tagHow ToImprove Your Writing Technique

Improve Your Writing Technique

byMostdefinitely©

Author's Note: This's the second time I'm posting this article on Literotica. The first time it was up didn't go down so well. I kept getting attacked by anonymous trolls. Which I didn't handle in the manner I felt an adult should have. But I've decided to put it back up. Not because I wish to get under the skin of my critics, but for the reason I first put it up - to help other aspiring authors. If you can't respect that, please don't bother to read any further or post a comment. You will be ignored. And to those who plan to point out that not all the advice in here is original, please note; I never claimed it to be. Lastly, with exception to a typo, nothing's been changed from the first time this article was up.

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Introduction

After the first story I submitted to Literotica, I discovered my writing was terrible. This didn't deter me, though. I went online, opened a couple of books and learned how to improve my style of writing. There's tons of advice you can find out there on how to do this. I'm about to give you what I believe is the cream of the crop, which I've modified or altered by including my own opinion. Here are the seven main sections which will be covered:

  • Descriptive Writing
  • Tighten Your Prose
  • Writing Dialogue
  • Keep It Simple (Stupid!)
  • Know When to Conform
  • The Find Feature
  • Learn and Keep Learning


Before we start, I'd like to say I don't claim to be an expert in writing. I only wrote this piece for the Lit readers who like the adjusted way I write and are interested to know how I do my thing. I also read somewhere you should share what you know with other beginners, and this seemed to be a good way to do so. Now that I've gotten my excuses out the way, let's get started:

Descriptive Writing

When writing a scene, your main goal should be to make us - your readers - feel like we're actually there; watching it unfold before our very eyes - if you're writing in the third person. Or as if we can see it happening through the eyes of your main character - if you're writing in the first person.

This can be achieved by incorporating all five senses into your prose. Tell your readers what we can see, hear, feel, taste and smell. Simple enough, right? But when you do this, the important thing to remember is to be specific. Don't be lazy or vague and give us descriptions like this:

She smelt nice.

Paint us a more accurate and therefore memorable mental image. Rather say:

She smelt of her black raspberry and vanilla soap.

Sometimes, what I like to do is close my eyes and picture the scene in my head. Then I choose my favourite details and include them in my story. But, and this's important, don't overdo it by including too many details:

Many readers find a lot of details to be boring, because they slow down the read. They can cause a few of your readers to think you're compensating for a scrawny plot. And too many details are one ways to get your story labelled as "purpose prose." Which sounds nice, but it's not what you're aiming for. We'll deal with the other ways that'll earn you the tag later on.

Another thing, one or two well-placed details can tell your readers everything we need to know. For instance, if one of your characters sat on the couch, your readers will assume he/she was in the living room. Or if he watched a smart TV, then we know this story didn't take place in the early two-thousands. Or if she studied, we know she's a student. Or if it snowed outside, then it'd be strange for us to assume the story took place during summer.

Also, don't feel the need to go deep in describing all the locations and objects in your story, because now that we live in a global village everybody has a good idea of what most stuff looks like. Let your readers infer what you believe is unimportant. And if there's one specific place you definitely want to avoid giving too many details, especially trivial ones, it's at the beginning of your story. Most readers would prefer you just dive into your plot.

I know what one or two of you are thinking: You just told me to make my readers feel like they're there by giving them specific details and now you're telling me not to give them details!

I know, I know. It's a paradox. But I've seen stories where readers complained about a lack of description, and I've been criticized about overdoing it. I think the key is to find balance. Not too much and not too little - throughout your story. This isn't easy and takes a lot of reading and practice to master. I still struggle with it.

Figurative Language

This seems to be the most effective way of painting a strong mental image. Some authors say you should avoid using similes and metaphors, but I must say I disagree:

I see very little wrong with them. Some of the best authors use similes, metaphors, hyperboles and so on. Many famous sayings are based on figurative language, i.e. "Paint me a word picture." I enjoy coming across good pieces of them when I'm reading - I'm sure I'm not the only one. Plus, I've read it's okay in informal writing.

Coming up with new and effective figures of speech can be difficult, because it seems as if all the good ideas have been taken. But there's a cosmos of unused ideas that're just waiting to be written. You just need to follow a couple rules when you're trying to come up with them:

First, and most importantly, your new figures of speech need to make sense. When your readers read them, we have to know what you're going on about, which isn't that difficult. Just keep it simple. Don't force ones that don't work. Let them come to you while you're writing or rewriting. And they must have a point - even if it's a small one; so don't write them just to show off.

Secondly, they need to be appropriate in terms of the context in which they're being used. Comparing, let's say, the brown eyes of one of your characters to "poop" probably isn't the type of mental image you want to give your readers. I'll admit; that's an extreme example, but it makes my point.

Lastly, and this isn't mandatory, I think the best figures of speech are the ones that cause readers to do just a little thinking - like the punchline of a great joke. Like I said, this isn't as important as the first two rules. But I felt it's information you should know.

