Then he gives his most important rule, the one that sums up the 10: If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.
Follow these rules, and you'll do well!