Wednesday, 3 July 2013

CRAFT: Sharpening your writing

I used Grammarly to grammar check this post, because even the best pair of eyes can miss something. And mine are not that great!

The other day I was cleaning out my files in preparation for the dreaded tax filing and I found a pile of writing magazines I hadn't remembered I had.  One article jumped out at me immediately so I sat myself down and had a good look through it.

It spoke about 25 ways you can sharpen your writing (The Writer, November 2010), and it was written by Ronald Kovach, who is an editor with The Writer Magazine.

I have to say it was an incredibly insightful article and I intend to keep it close when I'm editing and revising all of my manuscripts.  He was talking about writing articles for publication, but I think these rules work equally as well for fiction writing. Here's the short version:

First and foremost Kovach says it's important to "send good signals" to your readers. He says you must present a piece of work that is interesting and well organised, but the most important thing is to think of the readers first. It sounds simple doesn't it? But apparently many writers write with agents, editors and publishers in mind, and forget about the reader. Perish the thought! So if you follow his guide, you'll more likely end up with a better story to  hold your audience.

1. Be inviting. By this he says you need to invite your readers in by presenting an engaging beginning.
2. Don't give too many details in the opening paragraph.
3. Don't overdo the back story.   Weave it in gradually.
4. Try to craft an opening sentence that "engages the reader's sense of drama".
5.  Don't go off on tangents...make the opening smooth.
6. Be clear. Make your sentences simple and graceful.
7. Are you assuming too much of your readers? Make sure you set up events and people so that readers can put them into context.
8. Provide specific  examples to bring out points.  (In fiction, this could be the use of metaphor or simile)
9. Avoid run-on sentences. 
10. Explain by showing - description, the five senses, the emotions. Not telling by giving every minute detail.
11. Add energy to your sentences. Use strong verbs.  Do a final check of your MS looking at your verbs before you press send.
12. Avoid the use of passives. Yes, we all know this one!
13. Think about the order that you place your words. Kovach's says "Beginning a paragraph with the substance of what someone says, or the start of a quotation, can add energy and impact to a sentence."
14. End your sentences and/or your paragraphs with a pop!
15. Short sentences can help rhythm as long as you don't overuse them
16. Look out for repetition or too much elaboration. Frankly - it's boring.
17. The word "and" signifies multiple examples. Can you lose a few?
18. Is the phrase in "parentheses" needed?
19. Beware the temptation of info dump.
20. Have you put too much information in? Written too much? Does the MS finish in the right place?
21. Avoid wordy phrases and clutter - and redundant words. Lost the fat.
22. Watch for phrases that don't add meaning to the sentences.
23. Use positive language.
24. Proof read. Proof read. Proof read. Check all your spelling and facts. Slow down and READ EVERY WORD.
25. If you've cut all the words you think you can, but need to cut more, try cutting the conclusion/ending. It can often work without seeming too abrupt.

I just have.

Now you might have noticed my opening line. Because I have put it there, the lovely people from Grammarly have given me a gift card ($15 Amazon) and I'm going to pay it forward.

Leave your best tip for sharpening your writing or revising your manuscript and I'll choose one to award the prize to you!


Elizabeth Ellen Carter said...

Oh my, that list is very comprehensive.

I'm not sure what I have to add.

My advice is to go back to the beginning each time you advance the plot to make sure that you're not contradicting anything you've written previously or to decide whether you need to drop a hint about the future revelation earlier in the story.

Natasha D said...

I find that reading out loud what I have written shows up faults and defects quicker and more easily that simply scoping out the words on my computer. Punctuation pauses and sentence length errors are evident with the spoken word whereas when reading off the screen my eyes and mind will often skip over the errors - my eyes see what my mind thinks it wrote.

Layne Macadam said...

I find sentences that start with words ending in ing slows the pacing, and if it happens a lot throughout the story (like one book I've just read) it can become very annoying for the reader even if the story is good. Rewording tightens the story.

Kelly Ethan said...

I hate editing. HATE IT. So my best loved never give it up is a program called PRO WRITING AID. It assesses my writing, highlights my passive voice, repetitions, over describing, purple prose, pacing, timing, tags...Everything under the sun it picks up and highlights it for me...Think of it as editing for dummies. Best program for editing that I can suggest eva ;)

Cynnara said...

One of the things I do when I write is to go back the next day and reread the last 10-15 pages of what I wrote before. I'll catch passive verbs. Also, I do a search for passive verbs, highlighting them. If you do that, you can choose something more action oriented, which often tightens that writing, giving you a better punch!

Dionne said...

I'm an editor and all the comments in the article are great ones! One I can add is use evocative words that suit the scene you are setting. One strong evocative word can make all the difference to the power of your writing. For instance, if you're writing a scene where someone is angrily pointing a finger at someone, you wouldn't say, "He pointed his finger at her," you would be better using something like 'jabbed' or 'stabbed.' Think about the mood you're trying to convey and choose the right words.

Joanna Lloyd said...

Loved the list Maggie and the "and" hint jumped out at me. I will use that one! I look at the places in my book where I want an emotive reaction from the reader. I read it out loud and then close my eyes and if I don't feel the emotions then I can conclude the reader won't. This, to me, is one of the most important elements.

obsidiantears83 said...

I recommend reading the dialogue out loud to see if it sounds like something someone would actually say. Sometimes the rhythm is off even when it looks good on paper.

CC Coburn said...

Always start your story at a point of change - preferably for both your characters - it sets the conflict and ups the tension.

When reading your ms, check for too oft used words. ie. I use "just" too much! so I just do a "find" and delete about 90% of them :-)

Maggie Nash said...

Thank you everyone for your comments and great writing hints! With no further ado - using - the winner is....obsidiantears!


Heather said...

Late checking in on this, I know (I'm really NOT loving bloglovin'), but I think thiat issue of The Writer was one of the last I received before my sub ran out, and that was a good article. Definitely one worth passing on!