|The Sharpest Lives CDJ (sharpest_lives_) wrote,|
@ 2019-11-05 13:13:00
|Entry tags:||resources: writing, resources: writing: inspiration, resources: writing: writing tips, warnings: strong language, writer: reflection|
Ten Tips to Better Writing
Full disclaimer; I'm not the best writer in the world. I don't hold all the secrets, and I don't know everything. This idea has been stewing in my brain for a couple days and I wanted to write this to share the tips and tricks I know. I have been in the realm of creative writing since I was in grade school and I did a bang-up job in my English classes.
If you're reading this, you're most likely a roleplayer like me. Writing is a hobby for you, not a job. You do it for fun, because you like it. I care about what I write; I want my audience (you) to be engaged. I want my writing to be interesting and easy to follow.
I know some of us are our own worst critics and think we aren't good enough, or we hate the way we write and would do anything to get better at it. I wrote this article because I want to share what I know. These aren't rules to writing, these are simply suggestions that I hope will nudge you in the right direction, but my suggestions are backed with research and experience.
Let's get to it.
It's easier said than done, but "shitty first drafts" are better than no drafts at all. Just having the words on the page is the first step. First drafts are the foundation you build on. It doesn't have to be perfect. That's the point of shitty first drafts.
P R O O F R E A D AND S P E L L C H E C K . I cannot express how important this is. It's proper etiquette to make your work understandable or people can't respond to you, let alone read what you're trying to say.
Sorry to be blunt, but if you want to be perceived as a "literate" writer in the roleplay community, you must do these things.
I am a grown adult and I want to (at least) write with an adult that respects language and the art of writing, not a child or somebody that thinks they can skate by with text talk and call it "writing". It is almost 2020 and there are still people around that use "u" for "you" and call it "serious writing". That's just lazy.
As a roleplayer, I generally overlook some grammar and spelling errors, so long as the storytelling is good. Some of my favorite writing partners make a lot of mistakes but at the end of the day I don't care that much because their writing keeps me interested and they're excellent storytellers.
I'm not what you might call a "Grammar Nazi". I overlook things such as learning disorders and ESL (English as a Second Language). However, I do think it's important to read over your writing and correct mistakes and typos. I know I make some mistakes every now and then and sometimes I don't even notice them until after I've posted my piece. I read over my piece later and realize, "Oh crumbs! How did I not see this mistake?"
This is just my opinion, but there is something very juvenile to me about not proofreading your work and letting all the mistakes slide when you're in the process of putting out your final draft. A lot of people like to use the "we aren't in school and this is just a hobby" line, but that's a poor excuse to me.
True; we aren't in high school and this is just a hobby. However, I'm deep-seated in my belief that language is important and we should treat it with respect. For me, spelling and grammar has a key role in first impressions when I'm considering a new writing partner. If most of what you're saying is unintelligible or I can't make out the general idea of what you're trying to say, it's a turn-off. I like what I like, and I make no apologies for that.
If you want your writing to be better, using spell-check and proofreading for errors is a small second step, and it makes a world of difference.
Think of the authors you love. Think of the writers you admire, whether they're published or just a fellow writer like you. Why do you like them? Is it the words they use? Is it their voice? Do they have a certain amount of description that you like? Everybody has their own style of writing, but it is easy to be influenced by writers you admire. Even if it's not their style of writing, perhaps it's the message they convey that drew you to them.
I'm not the best at poetry, but one of my characters is a soldier in a fictional universe, where war is prevalent. There is a war poet named Wilfred Owen. He was a soldier in WWI and one of his most notable poems is Dulce et Decorum Est, which describes his harrowing experience with chemical warfare in graphic detail. He often wrote of the horrors of war, which is one of the main points Dulce et Decorum Est was trying to convey.
One of my favorite pieces to pull inspiration from when I'm writing is that poem. I'm a fan of several other authors as well, though a good number of them are in the "young adult fiction" category. Depending on what kind of setting or tone I'm writing in, I might draw inspiration from a couple authors I've read. With Wilfred, in relation to my character, I want to capture the same gritty realism of war that his writing gives, and reading over Dulce a few times helps me get into that mindset.
It's not imitation you want, it's inspiration.
