This Tuesday: the Trouble with Confidence and 7 Simple Ways to Instantly Improve Any Sentence
This week in class I asked my students if they felt confident as writers, and a lot of them were less than eager to admit any confidence at all in their skills. The problem identified by most was that they could imagine quite clearly the story they wanted to tell, but when the words came out on the page they just weren't delivering the same quality as the writer's imagination.
My solution? Never underestimate yourself, and embrace the power of editing.
It seems to me that a lot of what my writers are producing is perfectly fine, but their own expectations of what it should look like on the page are ridiculously high standards to achieve on the first draft. The key to good writing is to produce the material freely regardless of whether it's 'perfect' or 'good enough'. Learn to embrace being wrong. It's not only incredibly freeing, but it's great for creativity. Once the wrong words are down on the page it becomes easier to see exactly what's wrong with them and therefore make the appropriate changes. Mistakes are how we learn, after all.
Read more below for 7 Simple Ways to Instantly Improve Any Sentence:
7 Simple Ways to
Instantly Improve Any Sentence
1. Use ADVERBS. Adverbs are those words ending in –ly that can be attached to verbs to describe them in more detail. Try to keep them varied and don’t crowd too many into each paragraph or you could make the text hard to read.
Examples: suddenly, mischievously, irately, sharply, clumsily.
2. Change the NOUN. Let’s say you have character who’s an old policeman called Bob and you don’t want you write your whole story saying ‘Bob did this’ and ‘Bob did that’. Find other ways to name your subject, for example ‘The old man’, ‘The policeman’, ‘The grey-haired copper’, ‘The ageing officer’. These changes not only vary your word usage, but they also remind the reader of personal details about that character.
3. Sprinkle in the ADJECTIVES. Readers imaginations can only take them so far, so if you want them to really visualise what you’re writing then don’t skimp on the description. A spade should never just be a spade – what kind of spade is it? Black, silver, metal, rusty, old, new, broken, sharp, dull? Give a fuller image of your scene by peppering your paragraphs with plenty of adjectives.
4. Avoid boring VERBS. Why would a character jump when he could leap? Why would they cry when they could weep or sob? The verb choices that you make will have a huge impact on how much attention your audience pays to what’s actually happening in the scene you’ve created, so make them count. If you’re not sure where to go for dynamic verbs, the thesaurus will soon become your new BFF.
5. Add a COMPARISON. Similes and metaphors are great for description as they help the reader compare the moment you are describing to something that they can already imagine. Consider for example: “He jumped forward” with “He jumped forward with the force of an untamed lion”. One is more dynamic in the mind’s eye than the other. This kind of language doesn’t have to make everything big and bold, though it can be used to create much tamer images that are still vivid. Compare “She whispered” with “She whispered as softly as a lullaby”.
6. Mess around with SOUND. Whilst a lot of poets use ALLITERATION and ONOMATOPOEIA in their work, fiction writers tend to forget about how successful a bit of soundplay can be for making an impact. Alliteration involves using words that start with the same letter consecutively, for example: “slithering snake” or “burly Brummie”. Onomatopoeia is the use of words that mimic real world sounds, such as ‘crash’, ‘slurp’, ‘buzz’ ‘vroom’ and ‘eek’ to add an extra dimension to description.
7. DON’T OVERDO IT. Too many of these techniques all in the same sentence will definitely lead to an unreadable disaster, so distribute them evenly in your work and follow these words of caution:
a. If you want to make a serious impact with a very, very important fact, do it in a simple, short sentence. Description is fabulous for building up the tension of say, someone who is about to jump off a cliff, but when you get to the actual ‘jumping’ part, don’t let that pivotal action get lost in too much language.
b. Read your work aloud to check for dangerously long sentences. If there’s so much description that you can’t make it to the end of a sentence without gasping for air, break it up with some serious punctuation. If it’s too long for you to read it out loud properly, it will be too long for your readers too.
c. Don’t fall into the repetition trap. Just because you like the adverb ‘salaciously’ doesn’t mean you should use it on every page of your story. Remember to vary the words you’re using and avoid repetition so your writing doesn’t start to bore your reader.