Monday, August 15, 2016

The Write Life: Tips & Tricks to Cleaner Writing

Do you ever find yourself reading over something you wrote - or maybe something somebody else wrote - and thinking, "Man, this just doesn't work." Sometimes, writers suffer from "over-writing," which is to say, telling the reader what's happening instead of showing them by using emotion. 

Funny story: when I was in high school, I prided myself in being non-emotional. I was tough, and I hated the word "emotion." It was like nails on a chalkboard to me. And yet I was actually working as a writer, channeling every last drop of emotion into my work. 

Let me be clear - I fought that. I didn't like being emotional, but the truth of the matter is simple, like it or not: Writers are harbingers of stories through the medium of written emotion. We are emotional creatures, and my overactive imagination and 500 mile-per-hour thought process has actually been my greatest asset in my career. 

To be a good writer, you have to be honest. To be a great writer, you have to be brutally honest. Not just to yourself, but to your readers. Here are some little tips and tricks that I have picked up over the years (and 13 national bestselling novels), and you might find them helpful to apply to your own writing. 

Don't Pretend to be Someone Else 
One of my biggest mistakes when I was first embarking on my writing career at the tender and oh-so-stubborn age of 13, was looking at writers that I loved, and thinking, "I want to be just like them." Emulation of someone else's style is simply a hollow regurgitation of their prose. Your prose is uniquely yours, so embrace it fully and completely. When I was about 14 or 15, it dawned on me that I had a voice that belonged to me, and me alone. From then on I looked at other writers' work as an educational experience only. I don't want to write like anyone else - I want to write like ME. 

Sadness MUST Mean Something 
I have often likened writing to acting in several respects, because in order to write something emotional, you must have a genuine emotional connection with it. I have written many scenes that were heartbreaking, scenes during which I was crying my eyes out because I was drawing on something emotional in my past. Why? Because if my emotion is going to be REAL, if has to COME FROM SOMETHING REAL. For example, when I write about the death of a protagonist's friend, I draw on my own experience with friends and family passing away. I make myself feel that all over again, and then I pour it into the book. And let me tell you, that's raw stuff. Sometimes, I'll be emotionally exhausted after writing just one chapter. So yeah, I suffer a little for my art. But it's totally worth it. 

Your Protagonist and Antagonist Should be FLAWED 
It's important that your main character not be superman. The best characters are the ones who are totally, utterly human - warts and all. If your protagonist is perfect, your readers will never identify with him or her, because I got news for ya: NOBODY is perfect. By extension, your villain needs a flaw or a weakness, too. It goes both ways. 

Don't Be Too Flowery 
I realize that not everybody agrees with me on this - and that's fine. My personal opinion and style leans toward one of action, movement and character development. I describe things quickly and cleanly, and then I move on. Books where whole pages are devoted to describing the dew on the grass are books that I end up speed-reading. Don't get me wrong, some books like that are gorgeous works of literature, but I find that if something is not moving the story along, the story is then in a state of stagnation (puns based on my own book titles, **obligatory laugh**), and therefore I believe that is a breach of the art of storytelling. 

The Sticky Love Triangle 
I gotta tell you: love triangles can go one of two ways. One, the girl ends up with a good guy who loves her. Two, she ends up with some idiot who she never loved in the first place so her original main man gets left in the dust. In my opinion, love triangles are fun for literature - they're complicated, they're flirty and they're entertaining. But sometimes they get taken a little too far, and the book becomes about the love triangle instead of the plot. Now, if you're writing a romance novel, this is TOTALLY FINE. But if you're not, don't let the love triangle get the best of you. Because it can, trust me. 

Watch Your Run-On Sentences 
I am currently reading a book (and it shall not be named), that is a actually a fantastic story. It's post-apocalyptic, and I'm enjoying how fast the tale moves along. However, there is one little hitch: every sentence is a run-on sentence. In fact, I think I figured out that every sentence has enough words to fit about 5-7 sentences within it. That's a lot of run-on words. This was an artistic choice made by the author, who also chose to toss the usage of quotation marks out the window. Again, that's the author's choice, but my recommendation is that you stick to the clean style of writing and don't try to get weird about it - your readers will appreciate not being confused. 

Ask Yourself This Question 
Ask yourself: Why am I writing this story? Are you writing it because it's currently a popular genre? Are you writing it because you have dreams of becoming the 21st century F. Scott Fitzgerald (Oh, Gatsby!)? What is driving you, personally? Find out. Once you have the answer, you can channel that into your writing, too. Remember, writing is not just about telling a story. It's about going on an emotional journey, entertaining readers, and touching their hearts forever. 

1 comment:

  1. Great advice, Summer! I was trained as a journalist--to be objective and detached, not to show emotion in your articles--and that was difficult to overcome in my fiction. But I find that the more emotion I can pour into my heroine, Jazz and my cast of characters, the more readers can relate to the story.


Get fictional - it's fun! Thanks for stopping by, and I hope to see you again soon!