This should go without saying but, research is key. If you're writing a character in a certain time period or a certain occupation and you want to give details that make them seem authentic, you need to know what you're talking about. Read articles, watch videos on YouTube, anything you can do to give yourself a leg up on the subject or context.
For example, diction and speech. An 18th Century aristocrat is not going to use modern vernacular from today. The speech of then is much more eloquent and proper than the speech we use, today. You might choose to watch period dramas to get a handle on how people spoke back then and try to imitate from them.
There's a little phrase. It's called KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid.
This article outlines some of Mark Twain's greatest lines in regards to writing, and they're great words to think on. However, the line that sticks out to me most is,Purple prose is a term for when a writer uses language so flowery it deducts from the meaning of your words, rather than strengthen it. People use a collection of extravagant, obscure words in an attempt to pass themselves off as articulate, but really it's just a bunch of distracting gibberish. Get to the point and if you need an example of what purple prose looks like, check out this article.Don't use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do.
Really. Just read.
Reading helps you learn, and learning new things makes you smarter not just as a writer, but as an individual.
Read fiction. Read non-fiction. Read informative articles from educational sites or sites aimed at writers. Read articles like mine. Read articles that aren't anything like mine. Get information from all areas of the spectrum, and form your own opinion about things. Everybody is going to say something different and it's okay if you disagree or bend the "rules" a little.
Take notes, ask yourself questions on the material, try to understand the characters' motives and why they do things. If you're interested in doing a deeper study of a novel, I have a post here for self-guided novel study that might help. It's the same novel study guidelines I had when I was in high school.
This is where your word use and thesaurus can come in. Don't overdo it, though! There's a difference between trying to find stronger words and writing purple prose. KISS.
People like detail.
I like subconscious thoughts and body language that show me a character is sad, just as much as I like them outright saying that they're sad. Have you ever been on the verge of tears reading something? Maybe it's fiction, but it still hits like it was real. Maybe it's non-fiction, but it's a topic that hits close to home.
Think of how you feel before you're about to cry in grief - your jaw clenches, your chest tightens, and your eyes sting with tears. You might shudder or make yourself look small. You might hide your face with your hand(s) and turn away.
Think of how your face contorts and your lips purse when you're annoyed or angry. Think of how you bite the inside of your lips when you're trying very hard to not laugh at something.
You might squint and your eyebrows might furrow if you're confused.
A lot of authors these days and professional writers will agree that adverbs ending in -ly can weaken your voice in writing. Here's an article on them you might find handy.
Though there is one sentence in there I'd like to make a note of - "A person is obviously cheerful when they smile". Clearly, you've never seen a person smiling when they're angry. I have, and it's terrifying.
Anyway, I'm going to give you a few sentences here.
HE RAN FAST - This sentence isn't bad. It's descriptive, but it's still kind of bland.
HE RAN QUICKLY - This is a little more flavorful, but there's better ways to say "ran quickly".
HE BOLTED - "Bolted" is a great way to say both of the above sentences, and still gives you a sense of urgency. Bolted is a confident, active verb. Bolted makes me think of a crossbow, and the bolts that are fired from them.
Alternatively, if you don't like the word 'bolted' you might look up another verb that would mean the same thing as 'ran quickly'. Perhaps sprinted or rushed?WHEN IT COMES TO -LY ADVERBS, this rule you can afford to break a little. With my writing, I've been trying to use less -ly adverbs in my action dialogue when characters are moving around and doing things. However, once dialogue begins, I tend to let the adverbs slide a little more, depending on my character's voice. You don't have to get rid of all your -ly adverbs, just use them sparingly and only use them if they feel necessary.
If you're going to use an adverb, especially one ending in -ly, ask yourself first if there is a more confident, active verb you can use that still gives the same effect you could achieve with an adverb.
Gary Provost (RIP) said it best. In fact, if you can, I'd look for this book either at your local library, or try to purchase it off Amazon/iTunes/Google Play/Kindle. Just... make whatever effort you can to read at least a little part of that book.
Honestly, this guy is kind of my hero now.This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety.This is why I write my work in storybook format. Unless I'm writing a formal essay, I don't believe in the "5-7 sentences per paragraph" rule. If I think a sentence is okay with just two words, or I think one singular sentence is plenty for a paragraph of its own, I start a new sentence or paragraph. Plain and simple.
Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony.
I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.
So write with a combination of short, medium, and long sentences. Create a sound that pleases the reader's ear. Don't just write words. Write music.
And when I say criticism, I mean constructive criticism. Constructive criticism is what helps you become a better writer. Learn to ask for help. Learn to accept the help. If you want tough love, you have to be prepared to accept the tough part of it, too.
If you take your writing to somebody and they say "this is absolute crap", not only is that rude, it doesn't help you!
Constructive criticism is when you acknowledge both the good and bad things of someone's writing. There is a way to criticize someone's work without being a total bell-end about it. Shine light on what they did well. Build them up and tell them they're doing great with a, b, and c, but tell them what they need to do to fix x, y, and z.
Tell them their writing is engaging. Tell them they have a strong voice. But perhaps point out that they used the wrong "your" in the second line of dialogue in that first paragraph. Tell them that third paragraph is a little unclear to you as a reader.
If my friends bring writing to me to be reviewed, I'm not going to hold back on them.
Half the reason you do writing is because it's fun. Break the rules (within reason), follow the rules, let your imagination run a little wild. Turn your shitty first drafts into an epic, gut-wrenching final draft. To quote a famous author friend of mine (Z Brewer), "use all the -ly adverbs you want and then go back and kill your darlings".
If you want to make your character the reincarnation of a god, do it.
If you want to give them the ability to shift their appearance at will, do it.
Literally, do whatever you want. If somebody doesn't vibe with you, it's okay. It's not the end of the world. There's literally thousands of other people that will.
This is just a little directory to some of the resources I use and why I like them. I might also have a reason for not liking them and I'll tell you why.
- Hemingway App – $ This app is 100% free to use, but it works best on desktop. It offers a desktop app license for flat rate of $19.95 that has some features you probably wouldn't use if you're just casually writing.
It helps you with adverbs, using active voice over passive voice, and also keeping your sentences easy to read. However, some of the longer sentences you might be able to read with no problem are marked as "difficult to read" by the program itself.
Acknowledge the red highlighting, but trust your instincts. Sometimes it's okay if a sentence babbles a bit.
- ProWritingAid – $$ I found this via an article reviewing Hemingway and I will say now it's much more comprehensive than Grammarly. Oh, and the purchasing price for a yearly membership is half what Grammarly offers. With that coupon from the article, a yearly membership is like 56 USD (normally 70 USD) versus the 140 USD you'd pay to Grammarly. That's a steal, if you ask me.
With the free PWA, you can only revise the first 500 words of your document. You could skate by without paying, just putting 500 word chunks of your work in to look over, honestly.
ProWritingAid also has some free blog articles to look over that will help strengthen your skills as a writer, so give them a look.
- Grammarly App – $$$$ Grammarly is a common spellcheck/grammar check program. I know a great number of you have heard of it. The basic capabilities will work well enough if you just want something to proofread your writing.
However, if you want to delve a little deeper, you may be limited because there are certain things you can only do with a Premium subscription which costs roughly 30 dollars a month if you get charged only monthly, versus purchasing an annual or quarterly membership.
- Grammarly Blog – More free blog articles and a grammar handbook to help you understand English grammar.
- Fake Name Generator – Are you struggling with a name for your OC? Do you want to give your character some body diversity? This generator doesn't just give you a name, it gives you a full fake identity. Favorite color, height, weight, even their blood type! Honestly, just check this out. It's cool.
- Behind The Name – I use this website when I'm trying to get the etymology of my character's name, or when I want a name in a certain ethnicity such as Japanese (Asian) or French (European). Or perhaps I want to write a character from the 1920s and would rather name her Gertrude or Phyllis, rather than Oakleigh or Kylee.
- Surnames: Behind The Name – Same website as above, basically, but this is more geared towards surnames. Maiden names, family names, things like that.
- Character Development: 100 Q+A – For fleshing out your RP characters, whether they're canon, original, or that fun space in between where they've been named but you know virtually nothing about them.
- Commonly Confused Words – I try to update this often as I remember to do so, but this may be a helpful tool to distinguish the difference between certain words I often see confused with their counterparts.
- Grammatical Faux Pas – Another piece I try to remember to update when I can. These are some mistakes I often see.