17 Questions A Reader Needs To Ask To Become A Better Writer

Human beings read to escape and to be entertained, but we also read to understand and to learn. Stories are the way we make sense of our world.

When you read as a writer you become more critical. Why do you like this story? Why does a certain character enthral or enchant you? 

Here are 17 questions you could ask as you become a more critical reader. They may help you to pinpoint where your writing is going wrong and where it is going right. They will also help you if you write book reviews.
  1. What made you carry on reading past the first page? This is more important than you think. How many times have you thought that you couldn't bear to carry on reading past the first paragraph? Was there a good hook?
  2. Was there a moment when you thought ‘this could happen to me’ or ‘I know how that feels’?Because we read to feel less alone and to know that there are other people who go through bad and good things, this is good to have in a book.
  3. When did you first care about what would happen next? There is a moment in most books where you invest in a story. Was this gradual or did you have an 'aha' moment? 
  4. When did you first stop reading – not because you needed to do something else – but because you felt you needed a break from the book? Something happened at this point to turn you off the story. Try to identify what it was.
  5. Which book did you most enjoy reading before this one? Why did you enjoy it? This explanation could give you valuable insights into what makes a book good for you.
  6. Did you finish reading the book? Did you finish because you don’t like leaving books unfinished, because you were mildly invested in finding out what happened, or because you had to know how it ended?
  7. Which character will you remember five years from now? You may not remember his or her name, but there should be something unforgettable about this person. How did they make you feel?
  8. Which character annoyed you? If you could advise the author to get rid of that character, would you? List the reasons you don't think he or she is necessary for the story.
  9. What was the one moment when you could not put the book down? The moment you were literally on the edge of your seat? Was this level of suspense sustained? Did you miss it when it wasn't there?
  10. Which parts of the story did you skip or skim? Why did you do this? Maybe there were large blocks of boring backstory, dense descriptions, or too many unnecessary conversations.
  11. Which setting do you remember the most? Why do you remember it? Perhaps you could imagine being there. Describe it in your own words.
  12. Which setting is forgettable? Why do you think this is? Perhaps it doesn't add anything to the plot?
  13. Which character would you like to meet? This character does not have to be the hero. Who is the one person in the book that you would like to find out more about?
  14. Which character would you avoid in real life? Avoid including the villain here just because he or she is evil. Include the person you would avoid despite their role in the book. List the reasons.
  15. Does the marketing work? If you could change anything about the packaging/cover/blurb/title of the book, what would you change? List your suggested changes.
  16. Would you recommend the book to a friend? Why? And who would you recommend it to?
  17. Would you buy another book written by his author? As Mickey Spillane says, 'The first page sells this book. The last page sells your next book.'
This is not an in-depth assessment of the book, but it will help you to understand what you like to read and what you should be aware of when you start to write fiction. 

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg.

 by Amanda Patterson. Follow her on  Facebook,  Tumblr,  Pinterest,  Google+,  LinkedIn,  and on Twitter:  @amandaonwriting

© Amanda Patterson

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Why You Need White Space When You Write (And 5 Ways To Create It)

We all suffer from information overload. It’s often called information fatigue. We need our information to be as easy to read as possible, because we are exposed to so much of it on a daily basis. 

Whether you are a creative writer or a business writer you will have heard about white space. We come across this advice again and again: Make sure you have enough white space. 

But what does 'white space' mean? 

White space is a design principle. Simply, the absence of text draws your eye to the text. It literally refers to the amount of space around and between the words.  

It is about creating text that is inviting to the reader. When your text forms a solid block it overwhelms your reader. The reader is negative about it, before they even begin to read. 

Think about textbooks. They generally have long paragraphs, with long sentences. There is very little white space. Below is an image of George Orwell’s 1984. It is a good example of a book with very little white space, and even though it’s one of the more readable classics, you still have to work hard.

We should use white space because
  • it makes it easier for us to read.
  • it draws the reader’s attention to the text.
  • it is uncluttered and calming. 
Five ways to create white space: 
  1. Use lists. When you list items it makes it scannable. If you have more than three points it is better to number your items instead of using bullets. Try not to use more than 3-5 bullets.  
  2. Increase line spacing. If it is possible increase your line spacing on your documents. A good average is 1.5. Remember to refer to the company style guide before you do this. 
  3. Shorten your sentences. Long sentences form solid blocks. You should vary the length of your sentences. 
  4. Break up paragraphs. Reconsider your paragraphs and try to discuss only one point per paragraph. 
  5. Avoid justifying your documents. People are passionate about justifying their documents, but it makes it harder to read and proofread. Most professional documents have been typeset and your average computer doesn’t typset very well. It creates rivulets (diagonal spaces) between the words, uneven spaces in sentences and solid blocks of text.
White space is about letting your writing and your reader breathe.

