Tag Archives: writing well

Do You Think Things Through?

Do you ever in your haste to get things done, give in to a bit of mental laziness and not think things through enough? Or do you make a mental note to fix something and then later forget to do it?

Don’t be hasty.

We all want our writing and our stories to be good, the best we can make them. Powerful writing gets noticed even in a flooded marketplace. But I think, too, we can be tempted–or even succumb to the temptation at times–to conclude that what we have written is good enough and to ignore that quiet, nagging voice that says, “you need to check that” or “that’s not quite right” or “is my writing dull here?”

This is important for all writing.

I’m going to use examples below from fiction writing, but of course the need for careful thought applies to nonfiction writing too.

What about first drafts?

Now just in case you want to say to me at this point: “Yeah, but I like to write by my intuition, my heart, and make it up as I go.”  If you do want to say that, let me add, “I’m with you. When you’re writing that first draft or plowing through your word-count for the Nano contest, go for it. Burn through it. Absolutely. But, as we’ve all heard, good writing is re-written. So I absolutely also recommend careful and thorough thinking-through after that hot piece of writing has cooled down. Even invite your critical left-brain to go for it big-time.”

So what are my points on thinking things through?

1. Thinking-through is vital for depth in writing.

Careful thought can uncover meaning in your story you didn’t see before, themes, symbols, clever twists. Depth can add value and enjoyment for your reader. You might just come up with insights that take your work from good to great.

2.  Thinking-through is vital for plausibility.

Would your character really do that?

Yesterday, I was stuck. I realized that in a key chapter in my novel, I had my protagonist too easily let his 12-year-old daughter, his one and only remaining loved one, go on an obviously dangerous outing. Something no caring parent would do. Yet what happens on that outing is essential to my plot, so I was pushing my luck. I needed to get her on that outing. Then I thought it through and came up with a solution: miscommunication.

Plausibility is super-important whether you’re writing a realistic this-world story or a fantasy with a setting in a strange and alien world. Things still have to make sense to your reader.

3. Does it work all the way through?

Thinking things through is vital to assure that your story or copy works all the way through. Without that careful thought, it’s oh so easy to miss the need for a transition, the need for a brief explanation, or the realization that you have your character acting decidedly out of character–and many other possible problems you need to fix.

And the best thinking-through includes asking the question: how will my reader react to what I have written?

4.  Thinking things through also can open you up to the possibilities.

How about those lovely surprises that tie things together at the end? Surprises that readers love, that make your reader say, for example, “Oh, yeah, now I know why he didn’t propose!” Also, taking the time re-read your chapters and do some hard thinking can remind you to follow-up on those hints (plants) you crafted early-on and forgot about after several thousand more words.

Todd Henry in his excellent book The Accidental Creative writes: “Assumptions can be disastrous to our creative process because they limit how we look at problems” (page 72). We can, if we are not careful, let assumptions artificially limit our options (Page 75).. Don’t assume it all works until you have checked it and you’re sure.

Don’t miss choice opportunities that can make your work move vivid, more alive. Or as Jerry Cleaver wrote in his book Immediate Fiction, while emphasizing the need for constant conflict and suspense, “Can you make it worse?”

Dare I add…

Careful thought for important life-decisions can be a good idea too? Most of our decisions offer more than one option, and decisions can be powerful.

Back to writing.

My experience with getting seriously stuck made me realize that I need to go back and think through my novel–at least at every major point in the plot–and not just when I get stuck.

How about you?

Do you ask yourself hard and uncomfortable questions about your story or your copy? What do you do when you get stuck?

 

How long or how short and how much cutting is a good idea?

Don’t miss an excellent article on the length of sentences and pieces of writing at Write to Done:

Here: http://writetodone.com/2013/06/10/how-miniskirts-will-make-your-prose-sexier-the-golden-rule-of-length/

Sometimes short is good. Sometimes long is good. It depends on how well you write and what you want to say.

Some cutting is nearly always a good idea, but it is all too possible to go to far.

 

Make the Best Word Choices–10 Keys

Courtesy swimparallel @Flickr

Don’t Damage Your Credibility
Nothing can hurt our credibility as writers more quickly that mistakes.  Some people are offended by typos.  Others are irritated by grammatical mistakes.  But there’s another mistake that can turn off our readers :  Poor Word Choices.

Here’s a list of  Key Considerations…
Keeping in mind the points below can help you make the best word choices.  But consider them as guidelines. ( I do not mean them as rigid rules.)

Some worthwhile reminders…

1.  Accuracy.
Make sure that slightly-less-than-familiar word you are about to use is the right one for the job.  It’s so easy to skip diving into your dictionary.   Words that do not say what we think they do can make us look dumb.

2.  Use your Thesaurus but Be Careful.
Always check a word in your dictionary if you are the least bit unsure of its meaning. I love my thesaurus, especially my Roget’s Super Thesaurus, but I guard against any temptation to use a word to impress my readers.  The best use I find is locating that word that I need that refuses to surface from memory.

3.  Prefer Short and Simple words to Long words.
Let’s face it, those esoteric, professorial, Latinate abstractisms just do not communicate as readily as good old Anglo-Saxon vocabulary.

Compare the next sentence (an example, admittedly, slightedly exaggerated)…

Our assembly has postulated that you and your associates would  be advised to proceed to another location with due diligence.

to this one…

We think you should get out now.

To me, the genius of  contemporary writing is that is leans toward conversation.  Most of us when we talk use those hard-hitting and often delightful shorter words frequently, don’t we?

4.  Prefer precise verbs to adverbs.
Notice I did not advise you to avoid adverbs altogether.  Sometimes there is just no way around an effective adverb.

