Making the Most of Your Writing

Here are just a few writing tips you might wish to consider:

  • cut out all you don’t need. A sentence with 8 needed words is better than a sentence with 12 when you don’t need them all.
  • write things in chronological order if your story is (basically) told in real time. It’s a common problem with writers and just causes confusion.
  • avoid repetition unless it’s for humorous purposes or you are building up a rhythm. An exception is dialogue.
  • use direct quotes (i.e. “quoted speech”) when you can. NOT using it creates a distance between the reader and what the writer is writing about. I told her not to do it because I don’t like it. NO! This is much better: “Don’t do it,” I said. “I don’t like it.”
  • use simpler words rather than more complex words, as they are much more direct. Her body and mind had slowed is actually more active and shows us much more than Her body and mind had deteriorated. Another example: The conglomeration was not pleasing. NO! (well, unless you are being funny!) The spots and stripes and bright colours made her eyes spin. YES! That’s much better and actually tells us what’s happening and the reaction.
  • avoid adverbs: adverbs tell us what is happening, but don’t show us: She walked gaily down the street / She walked down the street, hips swinging. Which is better? The second, the one without the adverb! Many adverbs end in –ly and don’t do justice to most scenes. They modify the action and usually, an adjective used in the same sentence but used differently is much much more effective.
  • avoid words like almost and probably and perhaps and mostly and other qualifiers like that (often adverbs of frequency). She almost called him. NO! Either she did, or she didn’t: be decisive. She picked up the ‘phone, and put it down again. YES!
  • use active verbs when you can: looked at and viewed and watched often mean the same, but looked at just sounds more active.
  • avoid got and gotten. You can usually do away with got – there are other, better choices – and gotten sounds uneducated and childish. She got coffee and sugar off the shelf. NO. She took coffee and sugar off the shelf. Another example: She’d gotten used to him being around. Ugh! She’d become used to him being around. Dialogue is different, but again, how do you want your characters to sound?
  • use the Simple verb tenses, and avoid the Continuous verb tenses:

She was walking down the street / She walked down the street

She is eating her breakfast / She eats her breakfast

The Continuous verb tenses used above are not good: the Simple tenses are shorter and punchier and much more definite. Avoid the Continuous if you can, unless in dialogue. If you don’t know what these are, look them up in a book or online.

  • new thought / new sentence
  • new idea / new paragraph
  • if in doubt, leave it out

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