Monday, 25 October 2010

My Writing Style is Rubbish, What do I Do?

Cliches, platitudes and wordy descriptions may dog the the novice writer who needs clear guidelines on how to improve writing style. Conflicting advice and overwhelming influences may leave the writer confused on how to put ideas in writing. What clear cut advice will help the author improve narrative style?

Simple Tips on Great Writing Style

Becoming a Writer
A Classic Book for Authors
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An author inspired with a great story idea may find it hard to put these ideas into writing. Although good narrative style is not easy, the theory can be simplified. But first, an old saying “Don’t get it right, write it down.” is helpful when completing the first draft. Once the ideas have been crystallised in a novel, the author may begin to edit. Here are some essential tips on developing as a writer.

How Not to Write Novels

Passive writing can be like wood rot to writing style. Passive sentences imply things happen to nouns rather than the nouns doing anything.

Here is an example of a passive sentence:
“The man was running down the road.”

And the active:
“The man ran down the road,”

The former lacks immediacy and takes seven words to relate. The latter uses only six words and is more direct. Although the difference is subtle, the culminating effect throughout the novel can feel sludgy to the reader. Signs that passive writing are taking precedence are the overuse of the words, were, was or felt. Passive writing is explored in more detail on my article on passive writing.

Description Words in Novels

Words to Avoid in Novel Writing
Avoid lots of wordy descriptions. Look out for profuse adjectives and adverbs. In such cases, cutting is the answer. Ask the question if an adjective is merely modifying a weak noun, and whether the two can be substituted for a more accurate noun. A large hill, for example is really a mountain.

Prefer the concrete to the abstract. Descriptions that “show” rather than “tell,” will make the reader feel involved with the story. This applies especially to describing emotions, which is covered in a separate post in this blog. Guilt for instance, is a subjective emotion and means different things to different people. It is also an abstract concept. Why not describe what the characters are feeling without actually using the label? Use the five senses to allow the reader enter the skin of the characters, this means smells, tastes, sounds and kinaesthetic sensations. For example,

“A chilly draft spurred a rash of gooseflesh over her arms,” is better than “She felt very cold.”

Words to Avoid in Novels

Look out for words that sap from the storytelling. With the exception of dialogue, the narrative would benefit from the banishment of the following sort of words: Very, exceptional, extremely, rather, lovely, pretty, wonderful, comely, hateful, horrible, terrible, stunning, heartfelt, etc. These words add nothing to the story. They dilute, sap, pad out and create insipid narrative. A professional writer in the making will get the red pen and cut, cut and cut again.

Originality in Writing Style

A professional writer will strive for originality. Look out for hidden clichés in the storytelling and look for a more novel way of expressing an idea. “His chocolate fudge eyes cooled to stone,” conjures more vivid imagery than “His eyes looked cold.” The incongruous comparison between “chocolate fudge” and “stone” is striking and disturbing.

Writing Exercises for the Author

Cut or curtail clichés, abstract concepts, adjectives, adverbs, emotion labels and passive writing. Look for novel ways of expressing something, and relate to the five senses to describe the concrete. This will allow the reader to enter the minds of the characters. This will help result in more dynamic storytelling and better writing style.

External Links About Writing Style

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