writing tips

Quick Writing and Editing Tips – Adjectives #Writing #Editing

A well-placed, strong and evocative adjective can add great detail to a word, phrase or scene. However, too often they come across as contrived and unnecessary.

The beautiful, bubbling river sparkled in the golden sunlight, its silvery ripples reflecting the brilliant, blazing rays that played on the shivering surface. 

Too much, far too much. What’s wrong with:

The river sparkled in the sunlight, silvery rays playing on the shivering surface.

(That’s still too much).

And be very careful of ‘broad’ adjectives like ‘beautiful’ in the first sentence.  ‘Beautiful’ like ‘nice’, ‘wonderful’, etc. is a broad term – it’s subjective and means different things to different people. It adds nothing so is best avoided, except in dialogue. Also be wary of the thesaurus. It is useful and can help you describe things in a fresh, new way. But be careful. You don’t want to sound like Joey from Friends!

Quick Writing and Editing Tips – Adverbs #Writing #Editing

Adverbs modify verbs. If you’re using an adverb to modify a verb, then ask yourself why you need to. Is the verb not doing its job? If the verb alone can’t tell your reader how someone or something is doing something without an adverb, then is it the right one to use?

For example:

John walked quickly down the street.

You want your reader to know how John walked, so if he’s walking quickly, then say so – right? Well, no. 

John hurried down the street.

One word instead of two – hurried – tells us exactly how John is moving.

Quick Writing and Editing Tips – Writing Action Scenes #Writing #Editing

  • Have events happen in real time. This helps your reader feel involved in the scene and brings them closer to a character.
  • Use physical movements but don’t describe every single action in great detail.
  • Have your character make quick decisions and react quickly to the situation/event.
  • Minimise dialogue especially if it creates a pause in the action.
  • Choose the verbs you use carefully for maximum effect.
  • If you’re having trouble visualising the actions involved in the scene act it out! (It helps if you can get someone else to join in!)
  • Read other writers and see how they write successful or unsuccessful action scenes. What didn’t work can be as important as what did work.
  • Keep it real. Unless you’re writing fantasy where anything is physically possibly, keep the scenes within the bounds of reality (see acting it out above!)

Quick Writing and Editing Tips – Dialogue #Writing #Editing

  • Be nosy. Listen in to other people’s conversations and make a note of how they speak. You’ll notice elements like contractions (hasn’t, didn’t etc.), figures of speech and turn taking that occur in natural speech.
  • Read your dialogue out loud. This really helps to make sure that it sounds natural rather than forced and contrived.
  • Don’t be too natural though! Your reader doesn’t want to hear all the repetitions and pauses that go along with actual speech. Cut these bits out and get rid of anything that doesn’t add to the plot.
  • Don’t use a variety of dialogue tags. ‘Chuckled’, ‘proclaimed’, ‘bellowed’ etc. just sound as though you’re desperately trying to think of a different word to ‘said’ or asked’. Which you probably are. 
  • Avoid exposition. Although dialogue can be used to reveal information and move the plot along, don’t fall into the trap of having your characters discussing things they already know. Be very careful to ensure that readers do not feel that dialogue is being used simply to let them (the reader) know certain facts. Let the reader ascertain things from what your character is saying. Trust your reader – don’t force feed them details.
  • Read. Anyone who is serious about writing needs to read. A lot. And reading someone else’s work can help a great deal when it comes to writing dialogue. When you come across dialogue that works really well, work out how the writer did that. And when dialogue doesn’t work, again, work out what went wrong. You’ll then know what to do and what not to do when it comes to your own work.

Quick Writing and Editing Tips – Past and Passed #Writing #Editing

Passed is the past tense of the verb ‘to pass’. It’s used to describe things that have already happened. It’s also the past participle of ‘to pass’ so it’s used for the passive voice (the law was passed) and perfect tenses (thirty years have passed by so quickly).

Passed is only ever a verb form.

Past, however, has lots of different functions – it is an adjective, a noun and a preposition.

As a noun:

  • The time before the present moment (we didn’t use that method in the past)
  • The history of a place or person (he never talks about his past)

As an adjective:

  • Gone by in time or no longer existing (his best years are past)
  • Happening before and leading up to the time of speaking or writing (he’s really grown in the past year)

As a preposition:

  • From one side of something to the other (he ran past her and into the house)
  • Telling the time (it’s past midnight)
  • Further than a specific point (I can see past the harbour and out over the sea)

As an adverb:

  • To move  from one side so as to move from one side of something or someone to the other (she saw a car going past) 
  • time going by (a year went past before she saw him again) 

Saturday Writing Tips: Using your senses #WritingTips

prairie-dog

The world is three-dimensional, full of colour, sounds, smells, tastes, textures. Your characters live in a three-dimensional world too; a world that you need to bring to life for your readers.