If you are interested in learning how to improve your business writing skills, join us for The Plain Language Programme

 by Mia Botha

If you enjoyed this post, you will love:

  1. Why You Need To Write In Plain Language
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  3. September Writing Prompts


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    The 7 Critical Elements Of A Great Book

    I used to do manuscript appraisals when I taught creative writing full time. I would never have been able to do it without teaching, though, because teaching taught me how to become a critical reader. I learnt to observe, to critique, and to improve my own writing. 

    Appraising a writer’s unpublished manuscript can be difficult, but it became easier when I broke it down into what readers and publishers look for when they read. The key to making it easier was thinking about the market. What works? What sells and what doesn’t? Why doesn’t it sell? 

    My appraisals were based on the seven basic elements of good novel writing, which are:

    1. Plot 
    1. Does the novel have a plot? Without a plot it is difficult to keep a reader interested. A plot involves a protagonist with a worthy story goal. 
    2. Is this goal strong enough to sustain an 80 000-word long novel? We prefer to read about characters who have something to fight for and something to lose if they don’t. [Read The Story Goal - The Key To Creating A Solid Plot Structure]
    3. Is the plot introduced early enough? The story goal is usually set by an inciting moment that turns the protagonist's life upside down in a negative way.
    4. Is there too much backstory? Readers are not interested in the detailed biography of your character. For the most part, they do not enjoy prologues.
    5. Is there opposition for the protagonist? Conflict is created when an antagonist is introduced to stop the protagonist from achieving the goal. [Read 7 Essential Things To Remember About Very Important Characters]
    6. Does the plot make sense? If it does not, we tend to include things which seem to have no reason for being in the story. A good idea can turn into a maze of irritation if the author does not know where the story is headed.
    7. Has the author used the setting to advance the plot? Descriptions should not be static or incidental. [Read 5 Ways To Use Setting To Advance A Plot]
    2. Characters 
    1. Do I care about what happens to the protagonist and the antagonist? If a reader fails to make me care for one of these characters, I will not carry on reading the book. Why should I? C.S Lewis said that we read to know we are not alone. If I feel no connection with a character, I am alone, lost, adrift in the story. I do not have to sympathise with a character, but I need to care. [Read Make Me Care - 9 Ways To Ensure An Unforgettable Read]
    2. Are the main characters believable? If the characters seem contrived or forced, we stop reading. I think a good way of looking at it is to ask: If I met these characters on the street (even if the story is set in a different universe) would they seem real?
    3. Are their motivations believable? Give readers good reasons to buy into their story goals. For example, most of us would not ruin our lives to wreak revenge without a great reason.
    4. Is the author masquerading as the protagonist? Many first time writers want to write their own stories, but don’t want to write a memoir. They try to turn their experience into a novel. This becomes problematic because they are too close to the story and they cannot see the character objectively.
    5. Does the name suit the character? Sometimes you read a book and you feel as if the author has not thought this through. The name may be out of date or too strange for the world the character inhabits. Here are 10 Things To Consider When Naming Characters
    6. Does their body language, clothing, hairstyle suit them? Sometimes it's a good thing to suggest that a writer completes a character questionnaire so that the characters seem authentic. How a character moves, how he or she reacts with non-verbal responses show that the writer has treated the character like a real person. This cheat sheet for writing body language will help you. 
    7. Do their emotions fit? A character may be happy, sad, or infuriated. A good writer knows how to show these emotions in the things the characters say and do. This needs to be filtered into the story in a believable way. [Read 37 Ways To Write About Anger]
    8. Do the characters fit into their surroundings? Alternatively, do they fail to fit in because of who they are? [Read Wherever I Lay My Hat - How Setting Affects Your Characters]
    9. Has the author used contrived ways to describe the characters? It is off-putting if a writer describes the character in detail. For example, ‘She had blue eyes, brown hair, stained teeth, and she weighed 60 kilos.’ A good writer will let this filter through and leave some of it to the reader’s imagination. 
    3. Viewpoint
    1. Has the writer chosen a viewpoint that suits the story? Most stories are written in third person past tense. For example, ‘He cradled the baby as Freda screamed.’  Most genre novels are written in this viewpoint. Memoirs are often written in first person present tense to make the writing feel authentic and immediate. For example, 'I cradle the baby as Freda screams.' [Read 10 Ways To Tell A Story - All About Viewpoint]
    2. Has the author chosen the correct character to tell the story? This happens mostly when we choose to tell the story through the eyes of the protagonist’s friend. This often makes the story sound forced because the friend cannot know what the character is truly feeling or thinking. It distances the most important character from the reader and there is more telling than showing as a result.
