Five Quick Tips to Improve Your Writing Now
Sometimes writers work so hard at perfecting their craft — researching plotting, character construction, and description — that they often forget the nuts and bolts.
Nothing keeps a reader reading like good prose. Honing your vocabulary and sentence construction will take your writing to the next level.
Here are five quick tips to get you started. Go back through your writing and give it a good copy edit for these five things. You’ll be surprised how much your prose truly sharpens.
- Use the Active Voice
The Problem: Passive voice can make your prose vague. Worse, it sounds un-animated. Boring, in other words. You don’t want your writing to be boring.
Example: The pizza was eaten.
The Fix: Was-words kill your writing. Locate your was-words, and you’ll find most of your passive sentences. To fix passive sentences, turn them around so the subject is doing the action.
Example: Roy ate the pizza.
2. Emphasize Verbs and Nouns
The Problem: Weak prose relies on band-aid words like adjectives and adverbs to communicate its meaning. But these aren’t the strongest words. Verbs and nouns carry more power.
Example: The young boy horse ran quickly up the hill in the grassy field.
The Fix: Find your nouns and verbs. Try to figure out if more specific versions exist that combine the meaning of your noun or verb and its descriptor.
Example: The colt galloped over the pasture’s rise.
3. Vary Sentence Length and Structure
The Problem: Repeating the same sentence construction gets monotonous. Monotony is boring, right? The last thing we want to do is bore our readers.
Here is a phenomenal example of how sentence length can make your writing snooze or sing:
The Fix: Pay attention to sentence constructions while you read. Don’t just vary length. Vary the number of clauses and how those clauses work together. If you’re still struggling, find some worksheets to help you out. Here is a set of exercises to try.
4. Nix Wordiness
The Problem: I know it sounds weird, but words can get in the way of telling your story. We’ve discussed two of the worst culprits (passive voice, weak verbs and nouns) above. But another offender is the prepositional phrase.
Example: The books in the student’s backpack got wet when it was rained on in the back of his truck.
The Fix: Sometimes this kind of sentence needs to be rearranged entirely. Pick out the prepositions, and see if you can phrase things with more concision. This may mean breaking up the sentence.
Example: Jim forgot his bag in his truck bed, so the rain soaked all of his books.
Develop Your Voice
The Problem: Many of these issues stem from a wimpy writing voice. A voice, put simply, is the way your narrator sounds in your reader’s head. This is the sum of your authorial choices, from diction and syntax, to what your describe and how. The most effective voices sound like a person talking, and they can really sweep a reader up with the story. Voice is a major part of what makes a book impossible to put down.
The Fix: Read your work aloud. I can’t stress this enough. Reading your work will point out all of the things I mentioned above. When your prose is too wordy, you’ll find yourself needing a breath. When your syntax sounds dull, you’ll find yourself droning. (Bueller? Bueller?) But when everything clicks into place, when you find the right words, and your syntax lilts in just the right spots, reading it will be easy.
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