Wednesday, November 11, 2015

10 Writing Tips



This is my quick and to the point list of writing tips. There's a common belief that you have to know the rules to break them, yadda, yadda, yadda. But not all of them. However, there's a universal threshold for good storytelling and grammar in fiction. It doesn't involve getting your and you're mixed up. It isn't using the same adjective nine times in a paragraph that stretches over two pages. It cannot support the misspelling of proper nouns. Yes, voice and style, along with colloquialisms and slang, all come into play. There's a time and place for incomplete sentences and even, sometimes, exclamation points.

There's a magazine I enjoy that regularly contains grievous, obvious errors. It's like they don't even try. Please, for the love of the English language reread sentences, read passages aloud to your dog, use spell check for goodness sake! Sorry/not sorry for getting carried away, but seriously, sometimes I come across bad writing. Sometimes it's my own. I do things like forget or misplace commas all the time. When that happens, I use this list to shore up my word-smithery foundation, dot my i's and cross my t's, and get to a-writin' some gold.


1. Show don't tell. As Anton Chechov said, "Don't tell me the moon is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass." Not only does this paint an image, but I get *feels* from reading this sentence.

2. Find your "clutter words." I tend to overuse the word just in my writing. I'll do a search/find and delete, delete, delete. Other examples are very, probably, well, see, look, etc.

3. Add layers to your story. Even if you don't include it  in the final draft or any draft, daydream about back story, what your characters do when they're not inhabiting your imagination, and the the kinds of choices they'd make, which builds their character (the other definition of character.)

4. Create windows. Not everything has to be spelled out. Trust your reader. Avoid the bog of including every single detail of a scene from the character entering a room to sitting, to moving, to leaving. Leave clues crucial to the story. But trust the reader to know how the basic mechanics work. If it was morning and in the next scene the birds are still chirping then it's still morning.

5. Watch and listen in real life. Observe body language and the natural flow of conversation: replicate it in your writing.

6. Avoid filler verbs such as feel, seem, wonder, noticed. Show your characters doing these actions or their reactions, instead.

7. Write actively. That means make the subject of the sentence the star instead of giving the recipient of the action center stage. Aiders and abettors include: is/are prior to a verb often in the past tense.

8. Read, widely. Sometimes wear your editing goggles. Other times be keen on style and craft. Also, read for the fun of it.

9. Unless you're writing a period piece with formal language, contractions are okay. We don't often hear modern conversation spoken/written stiffly. The exception being one of my favorite literary characters: Celeste from the Flat out Series by Jessica Park. But that was intentional.

10. Write a lot. Write crappy drafts, delete (but always save) passages, be persistent, be fearless. Write some more.


What are your best tips? I'll add them to my list. 


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