    3. Has the author stayed in the viewpoint character’s head? Many beginner writers head-hop between the different characters in a scene, and confuse readers. As a rule, you should only use one viewpoint per scene. [Read 6 Simple Ways To Handle Viewpoint Changes]
    4. Has the character revealed something he or she could not have known? There has to be consistency and a sense of continuity in storytelling.
    5. If the author chooses a first person narrator, is the character strong enough to bear the weight of a 360-page book? This might seem like common sense, but it’s a tough ask for one character who has to be interesting enough not to bore a reader. The character could be compromised, which is fine if you are considering using an unreliable narrator
    6. Has the author chosen an omniscient narrator? This is so old-fashioned that it takes a truly exceptional writer to make this work. Modern readers prefer to be closer to the characters they are following in stories. 
    4. Dialogue 
    1. Is there enough dialogue in the book? I believe the book should have at least 50% of its pages filled with characters communicating. Being stuck in a character’s thought processes is agonising for long periods of time. Many beginner writers make this mistake, thinking that we will be intrigued. But it actually turns out to be the author who is stuck, trying to work through the fact that he or she does not really have a plot.
    2. Is the dialogue appropriate for the characters? Are you giving the characters the correct vocabulary and tone? Do their words suit them? [Read 10 Dialogue Errors To Avoid At All Costs]
    3. Do the characters sound too similar? This is a common problem for beginners. They use sentence structures and lengths that are the same for each character. Real people have distinct voices when they speak.
    4. Does the dialogue serve a purpose? Writers who include unnecessary conversations also have problems with plotting. All the dialogue in a book should move the plot forward, introduce conflict, or show us something about a character. [Read 10 Ways to Introduce Conflict in Dialogue]
    5. Have they included body language with dialogue? Real people do things while they’re talking. Here are some examples: 60 Things For Your Characters To Do When They Talk Or Think
    6. Are the dialogue tags good? ‘Said’ is the best tag you can use. The way characters say things and the words they choose should tell the reader how they say it. I am annoyed when characters hiss, spit, cajole, ejaculate and sputter. 
    5. Pacing 
    1. Does the pace suit the story?  Books are made up of scenes and sequels. Scenes are faster than sequels and there are more of them. They are also longer. A good writer knows how to mix these up and how to get a rhythm that works for a story.
    2. Does the pace suit the genre? Thrillers will have more scenes. Literary novels are more leisurely and they will have more sequels.
    3. Is it too fast or too slow, and if it is, can it be fixed? Read The 4 Most Important Things To Remember About Pacing for excellent tips on how to improve problems with pacing. 
    6. Style 
    1. Does the writer have a distinctive, engaging style? You can tell if a writer has this even if the grammar and spelling isn’t perfect. [Read 7 Choices That Affect A Writer's Style]
    2. Can the writer write? Sometimes there are real problems with sentence structure, punctuation, and a poor grasp of storytelling techniques.
    3. Is there too much passive voice in the story? This leads to telling instead of showing and drags a story down with it.
    4. Is the tone appropriate for the story? A sombre tone is inappropriate for a light-hearted romance and a flippant tone is unusual in literary fiction.
    5. Are the readability statistics acceptable for a novel? I work on the assumption that a good book will have an 80% readability value. Novelists need to learn how to write difficult things in the simplest way. [For more, read Why You Should Care About Readability Statistics]
    6. Does the writer have an engaging voice? The best way to find your voice and nurture your style is to write. If you are struggling, read this post for help: How do you find your writing voice? 
    7. Beginnings, Middles, Endings 
    1. Does the story start at the beginning? A beginning is a delicate thing. There should be enough action combined with a touch of description, a hint of backstory, and dialogue – if necessary. Is the hook good enough to make the reader turn the page?
    2. Is there a great inciting moment? I want to be invested in the story from the moment I pick up the book. There should be something to make me care. [Read The Importance of Inciting Moments]
    3. Am I entertained through a muddle in the middle? Is there enough suspense, tension, and conflict to keep the story going? Good writers make the middle work by setting a deadline for a character. They force the character to change, throw in secrets, surprises and even add a dangerous twist. [Read A Tense Situation - Five Tips To Help You Write A Gripping Read]
    4. Does the ending satisfy me? A great ending always completes your story arc, shows a change in your main character, and leaves the reader wanting more. [For more help, read: The Sense Of An Ending - How To End Your Book]
    5. Does it fulfil the book’s promise? Avoid surprise endings and contrived twists. Rather go back and fix the parts of the book that should have been set up properly to support the ending you want. [Read How To Write A Beginning And An Ending That Readers Will Never Forget]
    In the end... 

    If these are covered, and if they work, I find that a book delivers. The author naturally shows me the story instead of telling me what I should think or feel. I also find that a theme is revealed naturally with great plotting and good characterisation.