May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month. The days are long and humid. The river shrinks and black crows gorge on bright mangoes in still, dustgreen trees. Red bananas ripen. Jackfruits burst. Dissolute bluebottles hum vacuously in the fruity air. Then they stun themselves against clear windowpanes and die, fatly baffled in the sun.’

Arundhati Roy – The God of Small Things

When I read this, I can feel the intensity of the heat, smell the rotting fruit, hear the insects. It’s a beautiful description, every word carefully chosen, brilliantly put together.

If you want to bring your reader into a scene, if you want them to be immersed, to experience what your character is experiencing, then you need to consider all five senses.

Vision – what’s ahead, behind, just out of sight? If your character is looking down, what’s underfoot?

Sound – this can really help to build a scene; the snap of a twig, breathing, a snatch of a song that brings a memory to mind.

Smell – a fragrance, an aroma, a stench – the things we smell can be so evocative, reminding us of something or someone, or placing a character firmly in a certain place.

Touch – how does something feel? The texture, the weight, the temperature.

Taste – this can be a tricky one. But taste, like smell, can be so evocative. A certain flavour can take us back to childhood, for example. And it doesn’t have to be food – use your imagination!

A word of caution though – remember less is more. You don’t need to bring all five senses into every scene. What you need to do is to create a world with your words that your reader can imagine, a world where your characters can live.

Saturday Writing Tips: Writing Sex Scenes #WritingTips

The Kiss 1901-4 by Auguste Rodin 1840-1917

I edit a lot of erotica and romance, some of it fairly mild, some of it less so. Sometimes I’ll be sitting at my desk on a Tuesday afternoon with a cup of tea and a digestive, deleting unnecessary adjectives from a raunchy scene and I’ll think to myself how strange my job sometimes is!

But it’s not just erotica and romance that calls for X-rated scenes.  If you’re a writer, the chances are that one day you’re going to have to tackle a scene of this type. This is something that worries a lot of authors. So here are some tips on how to write a sex scene that won’t make you or your readers cringe.

  • Skip the euphemisms. Show your reader some respect. If you need some awful examples to avoid read 50 Shades (Down there? Really? What are we, eleven?)
  • Make it consensual. Obviously consensual. Non-consensual sex is not erotic or sexy. At all. It is just wrong.
  • Your characters are not porn stars. Unless they are porn stars. It needs to be hot, but not unbelievable. Don’t use clichés from terrible porn movies.
  • Stay true to your characters. As with all action scenes and as with all dialogue, your characters need to behave and speak in a way your reader can believe they would behave and speak.
  • Make sure the scene has a purpose. Like any scene or event in your book it needs to drive the story forward.
  • As with all your writing, but especially when writing about sex, use all five senses. ALL of them.
  • Often the idea of sex is more erotic than the act itself. Build up the tension.
  • Act it out! Seriously – one of my best teachers on my Masters course had written both excellent fight scenes and excellent sex scenes and she insisted that the best way to make both realistic and readable was to act them out. (That way you don’t end up having your characters do things that would take three hands each and I don’t have to sit there on a Tuesday afternoon wondering what’s supposed to be going where when I’d rather be eating a biscuit).

Once again, my top tip is to read. Shirley Conran and Jilly Cooper write better sex scenes than a certain other author mentioned above, as does Sylvia Day (sometimes). And of course you can’t beat a bit of DH Lawrence. Though in my humble opinion Flaubert did it best with poor old Madame Bovary.

And if you want some examples of how not to write sex scenes, then do follow Men Write Women on Twitter. Sorry, men.

Saturday Writing Tips: Keeping it Interesting #WritingTips

bored

Your job as a writer is to entertain, inform and engage your reader. If this isn’t your goal, then you may be in the wrong job. You don’t want to bore your reader or they’ll simply close your book and go and find another one on Amazon (there are millions to choose from after all). So how do you avoid sending your reader to sleep?

