Writing tip #2: lose readers vs. grab readers

Okay here’s the guide for this post. If you want to lose your readers, follow the sentences with the strike-out. If you want to grab your readers by their collars and drag their minds through your story (no violence intended), follow the normal sentences:

First paragraph hard up against the margin (And other formatting).

First line: Here's one example from another WordPress blog

Go look around at any novel. I dare you … Also, Use en or em dashes (those longer looking ones) unless you are joining two words together. E.g. Smith-Johnson vs. I hate him — really. Remember that semi-colons are only used to connect two sentences and when separating complex lists. A wrong example: The vomit stunk; so putrid.

Remember to interact the character/s with the setting.

E.g:

“Martin, you shouldn’t be here.”

I rolled my eyes. No way was I going to leave.

“Mart–”

“Shut it. Put a peg over your nose if you can’t stand the smell.”

She gave me the eyes. The “don’t mess with me” ones. “I’ve been working at this abattoir for ten years. I can stand the sight and smell of an animal without a head or its skin.”

(This scene has so — soo — much potential. I want to smell the dying flesh. I want to see what the walls and the items furnishing the room looks like in a place like this. Be stingy! Squeeze out all you can from a scene.)

Flow.

Chunks of word/sentences/paragraphs that are too long or too short concurrently. You want your novel to look as appealing as a beautiful painting. Vary the length of words. Most of the time, however, a shorter word will do instead of a longer one (approved by George Orwell).

A personal tip? When I read I feel like I’ve turned into a stereotypical male. I can’t handle too much going on. I want something simple. I don’t want to see the first page and only two paragraphs!

You feeling what I'm feeling?

You haven’t earned the right to do what you like — yet. You need to do everything in your power to grab me and doing the above is like asking me to run a marathon. Uh-uh.

Create empathy.

I learnt this tip from my TAFE teacher (he backed his theory from every student rebuttal): every opening to a novel must:

a) create humour,

b) involve human suffering, and/or

c) involve family.

Every beginning has at least one of those factors. Make sure yours does too.

Originality!

Cover of "Hush, Hush"

Cover of Hush, Hush

Okay, this one seems obvious but if you are writing about angels, you need to make sure you’re doing something that hasn’t been done before in novels such as Hush, Hush and Fallen.

It’s easy to get caught up in editing and preparing your novel for publication. Consider whether your “One year ago” or “Dream sequence” scene will bring something fresh to your reader compared to their last novel. It’s not a cliché to describe your character as they stare in the mirror.

Overuse adjectives and adverbs.

Here’s what not to do: “The cup was very hot,” she said worriedly.

Here’s what you should do (note that by cutting the original part, it reads punchier): She put her hand on the bench to steady herself. “The cup was … hot.”

This sounds like such a little difference but once you start harping on about the blue, wide, clear sky and how slowly, awkwardly somethings are, you convert to weak writing that Tells instead of Shows. Remember for every “awkwardly” you use, you are taking the easy way out of describing this to the reader (much more effective).

Strong nouns and verbs  are what create good writing (although I’m sure most of you already know this).

Relying on passive sentences.

In life, we use manners. In fact, in Government documents, saying, “The pavement will not be removed by the Council,” is preferred. In fiction? Be a mannerless — fearless — writer. Say, “George killed the child.” (You hate George, don’t you?)

Compare the former sentence with this. “The child was killed.” (Not so angry anymore are you? You aren’t sure who to blame!)

Where's that darn George gone?

One way to easily pick out the suspect passive sentences is if there is no subject (who killed the child?) or if the subject comes after the object (Telling the reader that “The child was killed and then including “by George”). Humans naturally read from left to right. So write:

George (subject) killed the child (object).

Hook.

Okay. I know I’m being super shifty here but I’ve already mentioned this one and I know so many of my lovely readers have already heard me harp on about it, so for the rest who haven’t heard me mention it, here’s the link.

So. How were those rules guidelines? I may have forgotten, like, ten other important ones so now over to you …

Readers: What are your tips for strong writing?

28 thoughts on “Writing tip #2: lose readers vs. grab readers

  1. Writing tip: Be original but without trying too hard with your idea (angels that eat goats/angels that do magic/horse angels, a mafia of angels). I read once every idea is already out there, but it’s the way you write it. I took it to mean to work very hard on your craft. Make your own style, your own voice.
    Something that really bugs me is the way writers hate on other writers. I read not to compare yourself with the people besides you, but someone who is where you want to be.

    • Hey! Angel goats could become a multi-million dollar revolution when people get sick of reading the reg model-looking angels in fiction.

      I read a good novel to use it as inspiration for my career–not to hate on a talented author.