    If you want to critique a book, you can ask these questions and make notes. At the end you will have a better idea of why you did or did not enjoy it.

    Happy reading and writing!

    If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg.

     by Amanda Patterson. Follow her on  Facebook,  Tumblr,  Pinterest,  Google+,  LinkedIn,  and on Twitter:  @amandaonwriting

    © Amanda Patterson

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    Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 24: How Important Is Style In A Story?

    Welcome to week 24 of Anthony's series that aims to help you write a novel in a year. Read last week's post here

    Goal setting
    1. Continue writing the scenes or chapters of your novel.
    2. Prep your scenes.
    3. Consider the style of your book. 
    Breaking it down

    Preparation doesn’t have to be dull
    As we hurtle towards the halfway mark of our writing year, you’re probably excited to push forward – to write more productively, to catch up on periods you skipped, or improve your word count.

    One method I’ve found that works is to spend five or ten minutes planning your next scene before you go to sleep at night. Keep a note pad or an index card next to your bed. Write down the things you want to get across in that scene before you turn off the light.

    This means that while you sleep, your creativity will (hopefully) be at play in the hidden realms of your brain. When you wake up, jot down any ideas, images, or fragments of dialogue that pop into your mind.

    When you settle down to write, you won’t feel intimidated by the blank page or the blinking cursor on your screen. You’ll already have your little ‘to-do’ list ready.

    I was surprised by how well this worked. The other morning, I woke up and immediately had an idea of how my antagonist would disrupt my heroine’s day – by showing up when she least expected him or was prepared to deal with him.
    Story before style?
    On the weekend, I watched the movie We Need To Talk About Kevin – yes, I know I should’ve been behind my desk writing. While I haven’t read Lionel Shriver’s book on which the movie was based, I have to admit I found the story a bit slow. It’s visually arresting and the theme was haunting – in the end, it was a satisfying movie – but it got me thinking. Would it better to tell the story in a more linear and traditional way? Did it overdo the symbolism just a bit? Was there enough empathy for the main character?

    I guess it’s very subjective, but the more I read novels and watch movies, I realise that what draws me to a book or movie is the story – the way characters and plot come together in such a way that you’re glued to the screen or can’t wait to turn the next page.

    As much as a great style can enrich the reading or viewing experience, it won’t be enough if the story is too thin or the characters too distant from the audience.

    While writing the scenes of my novel, I’ve made a conscious effort not to worry too much about style. Instead, I try to focus on getting the plot across in the shortest amount of time. I try to focus on what the characters are feeling – and why.  The style and tone of the scene should feel as natural as possible – without trying to force it.

    As Elmore Leonard says, ‘If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.’

    Talk about your book at your peril
    The other night I was at dinner with three of my close writer friends – yes, I know I should’ve been home writing.  Of course, once deep conversation about our love lives was exhausted, the topic turned to the projects we were working on. ‘What’s your book about?’

    By this time we’d switched from red wine to coffee, so I was lucid enough to give a brief description of my novel. ‘Oh, that sounds good – but what if this happened or that happened?’

    Yes, it would be interesting if this happened to a character or that happened in the plot. But I’d just spent the weekend batting down the last plot changes and getting some major scenes on paper.  What was I to do?

    Sometimes friends and first readers – and I always listen to advice of other writers I trust – have great ideas for improving a manuscript. I guess it would be foolish to ignore their advice. I’ll definitely keep their comments in mind as I work on my book this week.

    But at the same time, you also can’t get too distracted by this advice. If it will help your book, grab it with both hands. But if it doesn’t serve your story and your characters, then it’s best to let it go. Who do you talk to about your novel?
    Timelock — 2.5 to 5 hours

    Spend a half-hour or full hour a day writing your book. 

    5 Quick Hacks
    1. If you don’t have time to write a full scene, give it a quick and dirty draft – write it as a five-minute short story.
    2. Imagine you have to write a report on the status of your novel. What would be the highlights or successes? What would be the challenges? Sometimes seeing it written down can help you refocus.
    3. Think back to the last book you read or movie you watched. How would you describe the style of the piece? Did it add to your enjoyment of it? Or simply detract?
    4. Have a conversation with an ‘imaginary editor’ about your book. What kind of questions would they ask?
    5. Have the same conversations with the characters in your book. What would they ask about what you’re doing to them? What answers would you give? 
    Pin it, quote it, believe it:

    ‘The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.’ — Philip Roth

    Look out for next week’s instalment of Write Your Novel In A Year!

     by Anthony Ehlers

    If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

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      What Is A Style Guide And Why Do I Need One?

      What is a style guide?

