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Develop A Terrific Writing Style In Five Steps
Who Is Your Favorite Writer?
You can answer that question in the comment section or not, but let me ask you a follow-up question: why is that person your favorite writer? What is it about their writing style that ranks them at the top of your list? Is it their voice? Their word usage? Their ability to paint a scene or set a mood? Or is it that all-encompassing tool called ‘writing style’?
We all have one you know. We all have our unique writing style. That does not mean, of course, that we all have a good writing style; it just means that the way we write is distinctly us. It is our signature as a writer.
Now, wouldn’t it be nice if our signature was memorable in a good way? Hopefully, the tips I have to give you will help you to develop a writing style that will leave your readers gasping for breath and checking their heart rate.
Shall we begin?
SAY GOODBYE TO CLICHES
Cliches are clichés because everyone says them. Is that the kind of writer you want to be, blithely following the crowd to the tranquil Sea of Mediocrity? Of course not! So quit using phrases like “hungry as a horse” or “cute as a button.” First of all, if someone you know is as hungry as a horse they really need to visit a weight loss clinic and secondly, buttons aren’t too damn cute.
Quite frankly, clichés are the mark of a lazy writer, and if you are trying to impress an editor or publisher or even your spouse, showing them signs of laziness is probably not your best decision.
Toss out the clichés and for an alternative, make your own. Craft an original phrase and you will be saying something about your creativity and your work ethic, both of which look good on your resume as a writer.
Instead of “hungry as a horse” try “hungry as my Aunt Martha on Jenny Craig.” Oops, you can’t use that now because I just coined it….well, make up your own and let others copy you.
Let me preface this section by saying I love metaphors. I am always dazzled by a clever reference to some other place and time that perfectly reflects the point being made. However, I am not a fan of long-winded, over-complicated, intellectually stifling, anus-puckering metaphors. By the time I get done reading one of those I want to 1) shoot the writer and 2) vomit the toxicity from my brain.
Repeat after me: metaphors are wonderful; heavily-laden thesaurus-dependent metaphors are ugly.
Think of it this way: if your metaphor is so burdened with wordiness that it distracts from the story you are telling, you might have overstepped the whole purpose of the metaphor. Keep that in mind the next time you feel the need to pattern your next story after the style of a dead Russian writer.
Some thoughts on the writing process
Every writer should own this book
Let’s do a writing exercise right now. Go find an old article you wrote, and print it out. Now cross out every word that is not absolutely necessary to the meaning of the article. When you are done you can add a few words to make the English proper, and then you will have a slimmed-down, bare-bones article.
Writers have a nasty habit from time to time of having verbal diarrhea. Look it up and decide if that’s what you want to be.
I am a big fan of mysteries, and my favorite mystery writers have an almost anorexic style about them.
I’m currently working on a mystery, and this is my opening paragraph…..
“I take no pleasure in killing. Never have, despite my background. The simple fact of the matter is that some people deserve to be eliminated. The molesters, the pimps, the drug dealers and the serial killers, they all deserve death. They deal in death and death they shall receive, and I am the Fed Ex man more than willing to drop by with a little package for them.”
I can probably still cut out a few words from that, but I think it gives you an idea about the concept of less being more.
TOSS “HE SAID” TO THE CURB
This is one of my own personal peeves. When writing dialogue, it is not necessary to write “he said’ every single time someone in your book or story speaks. First of all, the mere fact that it is in quotation marks tells the reader that someone is speaking. Secondly, if you have done your job as a writer you do not need to tell us who is speaking in most instances.
For example, if only two people are in a scene, and they are having a conversation, is it really necessary to identify the speaker after every line of dialogue? Of course it isn’t, and yet I see this done time and time again. For the love of God, people, I’m smart enough to figure out who is speaking when there are only two people in the scene. Give me credit for that much intelligence, please!
The other point I want to make about this “he said” syndrome is that many writers will add an adverb along with it, as in “he said sadly.” Again, if you have done your job as a writer there is no need to tell us the character is sad. Duh! How about “he turned to leave with tears flowing down his face”…..so much better, don’t you think?
DEVELOP YOUR READER’S SENSES
Most people reading your article, story or book have five senses. You should be writing to those five senses and not to just one. You should desire to have the reader in the scene with you, fully experiencing it all and not just listening to you tell them about it.
Do your job well and the reader will taste the salt of the margarita, feel the soft texture of the lead character’s naked hip, hear the pain in the cry for justice, see the vibrant colors of the Mexican sunset and smell the coppery scent of blood as it pools beneath the gunshot victim. Don’t do your job well and the reader might as well be watching cartoons on the Disney Channel.
Were these suggestions helpful?
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So There You Go
Now I have one final exercise for you. First, answer what kind of writing style you want to have. Second, ask yourself if you have that style. Better yet, try that exercise with another person. Tell them what you aspire to be and then ask them if you achieved it. If the answer is no to the second question then you probably have some work to do.
Don’t let that discourage you. All writers have work to do, so you are hanging with a pretty cool crowd.
2013 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”