Ideas for strong writing.
Use active voice rather than passive voice.
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English verbs are said to have two voices: active and passive.
Active Voice: the subject of the sentence performs the action:
His son catches fly balls. Creative children often dream in class.
Passive Voice: the subject receives the action:
The ball was caught by the first baseman.
The duty is performed by the new recruits.
The dough was beaten by the mixer.
The mailman was bitten by the dog.
Adjectives: Use sparingly and consciously. Overuse indicates a need to find more precise nouns and to show rather than tell.
Adverbs: Too often, writers use these to beef up weak verbs. Your goal should be to make verbs strong enough to do the work themselves and kill off your adverbs. You won’t be able to get rid of all of them, but circle each one in your draft and use a thesaurus to find strong verbs that characterize and carry emotions as well as convey action.
Paraphrased from Victoria Zackheim, author, editor, writing teacher
An adverb modifies a verb and clarifies the action. Avoid adverbs and use strong verbs instead, because adverbs “tell” rather than “show” the action.
“I don’t understand,” said the man angrily, his hands balled into fists. “Angrily” tells, and “balled into fists” shows that he is angry. So, “angrily” is redundant.
Avoiding adverbs that end in -ly: “The boy raced quickly along the sand.” If he was racing, we know it’s quickly.
Adjectives describe nouns. Try using strong verbs so adjectives aren’t necessary.
“Tears came to her eyes and she looked away” rather than “Sad tears came to her eyes.”
“A nerve in his jaw pulsed and his fists were clenched” rather than “He was angry and a nerve . . . “
Verbs are the action words and can be scene stealers when used well. A verb that is used well rarely needs to be modified. Example:
“The bear responded angrily and he dangerously revealed his claws.”
Delete adverbs for a stronger sentence: “The bear growled and bared his claws.”
It’s almost never a good idea to use an adverb when writing dialogue. It takes away the reader’s delight to imagine the scene.
“Do this or I’ll kill you,” he said menacingly, can stand without that menacing adverb, since his comment is menacing.
There are times when an adverb enhances and clarifies the sentence. For example:
“The rain fell intermittently.” The adverb “intermittently” tells us that the rain fell off and on.
“He paid the bill occasionally.” In this sentence, occasionally is an important adverb.
Paraphrased from Writer’s Digest magazine, January 2006, “Pick Up the Pace”
Quick pacing hooks readers, creates tension, deepens the drama and speeds things along.
Picking up the pace increases tension. How to quicken the pace:
1. Start story in the middle of the dramatic action, not before the drama commences.
2. Keep description brief. This doesn’t mean using no description, but choose one or two telling, brief details.
3. Combine scenes. If one scene deepens character by showing a couple at dinner and a few scenes later they have a fight, let them have the fight at dinner.
4. Rely on dialogue. A lot of story can be carried by spoken conversation. Readers seldom skip dialogue.
5. Keep backstory to a minimum. The more we learn about characters through what they do now, in story time, the less you’ll need flashbacks, memories and exposition about their histories. All of these slow the pace.
6. Squeeze out every unnecessary word. This is the best way of all to increase pace. There are times you want a longer version for atmosphere, but be choosy. Wordiness kills pace and bores readers.
From Marlene: Use present tense rather than past tense for “real time” — so the reader travels along with the protagonist as they explore and discover together.
More on strengthening writing:
Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch by Constance Hale
Sensory Details – Kinesthetic, motion in writing
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