If ever you find yourself struggling to come up with new pieces of figurative language, here's a tip you can use: take old figures of speech in your story and change them to the point they become unrecognizable. Sticking to the guidelines I gave you, of course. For instance, I once used this metaphor: "The look of lust in her eyes was in HD." It originated from the - I found a little too cliché - simile: "...as clear as daylight".

Now that you're armed with this information, please don't go mad and invent new figures of speech left, right and centre. The problem about them is they're distracting and pull your readers out the story, whereas you'd rather have them focused on your plot. Well-known figures of speech don't have this problem. And - other than they're uninspiring - I don't think there's anything wrong with using cliché lines. Or should I say certain cliché lines? Similes in particular, i.e. avoid "like a jackhammer." Also, use them in moderation. I say keep all your best brand new figures of speech and get rid of your sloppy ones.

Show Don't Tell

This's a well-known rule in the creative writing community. If you're unfamiliar with it, here's what it means; instead of giving quick and bland descriptions of what's going on in a scene, what your characters are like, what they're doing, how they feel, and so on, rather give fine details that allow your readers to infer the information you want to convey. That's a fairly thorough breakdown, but if you're still confused, here's an example:

Mary was shocked.

This description is lazy. Here's how showing strengthens it:

Mary's eyes widened as she placed a hand over her mouth.

Again, don't go crazy and show absolutely everything in your story. If you do, it will become a ridiculously long and tedious read. Here's the rule I follow regarding the "Show Don't Tell" principle; if it's boring and/or unimportant, quickly tell it or get rid of it. And Elmore Leonard once said, "Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip."

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Tighten Your Prose

This's probably the most important part of writing, so find your pen and pad. When editing your work, there's a phrase you should be chanting in your head - eliminate redundancy! With exception to the use of repetition, you need to get rid of all the words, sentences and even paragraphs that tell your readers something they already know. This isn't as simple as it sounds, because there are a lot of subtle ways in which redundancy occurs:

Let's begin with adjectives; words that describe nouns and pronouns, for those who're hazy on what they learned in school. I know they can be useful. See? But a lot of the time they are not needed. Take a look at this example:

She walked into her walk-in closet and emerged with a warm coat.

Did you spot the words that need to be taken out? If you didn't, they're the words "walk-in" and "warm." We know it's a walk-in closet because she "walked into" it. And how many coats do you know that aren't warm? Here's a trickier example:

There was a full-moon in the partially clouded, dark sky.

The word that doesn't belong in this sentence is the word "dark." We know the sky is dark because I told you about the moon. I know it's possible to see the moon during the day, but the moon is normally associated with nighttime, so your readers will assume the sky is dark.

Now let's deal with adverbs; words that describe or modify verbs, adjectives and other adverbs. I know they can also be useful, like the word "partially" in the "...partially clouded, dark sky" example. The word "partially" can stay here, because it gives us a specific detail that paints a clearer metal image in an otherwise vague description. But adverbs are frequently unneeded. For example:

She glared.

Would not be different if it was written like this:

She glared angrily.

Or:

He shook his head.

Would not be improved like this:

He shook his head disapprovingly.

Get rid of all your unneeded adverbs and adjectives. Some readers find them to be distracting. And if you don't, you run the risk of getting your story labelled with the phrase "purple prose" again, just like including too many details in your story will do. But this time, you'll get the tag because your more critical readers will think you're trying to prettify your prose. There's one more way you can do this, but we'll get there.

Deciding which words can stay and which words must go can be tricky. But just ask yourself this: Does this word really need to be here?

Here's some extra advice that might help you, as well: When you're in the process of selecting your words, think of yourself as a lawyer, questioning a witness. Be methodical in the way you construct your sentences. Otherwise, your readers might object!

Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Another thing you need to be on the lookout for is clarification. Do not feel the need to explain everything in your story. Especially when you're writing for this site. All Lit readers are adults and should be treated as such. I know giving you an example right now contradicts what I'm saying, but I think exceptions can be made for this category. Remember the example in the "Show Don't Tell" subsection? It would've been ruined had it been written like this:

Mary's eyes widened as she placed a hand over her mouth - she was shocked.

I'm sure you can see why the "she was shocked" part is redundant and why it'll irritate a few of your readers.

Then there're words that don't tell us something we already know, but they are still unneeded. It's frightening how many there are. Here are a few to look out for: very, quite, really, much, often, rather, so, way, pretty, kind/sort of (adverbs in general, really), that, still, even, now, with that, of, had, could/would, just/only, because/as, started/began to or in combination with a word ending in -ing, was/were in combination with a word ending in -ing.

And trust me when I say the list goes on and on. Those are only the most common and glaring ones. In fact, right before I gave you that list, I almost said, "...and here are a few to be on the look out for." But then I realized the "be on the" part wasn't needed. See what I mean? Here's how you should fix sentences containing the words was, were, started and began:

Trish and Jack were sitting on a blanket. They were watching the sunset.

These sentences would be stronger if they were written like this:

Trish and jack sat on a blanket. They watched the sunset.

Or:

Jack started to swim towards Trish.