      Thank you for your thoughts. :)

  2. This post helped me nail down the problem I couldn’t identify and that all my editors and readers were missing as well. Thanks! (Apparently it it possible to skate by on sub-par writing.)

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  4. I nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award! I see you have one! I’m not surprised! Your writing and teaching tips are awesome. Come to my page to see the post. Congratulations!

  5. OMG the semi-colon thing scares me. Well kinda lol. Have you seen the post on “how to use a semicolon”? Very comical but true. U’ve nailed it here too lol. Now I feel like I’m back in primary school with aunty reading my essay out loud to the whole class! :)

  6. This is a great post. Passive is one thing that is very hard to pick out. I still come across one here and there in my own novel. It’s always a surprise, but you don’t always realize it the first few edits.

  7. another great post. You brought up points I had not considered. It’s also important for regular bloggers like me to know these things. Thanks. I learn so much from you!

    • I don’t know what I’m doing checking my emails in the middle of the night but when it does reach a respectable hour, I’m going to check this out. Thank you heaps!

      My eyes are still squinting. I think I should fall asleep again!

  8. Great post! When I write, I have to push myself to remember to use active or visual verbs, and also to write most sentences in the form ‘Subject verb object’ to make sure I don’t fall into the ‘passive’ trap.

    • It took me so long to get a firm grasp on passive/active sentences. And just as long to pick it up quickly in my own writing and convert it to the most appropriate tone.

      Glad to see a fellow writer with the same thoughts!

    • Thank you for dropping by. I need examples too! As you can see, I love them.

      When I see examples and then read a novel, I know if the info I read actually made sense if it feels like I’m decoding the section (think matrix-style coding). Like: wallah! Off comes the blanket; here’s the hidden message.

  9. These were great examples that I will have to remember. Sometimes I know the rules, but not how to prevent myself from breaking them. The number of times I have stared at the screen and pondered how to get rid of passive is more than I can count, but the way you explained it helps a lot!

    As for reading right to left, you haven’t studied Arabic or you would be all messed up! Not only do you have to read right to left, but their grammar is completely different than English. For instance, they often put the verb first, then the noun. Ex- Walked Noel to the store. They can also connect a lot of their prepositions and definite articles to the next word. For instance, “in the house” can all be one word in Arabic “bilbayt”. I never could get all the rules straight because there were too many of them and they were nothing like English. I used to go to my instructors to have them check over anything I wrote and each one of them would disagree with the other on how something should be said. Apparently, the only ones who can write in near perfect Arabic have a degree in it, just like here with English, lol.

    Needless to say, figuring out the grammar in that language taught me some things about my own native language. I still have a lot to learn though. At least blog posts like yours are helpful to me!

    • Sounds complicated!

      Glad to hear that my post helped. I feel like I’m repeating myself a lot in my posts, so I’m going to have to come up with new stuff.

      P.S. I stare art the screen for wayy too long, too. I need ‘just’ the right formula so it clicks with me. Then I can begin to pick out things. But until that time (and it’s a while), I re-write with the same type of bad writing. lol

      • lol, there are instances where I write lines knowing it isn’t perfect grammar but figure I can fix it in later drafts. Sometimes an alternative way of saying something doesn’t come until the second or third time around.

  10. The “show-don’t-tell” rule is one of the most important in writing — so glad to see you’ve taken the time to post about it! Great list of tips.

    Two of my close friends are published authors with a website you may enjoy. Please forgive the link inclusion, but after reading your post, I see you have a strong interest in these things. :) http://weekendnovelist.com. I bet you’ll enjoy their site.

    • Hi Melissa! Thanks for visiting. That link looks very helpful. I’ve got the page open now and will read once I’ve finished typing. :) And please — tell them to visit my blog and see if it’s helpful, or if I could use a few tips from them. Lol.

      I also did another post which focuses solely on Show, Don’t Tell in Writing tip #1 here.

      Hope to chat again soon.

  11. So true. It’s all in the wording and the exploration of scene. Too many good, emotional moments are lost to a lack of involvement for the reader. Sometimes it is indeed better to say it, but more often than not, to combine those words with showing us, with making us *feel* the power of the moment unfurling before our eyes–now that’s a hook that will keep us coming back for more. Another good list–one a lot of folks could benefit from (particularly on the variety and flow points, with originality not too far behind).

    • I lost this entire list. I was doing some final adjustments, found a word misspelt and went to replace it — I was using one of those “Mac” computers, you see — and it highlighted the whole word. I didn’t see this happen and looked back up after typing to see it all gone. Because of my three-second shock delay, I couldn’t click out of the page fast enough and it did one of its autosaves.

      I hope I covered everything here. I love lists like these. Pick out the bold headings and steal the tips … Muahaha. I’m a skim reader.

      Anyway, rant over. Thanks for stopping by! And please share this as much as you like.

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