Compare the two following sentences…

He ran away quickly from  the accident.

He  fled from the accident. (The more precise verb fled eliminates the need for both adverbs: away and quickly  in the previous sentence. To me, that second sentence is more vivid.)

5. Use concrete and specific words and phrases instead of abstract ones.
Here’s an interesting key:  Keep a school or student’s dictionary handy. Even an elementary dictionary works.  They will suggest simpler alternatives than learned, pedantic, highbrow, brainy, head-in-the-clouds language that just doesn’t has as much punch.

It was inconsequential. Verses: It didn’t matter.

6.  Use Synonyms when they Work Well.
Sometimes it’s a good idea to avoid using the same word to frequently in a sentence or paragraph.   Example…

John’s anecdote was amusing, but unfortunately he forgot  he told us that story before. (Using the word story instead of repeating anecdote in this sentence, to me, adds a little welcome variety.)

For contrast, here’s a slightly contrary view from the Famous Writer’s School text Principles of good writing (page 122):

“Unless it offends the ear, repetition of a word in a sentence is not a sin, and desperate searching for synonyms is needless when the original word says exactly what the writer wanted to say.”

So this advice calls, once again, for a judgment call. Listen to your intuition.

7.  Choose words that are bright, musical and colorful, vigorous, and lucid, and at times even emotional–wherever they work well.

Words like: sunny, scarlet,  titanic, sparkling, sadistic, wintry, riptide, whirlpool, sexy, curving, devastating, bombshell, pitiless, crimson, beaming, sad, gasping, crystal, nuclear, bad…

Forget the hifalutin, elitist, pretentious stuff.

8.  Precise Nouns are very often better than the vague and the General.

 He insisted on bringing his dog into the boardroom.

How about mutt or hound dog or cocker spaniel? Naming the type of dog is more descriptive and vivid.

9.  Watch out for overuse of “to be” verbs and the passive voice.

Sometimes “to be” verbs are helpful, but they can be rather boring. Vivid verbs are more alive.

Example:  Then there were vicious orcs coming down the mountain toward us.

Compare that example sentence above to this one…

Vicious orcs rushed [or scurried, scrambled,  plunged, cascaded, dashed, rumbled…] down the mountain toward us.

Most of the time it’s also wise to avoid the passive voice.  George was bitten by the dog.  (The subject receives the action, is passive.)  Verses: The dog bit George. (The subject does the action.)

However, Roy Peter Clark, in his fine book Writing Tools, 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer (pages 23-24) points out that sometimes it’s a good idea to use passive verbs when you want to emphasize the receiver of the action–or the victim.

Donations of food, medical supplies, and clothing were shipped out to the remote disaster areas of Uganda. (The emphasis in that sentence is on the donations.)

10.  But an unusual, surprising, or even bizarre word, now and then, shouldn’t hurt.

He frowned at me looking like a bull moose.

The guidelines above are certainly not all there are, but they should serve as useful reminders.

Your turn…

How about you?  Do you  have any word-choice reminders you would include on this list?

______________________________
Related Resources

For academic writing: http://writingcenter.unc.edu/resources/handouts-demos/citation/word-choice

Mainly for fun:
http://www.edina.k12.mn.us/concord/teacherlinks/sixtraits/interestingwords.htm

Aimed at students:
http://www.ttms.org/writing_quality/word_choice.htm Students again, but good points:

http://www.slideshare.net/mfarrer/plcword-choice

Nine things about Powerful writing?

                                           Courtesy  Wesley Fryer @Flickr

1.  Powerful writing gets to us
It hits us where we live. Stirs our emotions. It’s attention-riveting. It’s vivid and to a degree always exciting and intriguing. And it’s convincing. Really good writing is a wake-up call. It prompts us, provokes us to think in new ways and even realize things we always knew, always sensed-or, perhaps never thought of before.

2.  It’s different today.
In previous decades people lived at a more leisurely pace. They would put up with long introductions, long chapters, long paragraphs, and long sentences. Not so much now. The pace of life has accelerated. We’re more in a hurry. In fact, the exception is anyone who dares to take her time.

3. Powerful writing is like magic
Just the right words in just the right places to capture your meaning, your message, your truth. Your take on reality. It hits the target with precision, at least enough to get my ideas clearly across. It’s like the right key strokes to get your computer to do what you want it to do and–with a minimum of fuss.

4.  It’s a pleasure to read
Powerful writing is a pleasure to read. It kindles within us admiration for the writer and a sense that we are getting quality information. From the keyboard of a craftsman, a wordsmith, it’s persuasive. It has impact.

5.  Powerful writing Elevates
It’s like music, really. I can be feeling low, wondering about my projects. Are they worth it? Are they really any good? Should I continue? And I can read something well-written, something encouraging and inspirational and motivating. And soon I feel like a conquering hero.

6.  It’s clear and reader-friendly
Powerful writing doesn’t fight you. It’s not a struggle to read. It flows so well at times that the words disappear into experience as you live the scene, the ideas.

7.  It’s riveting
Powerful writing gets your attention and keeps it. It gives you that sensation, those feelings, the suspense of a thriller. It entices you with questions and has you wondering what’s coming next. You even feel the urge to take a peek ahead.

8.  Powerful Writing is More than Craft
Powerful writing–any good writing–is more than craft of course. It’s something you do intuitively as well as rationally. Right brain and left brain fully engaged, each at least at its proper time and place.  It’s art.

9.  I want to write powerfully…
because I like to write, and I like to do what I do well. It’s worth it, isn’t it? That choice sense of accomplishment. That high when you know you’ve written well. Knowing you’re good at what you do.

What have you written today?