Become a Better Writer with These Quick Tips
You have a fantastic plot and great characters. The first draft is done and, structurally, everything is really working wonderfully. But writing is about a lot more than structure and plot and characters, isn’t it? What can you do to level-up and take your writing to the next level? Below are some tips that will help you get better at writing.
As writers, we’re constantly fine-tuning what we put on the page in order to make it say exactly what we want it to say. The more you take the time to improve that prose and use language to your advantage, the better your book will be.
Adverbs and Adjectives: Stop Using So Many Words!
Ever heard the maxim (by Thomas Jefferson, actually): “…never use two words when one will do?”
Memorize it. Write it on a sticky pad and put it on your laptop. Tattoo it on your wrist. One of the ways a reader can easily distinguish between a great writer and a mediocre one is the efficiency of their prose. And two of the ways writers tend to bloat their sentences are adverbs and adjectives.
Consider this example:
The white furry dog cried softly to himself as he kicked gently at the grey blanket.
The dog whimpered as he pawed at the blanket.
By eliminating the adverbs and instead choosing stronger verbs, we made quick work of giving this sentence a lot more power. At the same time, we eliminated the details we don’t really need. Who cares if the blanket is grey? And, in all likelihood, the description of the dog is redundant, unless we haven’t ever seen this dog before. (In which case, white and furry are about as bland as you can get description-wise.)
Avoid Unnecessary Speech Tags
More often than not, you don’t actually need speech tags like “he mumbled” or “she responded” in your prose. Your dialogue and prose should be strong enough that it’s clear who is talking. However, if you’re going to use speech tags, by far the most invisible tag is the ubiquitous said. Readers will rarely notice the word said (unless there are far too many of them).
If you do choose to use other speech tags, use them VERY sparingly. As in, a handful per book.
Read our article on how to Write Effective Dialogue.
Find Clichés. Kill Them All.
I bet you didn’t know you may have dropped a bunch of clichés into your writing.
The thing is, I’m not talking about the big ones like:
“He’s a lazy bump on a log.” or “Don’t put your eggs in one basket.”
(But, yes, definitely eliminate those.)
I’m talking about the sneaky ones. The ones we’ve all heard a billion times that sound like clever ways of describing things. Except they aren’t. Because they’ve been used a billion times.
Some of these include:
“Tears streamed down her face.”
“My blood turned to ice in my veins.”
“The cookies tasted like heaven.”
These cliched phrases don’t elevate your writing—they’re easily forgotten because they’ve been said so many times. At best, using them will leave your readers uninspired and unmoved; at worst, your readers will get bored and stop reading! Instead of going for what’s easy, think about what you’re really trying to say, and say that instead. (Or, if you’re really bent on using clichés, at least make sure you’re use them intentionally for some type of effect!)
Eliminate Unnecessary Action
Often, writers feel the need to add a lot of body movement in between dialogue in order to make it seem like their characters are “doing stuff.” But if the things the characters are doing aren’t really that important, consider eliminating them. They might be bogging down your prose.
“I think I’m going to the mall.” Martha lifted a cup of coffee to her lips. Taking a sip, she wrinkled her nose, then set it back down. “It’s a really pretty day out. I’m excited to go.”
Now, if we want to make it clear that Martha hates that coffee—by all means, tell us all about her reaction to the coffee. But if it’s not related at all to the dialogue…why do we really need to know it? (And if that’s the case, consider condensing the action to something like: “Martha sipped her coffee, wrinkled her nose, then clunked it back down.”)
Here’s a quick recap of how to get better at writing:
When in doubt remember that often in writing, less is more. Inexperienced writers feel the need to explain things either because they haven’t worked on crafting language as much or because they don’t trust their reader to get it. But trusting the reader is a big part of writing. And fine-tuning that prose will make it clearer to your readers exactly what you want to say—no more, no less.