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Bob Nailor

5 Easy Steps to Improve Your Writing

I was told anyone can write a book. I suppose that is true. With today's technology, anyone can publish a book, too. Whoop-de-doo!


Is it a good book?

Today's writer has so much technology at his fingertips, writing is no longer the drudgery of sitting in a corner, curled up with a Remington or Olivetti manual typewriter with reams and reams of paper. A writer spent hours struggling over the correct words and their arrangement within the sentence before locking them to paper on the first pass. Corrections were made through a fancy typewriter eraser with the little whisk on the opposite end — then came the magic of correction paper which was followed with correction fluid. Mistakes were easily fixed and now, with computers, a quick highlight and delete is all that is needed to correct a document.

Still, with all the technology, there is no guarantee that the book is going to be a bestseller or even read by more than ten people. Here are some suggestions of how to improve your chances of a better read…

1. Punctuation

Learn the proper use of those funny characters we use to assemble the letters of the alphabet. Yes, learn how to use a comma, period, semi-colon, apostrophe, single and double quotes, question marks and exclamation points. Even when your character screams or shouts, it only takes ONE exclamation mark!

Today's incredibly intelligent software has made us somewhat reliant upon them for the correct usage. The problem is simple. They know 100% of the rules but not how to intellectually apply them. They can guess 80% of the time and be correct, with the other 20% of the time throwing you to the proverbial wolves. Many readers rely on punctuation for clarity and without proper usage, the meanings can be dubious or muddled, at best.

2. Adjectives and Adverbs

Snappy adjectives and cleverly written adverbs can lessen your writing skill.

The rolling, blackened silver-lined clouds filled the sky.

Limit your adjectives! A simpler and more dramatic way to write this would be:

The darkened clouds rolled in the sky above.

By eliminating the excess adjectives and using one to become the verb, has made the sentence stronger. Yes, as you become more well-known in the publishing world, such as J. K. Rowling or Stephen King — then you can break the rules and use as many adjectives as your heart desires.

Adverbs are a simplistic way of cheating in your writing.

She smiled happily.

A simple sentence but we've cheated by using "happily" which tells rather than shows. That is the major problem with many of the adverbs - they tell, they don't show.

She jumped up and down, clapping her hands and smiled.

Notice that we've shown our character is reacting "happily" and in doing so, actually gotten more more into the tale.

3. Use The Senses

As detailed in the last tip, you must learn to show rather than tell. Use the senses: taste, sight, sound, touch and smell. Don't say —

The desert sun beat down on his head and body.

Instead, using the senses, give us more detail. Show.

The dry desert breeze brushed against his skin, making him cringe in pain from the sunburn. His throat was parched, he needed water. Sweat dribbled down his face, the salt burning his cracked lips. The sun was unforgiving.

By using the senses, you've shown us the situation and made us a part of the tale, rather than being a news caster giving us an update.

4. Dialog

Use dialog. Use it a lot. Exposition is fine but most readers enjoy dialog. For them, it allows them to be or see into the character. A huge paragraph of information is basically just a data dump and usually extremely boring. If at all possible, take that exposition and make it dialog, relaying the information in that manner.

Jackson glanced over the cliff. He realized the only way down was rappelling. He wasn't sure if Elaine, Anna and Bill would be game. Jackson did know Bill had a rope and with luck they could use a ledge as a stopping point. He threw the rope over the edge and started down, knowing the others would follow.

Yes, this is interesting but…

Jackson glanced over the cliff. "Only one way down," he offered. "We're going to have to rappel."
"I've never done that," Elaine said. She stepped back from ledge.
Anna leaned over to gaze down into the valley below. "It's a long way." She looked at Jackson. "Is your rope long enough?"
"I've got a rope, too," Bill said. "We can hope to find a small ledge part way down."
"I'll go first. Bill, you help Elaine and Anna down, then you come down. We'll use your rope for the next segment." He frowned. "If we need, we'll jump or climb the last section." He scurried over the edge and disappeared.

Notice how the conversation explained what they were going to do and kept the reader involved. Hopefully it was more exciting than the first paragraph example.

5. Useless Words

I have repeatedly stated there are many words which are "fluff" words that increase word count but lessen the tightness of the writing. In addition to those I've mentioned before, you may add the following: really, very, quickly, so, well, suddenly, just, quite, rather,as and as of. You will immediately notice your writing is tighter, stronger and much better by eliminating many of these words from your work. Of course, make sure you also read my writing tip about That·As·Ing·Ly.

  Click to add a comment - say something!


Scott Bury
Excellent points as always, Bob. I especially like the admonishment that adverbs are "cheats."
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Diane Rapp
Giving examples of mediocre versus vivid writing is enlightening and helps solidify what writers should strive to achieve. Thanks again for insight.
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Lisa Jey Davis
Sigh... I'm afraid there are thousands who will never see this blog post, and hundreds still who (over the years) will not listen to this advice, as good as it is. But then again, those poorly written books are what differentiate the talented (or diligent, or both) from the lazy or hacker writers! Right? Great post Bob!
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