Becoming a writer is a wonderful and challenging journey. Your goal as a writer is to consistently get better as you build up a following. The problem many writers have, though, is improving their writing while trying not to sacrifice their unique author’s voice.
It’s tough to develop a specific style that when reading, people will know right away it’s your work and your particular voice. The reason this is tough is because there are only so many unique styles of writing you can develop while maintaining a proper writing structure. This can be quite frustrating for an up-and-coming author.
There’s no need to fret, though. You don’t need to take all the fun out of writing by following strict rules which make your work bland and unoriginal. There are ways you can keep your unique voice yet still improve your writing.
Writer’s such as Haruki Murakami, Ernest Hemingway, and Stephen King all have unique styles of writing, yet they follow a similar set of writing principles. There’s no need to complicate the process. You just need to build a solid foundation (writing presets you follow) and add your unique author’s voice on top.
5. Limit Adverb Usage
Oh, the wonderfully, pleasantly, unassumingly, often used adverb. This is a real problem for people new to creative writing. Hell, sometimes it’s a problem for professional writers as well. Who doesn’t like throwing in some colorful adverbs to liven up one’s writing?
“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they’re like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day… fifty the day after that… and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are, but by then it’s—GASP!!—too late.”
― Stephen King
And this brings us to the heart of the matter; adverb overuse. There’s nothing wrong with using adverbs when they are necessary or add something that’s needed for a story. But the difficult thing is to know when they are needed—or if they’re just adding unneeded numbers to your word count.
To know if you need an adverb in a sentence, read the sentence without it. If the sentence makes sense and is straight forward without the adverb, chances are the adverb is not needed. As stated before, adverbs should be used if they truly add something to the story. The same rules also apply to adjectives.
Try these two sentences for example:
- The shy boy quickly ran away from the pretty girl.
- The boy ran away from the girl.
Quickly in the first sentence doesn’t add anything useful. You don’t need to know the speed in which the boy ran away, just that he did run. Shy and pretty can be useful in the sentence if it’s important to the plot. In this case, the boy being shy gives the reason for why he runs away from the girl. Adding that the girl is pretty further shows why he ran, but it isn’t entirely necessary.
The second sentence isn’t good on it’s own because it doesn’t give a reason why the boy ran. To make it a useful sentence, you must create sentences before or after to give reasons for him running away. This may or may not add to the story in a beneficial way. Using the word shy cuts to the chase and gives reason why he ran. It’s important to know when to use direct writing and indirect writing as it pertains to the plot.
The shy boy ran away from the girl, or, the shy boy ran away from the pretty girl, are both acceptable sentences. They both give reason for why the boy ran.
4. Use Direct Language
This one is pretty simple. You should use more direct language (easier to understand vocabulary, shorter and more direct sentences) instead of unnecessary, flowery language. For instance, if you read a story like Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, you’ll find yourself focused more on the vocabulary and grammar being used than the actual story.
This doesn’t mean you need to dumb down your work so even a child can read it. But you do need to consider your target audience when writing. If your target audience are James Joyce fans, then you can fancy up your writing and make it as sophisticated as you see fit.
Readability is extremely important in reaching a large audience. If your aim is to write for a young adult audience, it’s very unlikely you’ll do well if your work is difficult to read. As many have said before, if you find yourself reaching for a thesaurus, you’re probably using the wrong word.
Here’s an example of indirect writing, semi-direct writing, and direct writing:
- The convoy of great steeds steadily galloped along the weather-worn road made of cobblestone—slick and glistening with moisture, a treacherous path would surely await them in the future.
- A line of large horses trotted down a cobblestone road. The road glistened with moisture which caused it to become slick. They feared the path would turn more treacherous the further along they went.
- A line of large horses trotted down the road. Moisture had made the road shiny and slick. They feared the path might turn more dangerous the further down they traveled.
The first example can be read as a bit muddled. While it might fit in a fantasy style piece, the average reader might be turned off by the language and paragraph structure.
The second example is a bit more direct. The sentences are broken up with periods and the language is slightly easier to understand. Everything is written clearly so the reader knows exactly what is happening.
The last example is very direct. It only tells you what is pertinent to the story. It is clear and easy to read with short sentences. The only problem with 100% direct writing is that it can be bland and boring. There’s no author’s voice in the way it’s written. Semi-direct writing gives you the best of both words. It’s easier to understand while still holding the readers attention. So, feel free to throw in colorful language here and there, but use it sparingly.
Continue reading on the next page…