Let's face it: no one wants to eat a bland meal. Sure, plain rice will fill your stomach, but you'll feel ultimately unsatisfied once you're finished. Writing is no different. You don't want to fill the pages of a book with bland words and characters that the reader will be unsatisfied with, so why not add something zesty, spicy, and exciting instead? Here are just five tips on how to do just that.
1. Word Choice is EVERYTHING
It seems simple, right? Writers use words. That's what we do. However, there are weaker and stronger words for every situation and you can elevate your writing by choosing the right ones! It's like picking the right ingredients. If you're making cookies and add raisins, sure, that's fine, but what if you used chocolate chips instead?
His gaze was passionate, melting me to my core.
His gaze was scorching, incinerating everything in its path--including me.
Both of these examples are great, but depending on the situation and what mood you're trying to create, you may want to choose one over the other!
2. Sentence structure and syntax
Similar to word choice, the way you choose to word your sentences has a great impact. Just like you don't want to repeat the same words, you don't want to repeat the same types of sentences over and over again. A reader may not specifically pick up on this, but they'll definitely feel that something is off or worse: become bored.
Gripping his staff, the wizard stood his ground. Making sure he wasn't too close to the edge of the cliff, the wizard met the eyes of his foe. Blinking, he could not think of a time he was more scared.
Gripping his staff, the wizard stood his ground. He stepped backwards to make sure he wasn't too close to the cliff's edge before he met his foe's eyes. It was hard to think of a time he was more scared, and he tried to blink that feeling away.
A simplistic example, but do you see how much more interesting and exciting the second one is to read? We get more of a sense of the scene, the mood, and how the main character feels. In the first sequence, it's as if we're only bystanders while in the second we are put right into the action.
3. Believable reactions
Your characters are actors in a play, people in every day life, and heroes dropped into extraordinary, terrifying, and/or crazy situations. When they are faced with challenges, you want the reader to root for them and when they experience victory you want the reader to be just as excited. One way to do this is to give them believable reactions to the things happening to them.
"You're a fairy princess, Margaret," the old woman said.
"Wow." Margaret was floored.
"You're a fairy princess, Margaret," the old woman said.
Margaret was floored. Fairies didn't exist--not in the real world--and this stranger was telling her that she not only was one, but a princess? She would have laughed if she wasn't so freaked out. Margaret wanted to question the old woman, but all she could manage was a weak, "Wow."
It's a bit longer, but we care more about what Margaret is going through now that we can feel what she is feeling and see how she reacts internally in contrast to what she says.
4. Ruthlessly deleting what you don't need
Once again, it seems so simple, doesn't it? Writers use words to create worlds, so we don't want those worlds bogged down with too many unnecessary ones. However, when you get into the revision and editing trenches, it can become more difficult to decide which words you need and which ones are dragging you down.
There are a few questions you can ask yourself when you're going on a deleting spree:
1. Does this move the plot forward?
Ask yourself: Does this description add to what we know about the story/character? Will this come into play later? Why is this important and why does the reader need to know this?
2. Is there a simpler way of wording this?
A good rule of thumb is to look for words like "that" (she read so that she could learn v.s. She read so she could learn) and passive voice (She had read v.s. she read). These are tiny things that add up and when you've deleted them, your work becomes stronger because it's more to the point!
3. What am I trying to say here?
Go sentence by sentence and read it out loud. Does it make sense? Does it convey all you're trying to convey? Is there a better way? Can you do better or is it perfect the way it is? You'd be surprised how much you get rid of this way!
5. Get into Character
Most of the time, your characters are what drive your story. They are the lens through which everything is filtered, so it's imperative you get into their head(s) and experience things the way they would. This helps you with a lot of the other tips such as giving them believable reactions, determining the best word choice, and what things you can get rid of.
In my opinion, knowing your characters is the first step to great writing. How can they tell the story authentically if you're telling it for them and not with them?
A good way to get to know your characters is by creating a simple outline. Basically, this asks specific questions about your character and helps you figure out who they are. You can create your own or there are literally TONS online. Two of my favorites are THIS ONE and THIS ONE.
Who is your character? Where do they come from? What kind of past do they have? Even if you don't use all of the details you find, each answered questions brings you closer to knowing who you're working with so you can better tell their story!
There we have it: 5 tips that make your stale bread into toast, your soup into bisque, and your oatmeal cookies into chocolate chip perfection. Do you use any of these methods? I'd love to hear your thoughts!
Until next week,