Writing Tips

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In the last few years I've become very interested in art of writing. Below are a collection of random sources I've been learning from. It's rather humorous to read a lot of these authors as they often point out a novice mistake and I instantly realize, "Yep, that's me she's talking about."

Constance Hale

Constance Hale gets her own section because I love her book, Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wicked Good Prose. The book is very practical and well organized enough to serve as a reference. Each section includes snippets from some classic authors that provide excellent contextual examples of a given idea she's explaining. It's a book plan to reread several times just to keep all its contents fresh in my head.

I also read her other book, Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch: Let Verbs Power Your Writing. While I also enjoyed it, it was much drier and didn't provide as much practical information for a novice writer like myself. It has a large section dedicated to specific misused verbs, which was a little too specific for my level but probably appropriate for beginning editors. I did find myself giggling at some of the bizarre and powerful prose she's included throughout the book.

In general I found myself agreeing to most of her suggestions. She emphasizes short, to-the-point sentences with strong verbs. Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch in particular demonstrates the intricacies of verbs in the English language. She has a blog and twitter account where she regularly posts interesting tidbits on writing.

7 Tips to Improve Your Writing

This is an eight-minute clip I found late one night by "Katytastic" that I found extremely practical. While its worth watching, I'm including her seven tips below.

1. Show, Don't Tell

Avoid narrating things like emotions that could better be described visually. She recommends as a tool to write as if the words were expressing a movie scene with no narrator. Don't say something like, "He stood up angrily" when you could describe how one might perceive that he's angry (ex. he pushed himself up, his hands clenched into fists).

2. Use Active over Passive Voice

As she reminds her viewers, this is something everyone hears all the time, but I still find myself naturally falling back on passive voice as I write. Constance Hale in Sin and Syntax actually details the appropriate times to use passive voice.

3. To Be or Not To Be

This relates to the previous point, but as Constance Hale also states try to eliminate uses of "is, was, were, etc." replacing them with stronger, more descriptive verbs. She reminds viewers that its sometimes appropriate to use passive voice if the character in question is a very passive.

4. Avoid Words that End in '-ly'

While adverbs aren't necessarily bad, Kat says these verb/adverb combos can often be replaced with stronger verbs. For example, walked lazily could be replaced with strolled, meandered, or ambled. All convey the same idea but with fewer words. And as Constance Hale has frequently written, if you can convey the same idea in a shorter sentence, use the shorter version.

5. Avoid Thinking Words

Again, this goes back to her "show, don't tell" philosophy to avoid words like thinking, realizing, or remembering. "Don't have a character just realize something. Present those facts to the reader so they can realize it."

6. Doubles are Troubles

Avoid using the same word over and over. Basic stuff but it happens all the time and is lazy.

7. Choose Wisely

Be aware of every word you write. Be very intentional with every word you write. Sometimes you might fall into something great, but most of the time the perfect "incarnation" of a sentence will require thought and revisions.