8 Tips to Make You a Stronger Writer
As a writer, you've probably spent a good deal of time thinking about word choice and narrative style. These elements help readers connect to your stories, ideas, and themes. They also define you as an author.
Editors try to emulate your style when working through your novel, but there are ways you can improve your writing on your own as well.
Here, I've compiled some simple tips you can follow to make sure your writing stands out from the crowd (or submission pile).
1. Use active voice. The way you use words to tell your story helps give it a unique flavor. But sometimes that flavor seems too casual, and that can lead to possibly boring your reader. To avoid overly wordy or drawn-out sentences, try using active voice.
This form of writing places emphasis on the subject of the sentence and includes active verbs (verbs that show the character or atmosphere doing something).
Passive voice: The dog was wagging his tail.
Active voice: The dog wagged his tail.
Active voice makes the page come alive for the reader and helps them engage with the story rather than observe it happening.
2. Vary your sentence structure. Another important part of storytelling includes sentence structure. Simply put, this is how you write your sentences. Sometimes writers start all of their sentences the same way, and that may detract or disinterest readers.
She sprinted into the words. She kept her head down, and her eyes focused on her feet. She didn't notice the tree limb, but suddenly she found herself face down in the mud. She started to cry. (All sentences here start with "She," which might put some readers off from continuing the story.)
To make your writing stronger, try playing around with the way you tell your story. For example, make one sentence start with a phrase and another start with the subject (main character, sidekick, minor character, pronoun, proper name, etc.). Add a transition word such as "however" or "but" or "also" every once in a while.
Sentence structure helps readers stay interested, so watch out for ways you can improve how your sentences look and sound.
3. Keep your sentences short. Related to sentence structure, sentence length matters too. We've reached a time in humanity where authors don't have to write Dickensian sentences to make a living. In fact, these days, shorter sentences seem to help tell a story better. That's because many people stay more interested in a story if sentences are concise and succinct.
4. Include transition words. However. But. Related. Therefore. Nonetheless. All of these transition words help sentence structure vary and keep readers engaged. They also add mystery and suspense to a narrative. Try using some of these in your own writing every now and then. You can put them at the start, middle, or end of a sentence, and all of them help strengthen your writing.
5. Avoid comma splices. To a keen-eyed reader or copy editor, comma splices create an eye sore that detracts from your authority as a writer. Luckily, they're easy to spot (and avoid) if you know the signs.
A comma splice uses a comma to break up a sentence. However, the words on either side of the comma should (and can) work as two separate sentences.
Example: She trembled while waiting to speak, she wanted to talk so much.
To avoid comma splices, add a conjunction (and, but, or, nor, for, etc.), a semicolon, or a period. Or invest in a proofreader to catch, flag, and fix these instances for you.
6. Use fewer adverbs. When used correctly, adverbs add flavor and style to your story. However, more often than not, adverbs get in the way of storytelling. They're easy to include but not always the best option when describing events, people, places, or ideas. That's because adverbs provide only so much information to a reader. For example, if a character "bows awkwardly"—will a reader know what that looks like? Many times, there's a better way to describe this than relying on adverbs.
How to spot adverbs: they often end in "ly" and usually come before or after a verb. Examples: friendly, awkwardly, happily, sadly, cautiously, carefully
Examine a piece of your writing and highlight all of your adverbs. Can you think of another way to say what you mean without them? See how many adverbs you can remove, and then go back and reread your piece. Does the story come alive more for you now?
7. Make dialogue interesting. Spoken communication between characters is called dialogue. It's an important tool to master in your writing, since it helps tell your story and connect your readers to the main narrators or actors in the piece. Dialogue also helps readers get to know your characters' likes, dislikes, back story, and more.
To make your dialogue interesting, make sure each character sounds different. You don't have to come up with elaborate speech for everyone, but including nuance every now and then makes the character more three-dimensional on the page.
For example, one reader could speak in broken English or a mix of languages. Another could say "gonna" rather than "going to" or "hafta" rather than "have to." Maybe another character comes from a different part of the world where phrases or words change when they speak. Maybe someone only speaks in second person (you) or third person (she, he, they).
Experiment with dialogue in your story. Try to come up with a few different ways of speaking and apply that to your characters' conversations.
8. Show, don't tell. All of this ultimately leads to the biggest tip of all: Show the reader your story. Don't tell it to them.
Think of yourself as a story artist, not just a story teller. It's your job to paint the scene, one word at a time. If you give a reader only facts, they'll likely lose interest. However, if you show them a world worth living in and characters worth knowing, they'll buy your next book.
How to show and not tell: The way you show doesn't have to be all blocks of description. For instance, you can capture the feel of a bustling market through a character's eyes (think of how to illustrate sights, sounds, spices, or shadows), relay someone's back story through dialogue ("The love of my life changed my world forever with just one kiss."), or deliver a punchy action scene through a sequence of short, active sentences (He ran as fast as he could. Feet up, legs out. Sprinting from danger before it found him.).
Now that you know how to better tell your story, start writing! Find your voice and play around with these techniques. Or if you think you're ready to have your book edited, check out my services page. Let's work together.