Release date: July 1st 2017
Publisher: Covenant CommunicationsPurchase: Amazon
How to Improve Your Writing Style
by Marlene Bateman
Author of Searching for Irene
There are many elements of good writing but perhaps one of the least understood is style. What is style? Style is not what you write but how you write. Voltaire said, “Every style that is not boring is a good one.” But how do you improve something as nebulous as style? Over time, I’ve come up with some simple things that can enhance anyone’s writing style.
1. The smaller the number of words you use to contain a thought or an image, the more impact it will have. Let me give you an example: “Lee was a mean woman.” It’s always better to be more specific, such as; “Lee was a shrew.” Another example; “He passed away early in the morning, and people all over America cried.” A much better way to say that is; “He died at dawn and the nation wept.” You don’t want to put extra words in a sentence for the same reason you don’t tape two windshield wipers to the windshield of your car: they wouldn’t serve any purpose and they would get in the way.
2. Be wary of adverbs. Adverbs usually only crop up when you use a weak verb and need to boost it. You can use them, but be SURE they are needed. Most aren’t.
3. Use strong verbs that are active, vivid, specific and familiar. One example of poor use of a verb is; Buster ate his dog treats quickly. It would be much better to say; Buster gobbled his dog treats. Don’t use weak general verbs like walk, cry, fall, and touch if the situation calls for plod, weep, collapse, and caress.
4. Make tension fuel your plot. Without tension, there is no plot. Remember, whenever the protagonist’s intention is denied, the effect is tension, which readers LOVE.
5. Create tension through opposition. The role of the antagonist is to thwart the intention of the protagonist. Readers will be bored if you make things easy for your protagonist.
6. Make tension grow as opposition increases. Tension is a result of a chain of cause and effect, which builds and produces conflict and tension. This chain is necessary to keep the story going. Every time something happens, the stakes grow larger and the action snowballs.
7. Make change the point of your story. We expect events to affect the main character in such a way as to force a change in his/her personality. Your main character should be a different person at the end of the book than he was at the beginning.
8. When something happens, make sure it’s important. Plot is your compass and gives you a general idea of the direction you’re headed. If you write something that is specifically related to the advancement of the plot, keep it. If it doesn’t advance the plot, chuck it.
9. Make the causal look casual. Everything in your writing has a reason, a cause that leads to an effect, which in turn becomes the next cause. For example; If a shotgun is necessary, show it well before it is needed. Make the appearance of the shotgun casual—show it in a way that the reader almost doesn’t notice. Then later, when a gun is called for, readers will remember seeing one earlier.
10. Make sure your lead character performs the central action of the climax. Keep the main character on center stage with the action. And remember that your main character should act, not be acted upon.
11. Show, don’t tell. Showing means creating a picture for the reader. You can say a person seemed impatient, but it’s better to show that by saying, “She looked at her watch constantly,” or have her ask, “Are you almost done?”
12. Use a thesaurus to look up words that are colorful and precise and mean exactly what you want to say. Writing gets more interesting as it acquires precision, not length. You know thousands of words, but they don’t always rise to the surface of your brain. Adjectives are not efficient and should not be your first choice. William Strunk said that adjectives are “the leeches that infest the pond of prose, sucking the blood of words.” Turn adjectives into verbs whenever possible. For example, turn impatient into “looked at his watch” or “tapped her foot.” The best thing to do is replace words, not modify them. Replace house with mansion, cottage, hovel, or duplex.
13. Avoid clichés. They’re tiresome. It takes work to come up with fresh ideas, but it’s worth it.
14. Appeal to the senses. Bring your writing alive with the sounds, the smells, the flavors, and the peculiar tactile sensations that come from textures and temperature and motion. Remind the reader that the world sparkles, roars, and sometimes stinks. The senses are touchstones for the reader. Don’t say it was noisy at the baseball game. Mention the crack of a bat, the whizzing of a fast ball, the roar of the crowd, and the heckling from the bleachers.
15. Say things in a positive way. Show readers what you want them to see, not what you don’t want them so see. Here are some examples; Do not say, “He was not a generous man,” say, “He was a miser.” Do not say; “The painting it did not have any flaws,” say, “It was a masterpiece.” Do not say, Phil was not a graceful person,” say, “Phil was a klutz.”
16. Put emphatic words at the end. Emphasis tends to flow to the end of a sentence, so if there is one word or phrase you want to say a little louder, put it at the end. This is especially important when you are trying to be humorous.
17. Keep it simple but don’t confuse simple with dull. Write in a simple, direct, unpretentious way—with every sentence an arrow aimed at exactly what it means to say. Remember you are trying to do one thing; tell a story.