Great writing ‘pops’. It comes alive in the reader’s imagination. It sounds authentic. We believe what we’re reading – the characters become real, as does the setting, the descriptions.
Over the years, I’ve collected some advice from talents much greater than mine. I call them my secret tricks or rules. These have worked for me and may be something you could use or experiment with. I’ll share these with you with some ‘before’ and ‘after’ examples so you can get an idea of how it might work.
1. Be specific. In his book On Writing, Stephen King says that writing is like ‘telepathy’. What is in your mind as the writer needs to be transmitted to the mind of the reader. One of the easiest ways is to be specific – use clear, detailed, exact words that don’t allow for ambiguity.
Before: She sat down on the sofa, which she thought was beautiful.
After: She perched on the edge of the tuxedo-style sofa, running a hand over the black silk velvet, admiring the box-like elegance of the design.
(Talking about ‘specific’, check out just how many sofa styles there are out there.)
2. Be radiant. My great script writing mentor, Helena Kriel, instilled in me the concept of making writing ‘radiant’. How you move the reader’s eye, move their imagination bring writing to life, giving it light and its own beauty.
Before: The purple jacaranda trees, just in bloom, lined the old streets.
After: Glowing purple canopies of blooming jacarandas contrasted with cracked shadowed streets below.
3. Stimulate the senses. E.L. Doctorow famously said that good writing has to evoke a sensation in the reader – ‘not the fact that it is raining but the feeling of being rained upon.’ And this is true for all the senses – taste, smell, sight, sound and touch.
Before: It started raining and Cara ran back across the beach to her cabana.
After: Fat drops of warm rain pelted Cara’s sunburned shoulders as she sprinted back to the pink cabana, thick wet beach sand clinging to her bare heels.
4. Make it proper. A proper noun, I feel, immediately adds a touch of authenticity to your writing. If you don’t over do it, it can make the reader feel grounded in the world of the story. If you don’t use it at all, your story can come across as flat, abstract or metaphysical.
Before: They met at their favourite café for breakfast. She ordered her usual juice, and he read his newspaper.
After: Vanessa met Ian at Corner Café in Craighall. She loved the ginger-and-orange juice, he liked to sit with his face in the sun reading the Sunday Times.
5. Stick to the story. James Patterson advises that we keep our writing simple. ‘Write the story, not the sentences.’ We can sometimes get caught up in making the writing too pretty and forget that just have to focus on the characters and the emotions.
Before: Nausea roiled in her stomach. The sight of the dead body would be indelibly imprinted in her memory forever.
After: She felt sick to her stomach. She’d never get the sight of the body out of her mind.
Trust your story
Of course, sometimes a sofa is just a sofa – you wouldn’t write detailed and specific for every object in your story. But, if the sofa was part of a fashion shoot, or in a 30s-style hotel, it would be a great detail.
Not all descriptions need to be ‘serious’ or about a setting. These can be witty or wacky, or about a character even. For example, JK Rowling’s description of Hagrid with ‘hands the size of trash can lids’ and feet ‘like baby dolphins’.
Always try to cut out words, sentences or entire paragraphs that hold back the flow of your story.
If you enjoyed this post, read:
- 3 Exercises To Help You Create The Flow From Scene To Sequel
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- 5 Ways To Add Love To Popular Genres