mental health, book reviews, medical, writer, writing tips, author, author interviews
3 Tips For Stronger Writing
If I had a dollar for every post I’ve read about writing. . . but with inflation the way it is, I’m not sure it would make much of a difference. If you look around, especially on places like Pinterest, you’re going to find quite a bit of good information as well as conflicting information. Here are the best tips I’ve seen and the concepts behind them.
Use Active Verbs Rather Than Passive Verbs
For all of those people who did not find English as their favorite subjects, here’s what this means:
A verb is anything that causes action in the sentence. For example: The cat ran. In this sentence, the verb would be ran.
There are other little words that can help describe an action that was done to the subject. Am, is, are, was, were, are examples of these helping verbs. Example sentence: Katie was pushed by Eric. Was pushed is the verb phrase.
However, the example sentence can be reworded and written like this: Eric pushed Katie. The meaning is retained, but the helping verb is removed. Instead of something happening to the subject, the subject is doing something. This is what it means when someone says to use more active verbs rather than passive verbs. Now the sentence is stronger or has more of a punch.
For an even better punch, use precise verbs.
"Eric slammed Katie up against the wall."
"Eric jammed his shoulder against Katie's."
"Eric barreled right into Katie."
Each statement has a slightly different meaning and tells a lot more about the interaction taking place. #1 is clearly intentional, #2 could be rudeness or taunting depending on the surrounding test, #3 could be accidental. All could be summed up by pushing, but a lot is lost without a more precise verb.
Show, Don't Tell
This is one of the harder tips to explain, but it is important.
Which of the examples below gives you a better picture of the personalities of my characters?
"Katie was angry at Jared because he kept interrupting her."
Or . .
"Katie gritted her teeth as Jared cut in for the fifth time during her explanation."
I didn’t have to tell you Katie was anger, because most readers know that emotion that Katie is experiencing as described by her body language.
Other examples of showing and not telling:
Katie falls in love: When Jared entered the room, Katie’s breath fled. As he smiled, she kept staring at his soft lips, remembering their first kiss.
Katie is scared: The hairs on the back of Katie’s neck rose as Midas entered the room.
Katie is embarrassed: Warmth flooded her cheeks as the shattered dishes scattered across the floor.
You get the point. See how much richer the narrative is now that the body language has been described rather than the emotions told?
This can be done in scenes as well. Instead of telling us the inn was rundown, tell about the leaking roof, the curling wallpaper, the spiderwebs and drafts. This is the description of a rundown inn and that's what your readers will surmise without having to be told this directly.
Don't Head Hop
This is another one of those complicated things to explain. At first, I was skeptical about altering my manuscript in this way, but after fixing one chapter, it was clear that this was the way to go.
Point of view (POV) is a term describing whose perspective the narrative is told from. If you haven’t guessed, Katie is my POV character. There are several types of POV:
1st person: Think Katniss in the Hunger Games. Everything is told from the perspective of Katniss. “I did this. . . I saw this. . .”
1st person peripheral: Think Red in the Shawshank Redemption. Andy Dufresne is the main character, but the story is told from the perspective of Red. “When I saw Andy for the first time. . .”
2nd person: Usual used for instructional writing. “First you pop the hood, then you find the whatever greasy mechanical thing we are talking about. . .” (Not a car person).
3rd person: This is your narrator. There are 3 types of 3rd person (if this wasn’t confusing enough)
Omniscient: Think Death in the Book Thief. This is an almost god-like narrator who knows what everyone is thinking, and what everyone is doing at the same time.
Limited: Most stories I’ve read are in either this category or the next. Think Shutter Island. You are in the head of DiCaprio’s character. This can be fun, because you can have a lot of twists added. Your POV character might not be privy to a lot of the things that are taking place around them, or they might not be an accurate narrator. Then at the end, everything is revealed.
Multiple: Think. . . well . . . a lot of books. I’m going to go with the Count of Monte Cristo.
Here, Edmond Dantes is not present for every scene that takes place in the story, so he can’t be the POV for every scene.
1st person and 3rd person limited are very tight forms of narrative with strict rules. If your character does not know it, your narrator does not know it either. This is where head hopping comes in.
You’re bee-bopping along in Katie’s head, when suddenly, your author states that Jared looked over at Midas, and anger boiled within him. EEEK! Stop right there. You are in Katie’s head, and unless she can read minds, she doesn’t have insight into Jared’s personal feelings. Now, you can have her notice things about her friend--maybe his hands clutch the rail in front of him until his knuckles turn white. Maybe a sneer crosses his face, but you can’t be privy to his personal thoughts. This is head hopping.
But I want my reader to know different perspectives. . .
You can have multiple perspectives, but it’s not 3rd person limited. A single POV will make your narrative stronger. If you must have multiple POVs (like in the Count of Monte Cristo), I would recommend that you change your POV in the next chapter or after a clear scene break.
I would also recommend that when you change your POV, that you give each character their unique voice. One of my critiquers recommended that I have Katie state how many bunk beds were in one room. Here’s the problem though: Katie wouldn’t think to count them. But do you know who would? Jared, my other POV. So, if I’m writing from Jared’s perspective, I will have him notice certain things that Katie wouldn’t and vice versa.
RW Hague is a registered nurse with over eight years of experience within the medical field. Using her medical expertise, she writes stories that are gritty and compelling.