      A style guide is a document that is created by editors, managers, or producers to define how they want writers to write. It prescribes how employees should use grammar, tone, punctuation, spelling, and formatting. All of these define your company's writing style, which, in turn influences the way customers perceive you.

      A style guide usually covers things like:
      1. Grammar 
      2. Formatting
      3. Spelling
      4. General recommendations
      A grammar concern could be whether or not you use the Oxford comma. Formatting guidelines would include fonts, bullet points, and margins. Do you use American or British spelling? General writing recommendations could include rules for the usage of acronyms and jargon. [Recommended reading: 10 Things You Should Not Exclude From Your Company's Style Guide]

      Why do I need one?

      Style guides are vital if you want to present a polished and professional image. They also help staff members who may struggle to understand your company's writing rules. Read this post to see what I mean: 4 Ways A Style Guide Will Revolutionise Your Organisation’s Communication

      Seven examples of online style guides

      These companies and institutions use their own style guides for their employees and writers to follow. The rules change depending on the guide.  

      Online UK Style Guides: 
      Online US Style Guides:
      Compiling a style guide can be hard work, but it can be made easier if you choose the correct person to do it for you. You also need to consider how you will share it with your employees and how you will update it. If you want suggestions on how to do this, you could follow these steps: Create a Style Guide for your Company in 10 Steps

      If you want to improve your business writing, join us for The Plain Language Programme. Please email news@writerswrite.co.za  for details.
         by Amanda Patterson. Follow her on  Pinterest,  Facebook,  Tumblr,  Google+,  LinkedIn, and  Twitter.

         If you enjoyed this article, read these posts:
        1. 27 Blogging Tips To Grow Your Business
        2. 5 Fool Proof Ways To Write Better Emails
        3. The Amazingly Simple Anatomy Of A Meaningful Marketing Story


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        Past Or Present Tense? Which One Will You Use?

        Different tenses suit different stories, certain genres, and various authors’ styles. The tense you choose should also suit the personality of your main viewpoint character. 

        The Past And The Present
        1. The past tells us what happened: I ached. She loved. You needed.
        2. The present shows us what is happening: I ache. She loves. You need.
        The past gives us some distance:
        The boy looked up. The girl with the butterfly tattoo on her wrist twisted on the lawn and smiled at him. Her hair spread out like spilt milk on the grass. He knew he loved her  and he did not care if she knew. He wanted to carve her name into the clear sky that framed the edges of the park.
        If you have a protagonist who thinks about what will happen next, who makes plans and considers risks, who is calculating, and driven by reason, the past tense would a good fit. Writing a story in past tense allows you to manipulate time, to reveal and to conceal events. 

        Past-tense fiction creates a more subtle kind of suspense where we may know the outcome of the story but we want to know how and why we ended up there. This is good for more cerebral, reflective characters. This example can be used as a memory, layered with knowledge of how the story ends.

        Great past-tense fiction allows readers who are more comfortable with the format to experience the story in a nuanced, thoughtful way.

        The present is immediate:
        The boy looks up. The girl with the butterfly tattoo on her wrist twists on the sun splattered lawn and smiles at him. Her hair spreads out like spilt milk on the grass. He’s lost and he knows she knows, but he doesn’t care. He wants to carve her name into the clear sky that frames the edges of the park.
        If you have a protagonist who lives in the moment, who is impulsive, foolhardy/brave, and driven by emotions, the present tense could be the perfect vehicle. The present lets the reader see the character's world in all its immediacy and allows him or her to experience the character's growth and dilemmas as they happen. 

        Present-tense fiction creates a kind of suspense where no one knows the outcome. The second example could be written as a memoir or a coming-of-age story. There is a sense of anticipation and excitement that is not there when we use the past tense.

        Great present-tense fiction allows writers to use texture - by truly engaging the senses - and explore possibilities, hopes, and fears in a uniquely present manner.

        Common Present Tense Genres

        Memoirs, Young Adult, Literary Fiction, and many of the traditional genres are also being written in present tense. 

        The present tense is edgier. The reader has to agree to live the journey moment by moment with the characters. There is no guarantee that the story will even have an ending. It is easier to use unreliable narrators in the present tense. Many readers are uncomfortable with present tense stories.
        1. Young Adult. It is accepted by younger readers and it is even the norm with many young adult readers. Examples: The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, the Divergent series by Veronica Roth, and The Maze Runner by James Dashner. This may have something to do with being brought up on a diet of television and film where everything is experienced with the characters.
        2. Memoirs. It is also effective with memoirs. Readers feel as if they are experiencing the writer's story in real time. The immediacy and rawness allows the writer to create intense emotional reactions in the reader.
        3. Literary Fiction. In literary fiction, writers like Hilary Mantel, Emma Donohue, and John Updike have used present tense to great effect. Examples: 
        • Wolf Hall won the Booker prize in 2009. Mantel says that she put the camera behind Cromwell’s eyes, and wrote it as she saw it. Many literary authors have done the same thing (David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, Kevin Barry's Beatlebone) - writing about the historical past in present tense seems surreal and novel and seems to garner literary acclaim. 
        • Five-year-old Jack from Emma Donoghue's Room lives, as most young children do, in the present. It would have been difficult to tell the story from his viewpoint in any other way. 
        • In Rabbit, Run, John Updike said, 'I liked writing in the present tense. You can move between minds, between thoughts and objects and events with a curious ease not available to the past tense. I don't know if it is clear to the reader as it is to the person writing, but there are kinds of poetry, kinds of music you can strike off in the present tense.'
        Common Past Tense Genres