  • Increase the pace. You can do this by using a variety of sentence and paragraph lengths. Short sentences will add drama, suspense and pace, moving your reader forward with your character.
  • Get rid of passive voice. Passive voice can be too wordy and can put a distance between your reader and your words.
  • Include drama, conflict and events. You’re writing fiction. Things need to happen. Your characters need to have experiences and develop, change and be affected by what is happening.
  • Ditch the clichés. Clichés are boring, lazy and add nothing to your writing. If your work is riddled with clichés you are showing no respect at all to the readers who will invest time and money in your book. Give them something fresh, something new.
  • Be honest with yourself. Do you need all that description? All those lovely adverbs and adjectives? All those clever, clever metaphors? Who are they for?
  • Read, read, read. And when you’re reading make a note of what bores you as well as what excites you. Learn from other writers – from their mistakes as well as their successes.

How do you keep your writing exciting? Share your thoughts and ideas by leaving a comment below.

Saturday Writing Tips: Writing Effective Action Scenes #WritingTips

ACTION

Action scenes don’t necessarily mean huge battles, violence, gunfights or crime. While this might be the case in Hollywood blockbusters, action scenes are important in your fiction – they create drama, interest, allow characters to develop and move your plot forward.

An action scene can involve something as seemingly simple as an unexpected phone call or a surprise visitor. What’s important is to carry your reader along with the action, and to write scenes that move your characters forward, building tension and giving your characters opportunities to develop and grow.

Here are a few tips for writing effective action scenes:

  • Have events happen in real time. This helps your reader feel involved in the scene and brings them closer to a character.
  • Use physical movements but don’t describe every single action in great detail.
  • Have your character make quick decisions and react quickly to the situation/event.
  • Minimise dialogue, especially if it creates a pause in the action.
  • Choose the verbs you use carefully for maximum effect.
  • If you’re having trouble visualising the actions involved in the scene, act it out! (It helps if you can get someone else to join in!)
  • Read other writers and see how they write successful or unsuccessful action scenes. What didn’t work can be as important as what did work.
  • Keep it real. Unless you’re writing fantasy, where anything is physically possibly, keep the scenes within the bounds of reality (see acting it out above!)

Got any tips for writing action scenes? Do let me know by posting a comment below.

Saturday Writing Tips: Commas #WritingTips

commas-and-clauses

Commas have lots of uses and are essential in helping writing to flow and make sense. However, knowing when to use them, and when not to, can be confusing. Lots of authors that I work with either pepper their writing with far too many commas, or write long, complicated sentences that leave the reader struggling to make sense of what is going on. It isn’t enough to use commas where you would naturally pause in a sentence, although this technique can help. Sometimes a comma HAS to be used, and sometimes the use of a comma can be a case of convention or choice.

Without commas, your meaning can be easily changed or confused. Take this obvious example; it speaks for itself:

comma grandma

If you find commas a pain, then these rules and suggestions may help.

1) Use a comma to separate items on a list. This always reminds me of a memory game I used to play with my kids on long car journeys:

I went to the shops and I bought an apple, a banana, a cherry and six bars of chocolate.

Be careful to avoid confusion here though:

I went to the shops and bought my favourite sandwiches – hummus, sardine and cheese and tomato.

Now, are we suggesting here that I eat sandwiches with all these fillings? Or that I like hummus sandwiches, and sandwiches that contain sardines AND cheese AND tomato. Or sardine and cheese. Or just cheese and tomato? Commas can clear this up:

I went to the shops and bought my favourite sandwiches – hummus, sardine, and cheese and tomato.

sandwich

2) Use a comma to separate a series of actions, events or elements in a sentence:

She opened the door, peeped inside, and screamed her head off.

3) Use a comma before a conjunction to connect two independent clauses:

She opened the door quietly, but he still heard her.

The comma could be left out, but using it here helps the pace of the sentence, and adds to the suspense.

4) Use a comma after the introductory elements of a sentence:

Opening the door, she felt a scream rise in her throat.

5) Use a comma to set off parenthetical information:

She opened the door, her heart banging in her chest, and peeped inside.

The bit between the commas can be removed without changing the essential meaning of the sentence.

paretical comma

6) Use a comma to separate adjectives:

She was a scared, pale little thing.

If you can put an ‘and’ between the adjectives, then it’s probably better to use a comma there instead – you might write ‘She was a scared and pale little thing’, but not ‘She was a scared and pale and little thing’.

6) Use commas when you are writing speech:

‘This door’s hinges,’ she said, ‘are in need of some oil.’

and

‘I think we should oil the hinges,’ she said.

7) Use a comma before a phrase that expresses a contrast:

The door was solid, but not very heavy.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but if I was to write about every single use of a comma then not only would this blog post be very boring, it would also be confusing. The advice given here is a starting point and will help you on your way to improving your craft and your knowledge of those little rules and conventions that will help your writing make sense.

commas