Want another simple step to improve your writing? On your mark, get set ...
Keep your writing moving.
From the racetrack to the digestive system, movement is good. When you write, you want to keep your writing moving to keep your reader engaged.
One of the best ways to keep your writing moving is to use more active sentences than passive sentences.
What is an active sentence and what is a passive sentence? Examples are better than definitions.
Here is an active sentence:
Antonio gripped the steering wheel as he screeched around the corner.
And here is a passive sentence:
The steering wheel was gripped by Antonio as he screeched around the corner.
This sentence's subject is Antonio. The active sentence encourages the reader to focus on the subject, Antonio, while the passive sentence diverts focus to the steering wheel.
In the active sentence, Antonio is doing something, which keeps the story moving. This will be more apparent with several active sentences in a row.
While passive sentences are sometimes necessary, using a lot of them can make your writing sluggish and cause your reader to lose interest.
So, when should passive sentences be used? (Did you notice that this question is a passive sentence?) Stay tuned for our next blog!
Keep the focus on the subject and keep your writing moving with active sentences!
Here's another simple step to improve as a writer--to sparklefy your writing ...
Block your bickering brains.
When you write, you have two "brains" available: your creative brain and your technical brain.
All your creative brain wants to do is come up with good stuff to say. And all your technical brain wants to do is tell your creative brain how to say it.
Your creative brain might come up with something like this:
"She sits the on kouch. She is snozing. She is 54 years old."
Your creative brain may have given you the makings of a great story here.
But your technical brain says, "Wait a minute. I can see several ways you can tell this story in a much more engaging way. First, since I'm your other brain, I know you're talking about your cat. You will want to communicate that in some way to your reader. Second, you misspelled two words that will distract the reader from the story. Third, you need to swap the words "the" and "on." Fourth, you should vary your sentence structure so your story will flow better. And fifth, you should check your facts; cats don't live until age 54."
Both brains are important!
You could listen to both brains while you write, coming up with the building blocks of the story and arranging them as you go. I used to write this way, and what I found was that I listened to my technical brain so much that I lost track of what I wanted to say! I also slowed way down, sometimes not even finishing, because I got so bogged down with the technical aspects.
As an editor, I use my technical brain almost constantly, letting my creative brain snooze on the couch most of the day. But as I have been writing my own book of late, I find using one brain at a time to be much more effective. I write the first draft quickly, not worrying about spelling, syntax (word arrangement), and verifying facts. I just write, write, write, getting all that creative wonder down. Then I do all the technical stuff on the second draft.
Block your brains from bickering, actually finish your manuscript, and enjoy the writing process more by listening to one brain at a time!
Pursuing my passion of editing books for over ten years now, I've helped authors take simple steps to drastically improve their writing. In this series, I will share some of these steps that you can use today ...
Think of your pen (or keyboard) as a paintbrush.
When writing a story, think of your pen (or keyboard) as a paintbrush. You're not writing a newspaper article; you are painting a picture.
I've seen even the best authors slip into the rut of newspaper reporting:
"The approaching footsteps in the dark made Sarah feel scared."
The author could improve this sentence:
"The approaching footsteps in the dark terrified Sarah."
Although "terrified" is a more descriptive word than "scared," the author could still improve this sentence:
"In the darkness, Sarah's neck tightened at the sound of shuffling footsteps. Her thumping heart seemed to shake her entire body."
The word "scared" or even "terrified" are not used, but the reader gets a much more powerful sense of what is happening. Although this sentence is just an example I pulled out of the air, it just drew me into the story! I really want to know what happened to poor Sarah!
One way to paint a scene is to put yourself in the action. If you were Sarah sitting in the dark and hearing footsteps, what would be happening to your body? Would your skin feel cold? Would your eyes be wide? Would you shiver? Asking myself these questions helped me come up with the above sentence.
In your story, don't tell your reader what's happening. Show your reader what's happening by painting every scene. Draw your reader into your story by using your pen or keyboard as a paintbrush.
No one had ever been cured from the dreaded disease. Those whose bodies were gashed by the merciless, unstoppable talons of leprosy watched as parts of their fingers and toes began to fall off. Their pastor told them they were going to hell. Their doctor told them they would never be well. Every day they reluctantly danced a dismal dance of defeat.
"There was one, however, in whose heart faith began to spring up" (The Desire of Ages, 262.4).
How did pride spring up in the heart of Lucifer flying at the height of perfection? And how did faith spring up in the heart of this man drowning in the depths of hopelessness?
Focus. Lucifer began focusing on himself. This man began focusing on Jesus.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. In fact, a word is worth a thousand pictures.
Think of the power that one word carries. The jurors return to their seats after hours of deliberation. Every face in the courtroom turns expectantly toward the head juror as she relays the verdict: Guilty. The boyfriend whose heart has stopped beating, whose eyes have stopped blinking, and whose world has stopped turning, awaits her response to his proposal. Angels seem to carry the word to his ears: Yes. One word can also carry the power of frustration. Remember when you were a student? You poured your blood, sweat, and tears into that all-important paper, speech, or project. In your mind, your GPA, your graduation, your future job, spouse, kids, dog, neighbors--your entire life--rested on your professor's evaluation. You swallow hard as you stare at him, a drop of drool forming on the lower lip of your gaping mouth. You don't care. You can clean it up later. After what seemed like a millennium, he finally spoke. "Interesting." The drool drops as your lips curl into a horrified internal What??? What does that even mean?
Which brings me to my point. I must admit that whenever I hear someone say, "It's just semantics," a drop of drool is flung from my lips that have curled into the hideous shape of nauseous indignation. Just semantics? Does society even know what semantics is? I fume inwardly. Semantics is a fancy word for meaning. The importance of semantics is proclaimed from the rooftops by your frustration with your professor's response of "Interesting." Likely no single word carries such a multitude of conflicting meanings as the word "interesting," which is conclusive evidence that semantics is far from inconsequential minutiae.
Is a picture worth a thousand words or a word worth a thousand pictures? A drop of drool is forming as I await your opinion ...
Let's say you were in a car accident and your car needs both body and engine work. Would you be satisfied with the repair shop slapping some polish on the crumpled fenders and hood? Sure, you may have a shiny car, but the body is still crumpled and the engine is still knocking!
When people ask me to edit their book manuscript, I suspect all they expect me to do is slap some polish on the crumpled fenders and hood. In other words, they want me to proofread their manuscript--while the body is still crumpled and the engine is still knocking!
Body work is hard work. I took an auto body class in college and with wide eyes discovered all the work that goes into it! There's the hard work of straightening the frame, then applying filler, then sanding with a coarse grit, then sanding again, then applying more filler, then sanding with a finer grit, then sanding again and again and again, then applying primer, then applying paint, then applying sealer ... whew! And then the car goes to the mechanic to repair the engine.
But when the car is done, you have a stunning vehicle that not only looks great but drives like a dream as it carries you to your destination.
Editing is far more than polishing a manuscript. It is the hard work of straightening the frame, filling in gaps, sanding down rough places, then sanding again and again, fixing inconsistencies, replacing weak words with stronger words, all while keeping the author's voice. Editing is body work, engine work, and polishing work!
And when the editing is done, you have a stunning manuscript that not only looks great but drives like a dream as it carries you to your literary destination.