        You can use the past tense in any genre. It is the easiest way to tell a story, because it places it in a time frame. It has already happened and it gives the reader a sense of comfort that somebody has lived to tell the tale. Most of us, including many older readers, are happiest with this format.
        1. Typical Genre Fiction. Past tense works well for crime/thriller/suspense novels. Writers can use more than one viewpoint and manipulate time more easily. These novels appeal to a large audience and the majority of readers prefer reading in past tense.
        2. Children's Fiction. Children younger than 12 are more comfortable when they know that a story has already happened. Younger children find present tense stressful as they cannot separate fiction and reality.
        Viewpoint and Tense

        Sometimes your choice of viewpoint dictates your choice of tense. Stories can be written in first, second, or third person. Read my post, 10 Ways To Tell A Story - All About Viewpoint, to find out more.

        If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

         by Amanda Patterson. Follow her on  Pinterest,  Facebook,  Tumblr,  Google+,  LinkedIn, and  Twitter.

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        The 4 Writing Styles Everybody Needs To Know

        Are you writing a piece to inform, to persuade, to describe, or to tell a story? The style you choose for your text is a result of the way you combine word choice, tone, and syntax. 

        The Four Writing Styles
        1. Expository - Writing to inform.
        2. Descriptive - Writing to create a picture in a reader's mind.
        3. Persuasive - Writing to share an opinion and to persuade.
        4. Narrative - Writing to tell a story.
        Why do you need to know these different styles?

        If you write for different publications, or if you write your own blogs for different purposes, you need to compose your content in a way that suits the audience and the purpose of the writing. 

        1.  Expository Style
        You use this style to tell your readers about a topic. Its purpose is to explain how to do something or how something has been done. You can include data and facts, but you must leave out your opinions. You need to organise your thoughts in a logical, practical manner to convey what needs to be explained. 

        This style is used in how-to articles, instruction manuals, and text books.
        2.  Descriptive Style
        You use descriptive language to describe something or somebody in detail. You should include all five senses when writing in this style and focus on specific information that leaves the most powerful image in the reader's mind. If used properly, readers should feel as if they could reach out and touch the character or object you are describing. 

        This style is used in parts of the following: poetry, reviews of restaurants, product reviews, and book reports. It is used in children's essays to describe a favourite toy, food, holiday, or pet. Writers use it as a literary device in descriptions of fictional characters and places, as well as those of historical figures and real people.

        3.  Persuasive Style
        Can I change your mind? Its aim is to persuade an audience to agree with you, to get them to understand your opinion, or to get them to do something. You express an opinion and support it in a way that convinces the reader to see it the same way. The format usually consists of an explanation of opposing points of view with data, facts, and statistics to show why that is incorrect and why readers should support your position instead.

        This style is used in opinion pieces, debates, marketing pitches, adverts, editorial essays, speeches, motivational talks, proposals, and sales pitches. Use our Persuasive Writing Brainstormer Template when you write this way.
        4.  Narrative style
        You use this style to tell a story so that readers feel as if they have been entertained by gaining insight into an experience or by learning something through your, or your character's, eyes. The author creates characters who show their stories through actions, description, and dialogue. It has a framework, or a plot, that usually involves a beginning, a middle, and an ending.

        Avoid the abstract. Do not say: 'I enjoyed the day swimming in the garden.' Be specific. Rather say: 'I raced across the garden, blades of grass tickling the soles of my feet. Sunlight tapped the ebb and flow of water as I dived into the pool.'

        This style is used in short stories, plays, novels, novellas, biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, and poetry.

        Extra Help

        No matter which of these styles you choose to use, these nine tips will improve your writing: 

        1. Avoid stereotypes and clichés.
        2. Be clear.
        3. Be concise.
        4. Be precise.
        5. Avoid the abstract.
        6. Choose the right words.
        7. Read widely.
        8. Use words that sound like you.
        9. Write every day.