Would be stronger like this:

Jack swam towards Trish.

It's not always easy or sometimes even possible to get rid of the words in that list. Sometimes simply leaving them in makes a sentence shorter than trying to change it, or keeps it grammatically correct, or supports the effect or delivery you're going for. Which would render them not redundant. But try to get rid of as many surplus words as you can. Read the sentence out loud without the word you're thinking of omitting, and if it works, delete it. Whether they're short or long, your goal should be to make your sentences as short as possible. Put your readers through as little unnecessary reading as you can. Trust me; they'll thank you.

Another thing you can do to tighten your sentences is to use other or better words. For example:

I got to my feet.

Could be improved like this:

I got up.

Or even tighter:

I stood.

Or:

Lisa ran very quickly.

Would be better like this:

Lisa sprinted.

The last thing you can do to tighten your sentences is to use contractions. Or, words like; it's, you're, we've, they're, and so on, instead of using two words. It'll cut down your word count, too. Although, I've been told to do this sparingly in narration.

Kill Your Darlings

This's a brilliant principle, said by William Faulkner. I included it in the "Tighten Your Prose" section because I feel like they are related. If you're unfamiliar with it, here's a breakdown; as authors or aspiring authors, we tend to fall in love with certain words, phrases, scenes, characters, descriptions, sex acts and so on, that we've included or wish to include in our story. But deep down inside, we know our story would be better off without them. I know it can be hard, but you must be strong and kill your darlings!

For instance, I'm dying to write a sex scene in the kitchen of one of my stories, but none of them allow me to. Another nice example is the simile I used not so long ago:

When you're in the process of selecting your words, think of yourself as a lawyer, questioning a witness. Be methodical in the way you construct your sentences.

Don't you think it's better without the silly joke?

*

Writing Dialogue

My favourite topic. There's a fair amount of information you need to know about how to do this, as it takes up a good deal of most stories. We'll start with the most important part: Your characters need to talk realistically - like people in real life. So things like perfect grammar and sentence tightening techniques are not that important - unless that's how one or two of your character's talk.

What's more, factors like age, gender, personality, nationality, level of education, occupation, sexual orientation, and so on, should determine not only the way your characters talk, but also the kind of words they use. I remember reading a children's novel a while ago, and I couldn't help getting annoyed at some of the conversations between the kids. I kept thinking...most adults don't even talk like this.

The next thing you need to know is dialogue should only be opened when you want to use your character's words to show your readers an integral part of your plot, or, when there's a transition or a change in a relationship between characters. Let's get into an example that deals with everything I said:

Helen picked up her ringing landline.

"Hello."

"Hey, Helen. It's me, Frank."

"Oh, hi, Frank." She smiled. "How're you?"

He sighed. "Not so good, actually."

Helen became concerned. "What's wrong?"

"Umm...it's kinda hard for me to say."

"Just tell me what's wrong."

He sighed again. "Helen."

"Yea?"

"I...I called to break up with you."

"What?" She felt her heart sink. "Why?"

He paused. "Umm, it's kinda difficult for me to tell you."

"Just tell me why, Frank!"

He sighed. "...I'm really struggling here."

"You're seeing another woman, aren't you? Who is it? It's probably that slut, Kate, isn't it! TELL ME, DAMN IT!"

"No, Helen" - he took a deep breath and exhaled - "I'm gay."

As you can see, this dialogue's fairly realistic and shows us a change in a relationship - in this case, a relationship between lovers. But there's one glaring problem. It's a little too realistic. Here's why; the way people talk in real life often carries no meaning, beats around the bush and too many words are used. And when it comes to storytelling, this isn't the information you want to give your readers.

Parts of dialogue like "hello," "how are you," "goodbye" and other unneeded lines need to be taken out of your story. Remember the rule I gave you for when you are showing and not telling: If it's boring and/or unimportant, quickly tell it or get rid of it. Good dialogue cuts to the chase and says everything that has to be said in as few words needed to be effective. Here's an improved version of that conversation between Helen and Frank:

Helen picked up her ringing landline.

"Oh, how're you, Frank?" She smiled.

He sighed. "Not so good, actually."

Helen became concerned. "What's wrong?"

"Helen, I...I called to break up with you."

"What?" She felt her heart sink. "Why?"

"Ahh...it's kinda difficult for me to say."

"You're seeing another woman, aren't you? Who is it? It's probably that slut, Kate, isn't it? Just tell me, frank!"

"No, Helen" - he took a deep breath and exhaled - "I'm gay."

As you can see, I've managed to keep the dialogue realistic, and did it using a lot less words. What did you learn from the first example that you didn't learn in the second? The only difference is you learned everything you needed to know more efficiently in the second example. Which is better, no ifs and/or buts about it.

I will say this, however; if you absolutely feel you need to include "hellos," "goodbyes" and so on, rather sum them up in quick sentences before or after you open and close dialogue. Or just be quick about it, like I did in the second Helen and Frank example.

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byMostdefinitely© 16 comments/ 5336 views/ 14 favorites

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