Words are our most inexhaustible source of communication.
They are central to our everyday lives; they help to connect cultures, bridge the gap between communities, and express our feelings to loved ones. However, regardless of what you are writing, to whom you are writing, or for what purpose you are writing, there are some fundamental tips which people could do with understanding.
To avoid a piece written full of clichés and tiresome, repetitive phrases, you will need to think about what you are writing – if you love the art of language, then you will craft your words just as well.
1. Be Descriptive
A common mistake, especially with young writers, is to use the same, weak words to describe something. Rather than using “really excited” (avoid using “really” to emphasize an emotion), you could use “ecstatic” or “elated”. Nowadays a simple online search will provide you with a range of possible alternatives for simple, overused words, so there is really no excuse to retire into the same old lazy habitual writing style.
2. Large and small sentences
When children are first taught about creative writing, they are told that sentences of one or two words are absolutely fine to use. Most go on to overuse them (teachers never seem to explain that the use of one-word sentences should be limited to once or twice in a piece, and therefore every other sentence is “nearly.” or “almost.”), but that does not mean that they are useless. When you wish to build excitement, use short sentences – they will quicken the pace of the reader dramatically, to build up your climax. Similarly longer sentences, with multiple clauses, will slow down the reading pace; a skill which, employed correctly, can be just as effective as short sentences.
3. Don’t always describe
This tip may seem counterintuitive, but it’s extremely important for an effective piece of writing. Try not to describe how a character is feeling all of time – rather than writing about how a character was emotional, describe their characteristics as “buzzing as she walked” or something similar, to let the reader discern for themselves how the character may be feeling. Being handed every description on a plate isn’t enjoyable; people like to think about what they are reading, and this is a good way to ensure they are thinking.
4. Use all 5 senses
It can be very tempting as a writer to focus solely on what characters can see or hear, as that is what we are most alert to in our everyday lives. However you shouldn’t ignore the other senses: can a character smell something in the air? Can they feel a change in temperature? Does a food have a specific taste? Using all of the senses is a good way to vary your writing, showing the reader that you have put thought and effort into constructing a scene for them.
5. Choose your words carefully
Make sure you don’t repeat words in a sentence which are unneeded. Rather than writing how a character was “ecstatic and elated with joy”, removed ecstatic – if a word does not add anything to the sentences, there is no need for it.
6. Be careful what you are describing
It’s a rule of life: too much description bores us. As readers, we are most interested in the action of a scene, rather than the scene being described to us. If you are using more than two or three sentences to describe a setting, then you are either purposefully being clever, or you are simply being a bad writer. We do not need to know every specific detail about the color of every object in the room – as human beings, we know what sort of color roof tiles are, so describing them will simply bore your reader.
7. Clichés are the plague
Originality is extremely important when writing, so try to avoid clichés the best you can. As a reader, the last thing we should be able to do is finish your sentence after having read the first three words; if we can, you have been a lazy writer. Put some effort into your writing, and you will thank yourself for it later.
If you find yourself using some of the following, turn back and re-write:
- In the nick of time
- Fit as a fiddle
- Brave as a lion
- Scared out of his wits
- Every cloud has a silver lining
8. Strong verbs
You should try to replace weak verbs with stronger, more interesting verbs which do a better job at describing an action. Does your character simply sit on the couch, or does he lounge against it?
9. Have you told us that?
A mistake which is made by passionate writers is that they forget that readers do not have the privilege of being part of their mind, and therefore need to be told minor details. There is nothing more frustrating than having to fill the holes in the narrative yourself, simply because the author of a book has forgotten to mention something pivotal to the scene. If you haven’t told us about your character’s car, don’t assume that we know he can already drive. If you haven’t given an indication that a character is in a relationship, don’t make us work out that the new character is clearly their girlfriend.
10. Relate your completion to the beginning
Try to adopt a circular way of writing. If you can touch on the beginning of your piece as you complete your piece of writing, your readers will feel satisfied.
When employing these tips, it’s a good idea to write a whole piece and then go through and edit your first draft. Focusing on the quality of your writing the first time you write a piece is not a good idea, as you will spend more time on how you are writing rather than what you are writing.
Meghan is a writer for Scholar Advisor, an educational portal. There you can find a lot of education tips, essay examples and writing guides.