        If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course. If you want to learn how to blog and write for social media, join our blogging and social media course in Johannesburg.

         by Amanda Patterson. Follow her on  Pinterest,  Facebook,  Tumblr,  Google+,  LinkedIn, and  Twitter.

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        7 Choices That Affect A Writer's Style

        What Is Your Literary Style?

        Style, in its broadest sense, is a specific way in which we create, perform, or do something. Style in literature is the way an author uses words to tell a story. It is a writer’s way of showing his or her personality on paper. 
        Just as a person putting together items of clothing and jewellery, and applying make-up creates a personal style, the way a person puts together word choice, sentence structure, and figurative language describes his or her literary style. 

        When combined, the choices they make work together to establish mood, images, and meaning. This has an effect on their audience. 

        Seven choices that affect a writer's style
        1. Word choice
        2. Punctuation
        3. Sentence structure
        4. Sensory details 
        5. Figurative language such as metaphors and similes 
        6. Sound devices such as alliteration and onomatopoeia
        I believe every author has a unique style that can’t be taught. However, he or she can refine it by reading other authors, trying different literary techniques, and through plenty of writing practice and experience. 

        Your style could be described as pithy, articulate, inarticulate, conversational, literary, rambling or poetic. Follow this link for 60 Words That Describe Writing Styles.

        Style can mean different things

        Remember that an editor’s definition of style refers to the mechanics of writing, including grammar, punctuation, and formatting. This differs even more depending on whether the editor is in a creative or a business field. 

        Style Guides

        Companies and institutions use style guides for their employees and writers to follow. The rules change depending on the guide. 

        Online UK Style Guides:
        Online US Style Guides:
        If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg.

         by Amanda Patterson. Follow her on  Facebook,  Tumblr,  Pinterest,  Google+,  LinkedIn,  and on Twitter:  @amandaonwriting

        © Amanda Patterson

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        10 Incredibly Simple Ways To Improve Your Business Writing Style

        We define a writer’s style through his or her word choice and syntax (the order of words in a sentence). In business writing, we should choose words and sentence structures that convey our messages in the most effective way. The best way to do this is by writing simply and professionally. 

        Sometimes, our writing can be too monotonous and it ends up boring the reader. Here are 10 simple ways to improve your business writing style:

        1. Avoid using the same word at the beginning of every sentence.

        If you start every sentence in the same way, the reader will stop paying attention.
        Do not write: I like my colleagues. I enjoy working for my company. I am happy with my job.
        Do write: I am happy with my job. Working for my company, and working with my colleagues, is enjoyable.
        2. Avoid repetitive sentence structures.

        Vary your sentence lengths. Use simple, complex, and compound sentences. If every sentence you write is five words long, your reader will become bored. Read this to see how annoying it can be: The Importance of Varying Sentence Length. Use short sentences and longer sentences to make sure your reader is paying attention.
        Do not write: The directors went to the conference. They met with all their counterparts. They had a busy schedule.
        Do write: The directors went to the conference. Although they had a busy schedule, they enjoyed meeting their counterparts. 
        3. Avoid phrases and words that do not sound like you.

        If you do not say words like ‘preposterous’ and ‘judicious’ when you speak, do not include them in your writing. 

        4. Do not overuse adjectives and adverbs.

        When you pad your writing with unnecessary modifiers and qualifiers, your reader's attention will wander.
        Do not write: He was absolutely, completely and utterly exhausted after the journey.
        Do write: He was exhausted after the journey. 
        5. Avoid slang.

        Only use slang in direct speech, and only if you are reporting exactly what somebody has said. Even then, it is better to avoid it. It puts readers off.
        Do not write: The managers took a break after the director told them to chill at the bar.
        Do write: The director asked the managers to take a break and relax at the bar.
        6. Avoid overused words.

        Create lists of alternative words for the ones you use most in your writing. Warning: Do not swap them for more complicated words. Simply have a user-friendly selection of synonyms. (Have a look at this list for ideas.) The more you write, the more aware you will become of repeating them.

        7. Avoid clichés and jargon.

        Do not use phrases such as 'think outside the box', 'a win-win situation', 'low-hanging fruit', 'touching base', and 'pushing the envelope'. Say what you mean or your readers will become as tired as the expressions you are using. 

        8. Avoid redundancy and tautology.

        Do not use superfluous and unnecessary words or statements.
        Do not write: I thought to myself.
        Do write: I thought.
        Do not write: She said it repeatedly, over and over again.
        Do write: She repeated it.
        Do not write: He was overjoyed and ecstatic to be there.
        Do write: He was overjoyed to be there. 
        9. Avoid wordiness.

