9 Simple Tips for Better Writing
Do you want to write better? Of course you do! This article details nine easy ways to improve your writing so that you can produce captivating stories and become a professional writer in no time! 1/28/19.
Communication is an integral part of everyday life. The average person speaks at least 7,000 words every day. Speaking, however, isn’t the only form of communication. In fact, you’re reading the second one right now.
Almost everyone needs to write at some point during their day. Whether it’s an email, or text, or a short story for fun, writing is a paramount form of communication. Writing is also a complicated activity. It has a ton of rules, and even though the quality of writing is technically subjective, there are mounds of objective rules that form the basis of writing in any language.
Furthermore, many people aren’t happy with the quality of their own writing. They settle for weak descriptions, ramblings, and lacklustre words knowing they can do better, but unsure of how to achieve their full writing potential.
But, fear not!
This article will have you writing like a champion after just a short read. It contains nine simple, actionable tips for better writing.
These nine tips are mainly for writing fiction, like short stories and novels. They can, however, be applied to any form of writing in many cases. The tips also focus primarily on the words and sentences themselves, not the habits or external factors of the writing process. This article details how to write a masterpiece once you’ve already sat down, had a cup of coffee, and removed surrounding distractions.
1. Write short
Shorter is sweeter in terms of sentences and paragraphs.
The human brain interprets language better when it’s broken down into small, digestible chunks. The shorter and more concisely you can explain an idea, the easier it will be for someone to read about it. And that’s the goal. You don’t want your writing to be a pain to read because it’s littered with run-on sentences and page-long paragraphs.
If you keep your writing short, more people will enjoy reading it.
Now, I’m not saying limit every paragraph to two sentences or anything like that; I’m just advising to be modest. Avoid unnecessarily long sentences and paragraphs unless doing otherwise would benefit your writing in some external way.
2. Use the simple versions of words
It turns out that shorter is also sweeter in terms of words. Well, most of the time.
Flavouring your prose can be a good thing----perhaps you’d prefer to use horrifying rather than scary, or malicious rather than mean. That’s fine, but make sure not to do it too much.
Sentences that are full of complicated words and flowery descriptors are called purple prose. Purple prose makes writing difficult and clunky to read and understand; you want to avoid it at all costs. Using the simple version of a word rather than an uncommon synonym ensures your writing is smooth and easy to read. Then, much like the first tip, more people will enjoy reading your work.
So, if you want to add spice to your prose, do it sparingly. Opting for the simple version of a word is often the best choice.
3. Use the active voice
In writing, you can either use the active voice or the passive voice for narration. The active voice places emphasis on the person or thing performing an action. For example, “James played the piano,” is phrased in the active voice.
The passive voice places emphasis on the object that is being acted on. For example, “the piano was played by James,” is phrased in the passive voice.
In almost all genres of writing, emphasizing the subject of the sentence (active voice) is the preferred choice. It makes for stronger and more concise statements and feels “cleaner” in a way. It also creates a faster-moving narrative with a smoother pace.
4. Be specific with description
This tip is all about painting a detailed image for your reader. For example,
There were a lot of soldiers in his army!
Well, how many soldiers is a lot? Two? One thousand? If you introduce an object that can exist in multiples, it’s usually a good idea to use a numeral when describing it:
There had to have been over ten thousand soldiers in his army!
The second sentence helps the reader visualize the magnitude of the army----mentioning the number of soldiers will only serve to increase the effect of any subsequent description.
The second form of the “be specific with description” tip overlaps with tip nine, which is “show, don’t tell.” When you describe something as scary or someone as angry, explain why and how the place is scary or the person is angry. A good rule of thumb is to always consider the five senses of the character. Describe things in terms of what a character sees, hears, smells, feels, and tastes. That will make your description much more relatable for the reader.
5. Don’t you dare, never, ever repeat yourself
Be careful of repetition. If you use the word “angry” four times within two sentences, your readers will notice. The repetition will jerk your readers out of the story and make them painfully aware of the mechanics behind the writing, which will detract from the effect you want your words to have.
If you find yourself repeating the same word multiple times within a short span, replace some iterations of the word with synonyms.
The same rule applies to phrases. If you form every sentence in the same manner, the pace of your writing will drone, again making the reader aware of the writing mechanics. If you find you have too much parallel structure, vary the form of the sentence by swapping around the subject, its predicate, and the relevant objects. Also make sure to vary the length of your sentences.
6. Use verbs, not adverbs
Adverbs can be useful writing tools but shouldn’t be overused. Often, an adverb-adjective combination can be replaced with a stronger, more specific adjective. For example, instead of saying,
Excessive use of adverbs is very bad,
I could say,
Excessive use of adverbs is terrible.
For each adverb-adjective combination you use, check to see whether the combo could be replaced by a single verb. This practice will help decrease your overall word count while increasing the effectiveness of your writing.
7. Remove filler words
Filler words behave exactly as they’re named: they fill your writing with pointless space. Filler words, characteristically, can be removed from a sentence without changing its meaning in the slightest.
For example, instead of saying,
The colour of the carpet was really bland,
You should say,
The colour of the carpet was bland.
Don’t use words like really and very to modify adjectives (as in the previous tip). Instead, seek out a stronger adjective to replace the filler word.
Another example of a filler word is the word “suddenly” in the following sentence:
Suddenly, I felt a hand grasp my shirt collar.
My general rule for that class of filler words is if you mention something is sudden, it removes its suddenness. If you have to say something is obvious (obviously, he knew that.), it removes its obviousness. So on, and so forth.
There are many other examples of filler words, like just, only, maybe, somehow, simply, basically, sort of, almost, etc. Just keep your eyes peeled for words you can remove without messing with the meaning of the sentence.
8. Remove filter words
Yes, that’s spelled with a t this time.
A filter word is a word used to filter an experience in a story through the lens of a character. Words like saw, felt, realized, knew, wondered, looked, touched, and decided are filters. In a way, they remind the reader of the stark truth that your characters don’t exist. Worse yet, they remind a reader that only your character is experiencing what’s happening in your world----the reader isn’t experiencing it with them.
For example, the sentence,
Evelynn realized she had forgotten her phone and she felt her heart sink,
Could be rewritten to say,
Evelynn forgot her phone! Her heart sank.
Limiting the use of filter words keeps your reader immersed in your writing. For all the aspiring authors out there, that’s the key to getting people to buy your books!
9. Show, don’t tell
This piece of writing advice is repeated frequently, possibly more than any other piece of advice. That’s because it’s important.
Consider the difference between these two sentences:
She was mad.
She clenched her fists and her face turned crimson.
The second sentence is clearly more satisfying than the first. The first sentence is dull and uninspired, while the second helps to create a vivid image in a reader’s mind. That’s the key with this tip and how it applies to writing. You want each descriptive sentence to be tantalizing----to create a detailed image for the mind’s eye. Don’t tell the reader what a character is doing, show the reader what the character is doing.
There you have it! Nine simple, actionable tips you can use to improve your writing.
Listen, nobody’s perfect. Even the best writers in the world make mistakes that require round after round of editing. But knowing tips like these will allow you to make less mistakes. You’ll be able to produce powerful, enticing writing on the first go, which is often all you have (unless you feverishly edit emails and text messages).
And you know the old saying: practice makes perfect. That’s the case for these tips; the more you practice applying them, the stronger your writing will become, and eventually these tips will become second nature.
I sincerely hope these tips help improve your writing, even if just by a smidge. For me and many other literary fanatics, a world where everyone was a great writer would be a spectacular place indeed.