        Do not use too many words if you can say the same thing using fewer words. Do not use big words to show off. This shows your inexperience as a writer. Use the simplest word that gets your message across.
        Do not say: Sarah needed to think ahead and plan comprehensively, because she had to make sure of the correctness of every detail, figure and fact, as well as the names of the delegates in order for the conference to run smoothly.
        Do say:  Sarah needed to plan the conference so that everything ran smoothly.

        You may know what COO, B2B, B2C, ERP, and QC mean, but there are many people who have no idea what you are talking about. If you do this, they will waste time looking up the meanings, or they will simply ignore your email.

        If you want to improve your business writing, join us for The Plain Language Programme. If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

         by Amanda Patterson. Follow her on  Pinterest,  Facebook,  LinkedIn,  Google+,  Tumblr,  and  Twitter.

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        4 Ways A Style Guide Will Revolutionise Your Organisation’s Writing

        What is a style guide?

        A style guide is a document that sets out an organisation’s ‘house rules’ about language and formatting. It acts as a grammatically correct point of reference for everyone in the organisation who writes or edits documents. 

        One example of a style guide is The Chicago Manual of Style, an American English guide to writing and citation styles used in publishing. Another example is The Associated Press Stylebook for journalists. 

        Four Reasons To Have A Style Guide

        If your organisation doesn’t have one already, why not compile one? Besides earning you serious writer or editor ‘street cred’, compiling a style guide will help with the following:

        1. Consistency: It not only allows consistency of language use and tone within a document, but allows consistency across different documents written by different writers in an organisation. It enables your organisation to communicate with one, consistent ‘voice’.
        2. Quality: Because it sets a grammatically correct standard for language use, it raises the quality of your organisation’s communication.
        3. Time: It saves both the writer’s and the editor’s time. Time normally spent fretting about a grammar rule or wondering about formatting can now be maximised, and spent on churning out high quality communication, time after time.
        4. Brand: It preserves your organisation’s brand. Do the different departments in your organisation use the same terminology when writing about your product or service? If there is a discrepancy between the terminology different departments or employees use, it could result in brand confusion within the organisation. This will, in turn, dilute the effectiveness of your organisation’s brand in the public’s eye. 

        Now that you’re convinced of the value of a style guide, you may ask, ‘What do I put in it?’

        Six Basics To Include In Your Style Guide

        1. Language rules: you can’t write a grammar book, but it will be worthwhile mentioning the rules that have bearing on your organisation, or clarifying rules that are regularly confused by employees. For example, if you work for a medical aid provider, you’ll need to know the difference between ‘dependent’ and ‘dependant’. If you work for lawyers, you’ll need to note that ‘comprise’ is correct, and not ‘comprise of’.
        2. Spelling rules: does your organisation use US English or UK English? It will determine whether you use ‘realise’ or ‘realize’, or ‘fulfil’ or ‘fulfill’. Draw up a table that shows the differences in spelling between US and UK English, and be consistent in which you use. Furthermore, you’ll need to clarify other troublesome spelling. For example, do you say ‘cannot’ or ‘can not’? Which dictionary has the last say, in your organisation, when it comes to spelling?
        3. Punctuation rules: do you say ‘e-mail’ or ‘email’? ‘Cooperate’ or ‘co-operate’? You’ll need to clarify these hyphen issues. Do you say ‘Internet’ or ‘internet’? Is it correct to say ‘bachelor of arts’ or ‘Bachelor of Arts’ when speaking about a degree? This is an example of clarifying capitalisation. What is the correct way to punctuate the separate items on a bulleted list? What is the correct way to punctuate a quote inserted into your text? Do you use single quotation marks, or double? Do you use the Oxford comma, or not?
        4. Citation: It is important to include information on how to cite sources. Do you use the Harvard style? Or do you use the MLA style? Do you cite differently for Internet sources than you do for print sources? Provide examples on how to cite each kind of source.
        5. Visual composition: are your headings uppercase, title case, or sentence case? Are they bolded or italicised? When you have lists, are they bulleted or numbered? Is there a line between the introductory sentence and the first bullet, or no space at all? What is your standard line spacing in your documents?
        6. Brand terminology: what are the standardised terms used in your organisation to describe your product or service? 

        These are only a few of the questions you’ll need to answer. When you draw up your style guide, it’s helpful to list the different elements in alphabetical order, or to have a detailed table of contents. You want your style guide to be as user-friendly as possible once you’ve completed it, so that you and other people actually use it on a daily basis when you write.  

        You can do it!

        It’s a huge task, but a worthwhile one. Don’t give up. Take 30 minutes every day at work to think about what needs to be noted in your style guide, and work on it. Perhaps you can make it a team effort and draw in others who have a flair for language. Before you know it, you’ll have something in your hands that can revolutionise your organisation’s communication.  

        If you want to learn how to write for business, join us for  The Plain Language Programme.

         by Donna Radley

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        Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate