Archive for June, 2010

Effective Writing is Specific, not General

It’s easy to use general terms when writing. For example, we can write “The car raced down the road,” and we’d be following the “Show, Don’t Tell” advice of good writing. The active verb helps create the image for the reader.

But the sentence “The car raced down the road,” is still too general. We can make the image even more clear with more specific writing. Follow the progression below.

  • The car raced down the road.
  • The car raced down the dirt road.
  • The black car raced down the dirt road.
  • The black car with the crumbled fender raced down the dirt road.

You get to decide how specific you want to be. My point is the more specific you are, the more effective your writing becomes.

Look at the progression and you’ll also note each sentence adds more words. Be careful about how much detail you add lest you become too wordy, something you don’t want to do. The art part of writing entails determining how specific you should be without losing your reader in a sea of unnecessary detail.

Just as a woodcarver starts with a chunk of wood, then begins removing pieces until the desired shape forms, so should you whittle away at your writing. Think  of all the details you could offer the reader, then remove any that get in the way of clearly showing the reader the image or concept you want the reader to see.

Notice how your favorite authors use specific writing in their work. As a reader, you probably connect better with writers who specifically show you what they see so you can see it too. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing fiction or nonfiction. Be specific and you’ll get your message across more effectively than if you write in general terms.

Happy writing!

Avoid Overusing Parentheses

I’m not sure why so many writers say what they have to say, then add comments in parentheses as if they wanted to whisper them or offer them as an aside. Parentheses are good to have in your punctuation tool box, but be sure you don’t overuse them.

Parentheses are used to set off related matter. However, if the matter is closely related, opt for commas instead of parentheses.

Another problem area is how to use other punctuation with parentheses. The rule is “Parentheses do not impact the punctuation of the sentence.” What does that mean? That means that if the ENTIRE sentence is parenthetical, the period goes inside the parentheses along with the entire sentence. Example: (She didn’t really care what he thought.).

If part of the sentence is parenthetical, but not the entire sentence, the end punctuation goes outside the parentheses. Example: She didn’t really care what he thought (or so she told herself).

Again, the parentheses does not impact the punctuation of a sentence. Thus, if you are including a parentheses-enclosed statement in a sentence that requires a comma, put the comma after the parentheses. Example: She told him she’d call (and she did), but he didn’t answer.

Parentheses can be helpful and use them when you need to, but don’t overdo it. Your reader will thank you.

Happy writing!

There’s More Than One Way to Organize Your Manuscript

Most of us learned to outline using the model below:

I. Topic

A. Sub topic

1. More detail

i. More detail

ii. More detail

2. Detail

i. More detail

II. Topic

A. Sub topic

B. Sub topic

1. Detail

If you think in a linear fashion, this can work for you, but if you don’t, you probably use another system such as Tony Buzan’s mind mapping that involves placing the main idea in the center of your page, then having  topics radiate from that center point as you think of them. Then, as you look at your map, other ideas come and you fill in. You may want to watch this video to get an idea of how mind mapping works.

My point is most of us don’t think the way we were taught to organize our thoughts (formal outline form). In fact, since we’re creative beings and writing our interpretations of what we observe in life and through research, it’s possible that given the same information, two of us would organize it differently.

Thus, you’ll want to give yourself permission to test various ways to organize your manuscript. You may want to start with a list of ideas you want to get across to your reader. You may make a list of points or stories you want to include. You may make a list of logical order for your ideas/concepts/points/stories.

Sometimes we choose to organize things chronologically, and that works when you’re writing about a series of events.

Sometimes we’re taking a side on an issue, making an argument for or against something. In that case, presenting our most powerful or persuasive idea first works well.

Sometimes we write to simply entertain. If that’s what you’re doing, don’t front-end load your manuscript with the good stuff. Instead, sprinkle it around so you bring your reader on the roller coaster ride with you (sometimes uplifting and other times more sedate or sometimes suspenseful and other times a more even keel).

Keep your reader in mind. Keep your purpose for writing your book in mind. Test arrangement of ideas and concepts and settle on the one that makes sense to you, satisfies your purpose, and keeps the reader’s needs in mind.

Happy writing!

Fiction and Non-fiction Writing Share Similar Preparation

Sometimes we get hung up on differentiating fiction and non-fiction writing when we’re better served as writers if we understood they share similar preparation.

Both require research, for example. Even if writing fiction, you need to be accurate in what you write. Readers know stuff and they’ll challenge your credibility as a writer if you get it wrong. Once you’ve alienated a reader, you have very little chance to get them back. Plus, they’re willing to share their disappointment in you with anyone who will listen.

Of course everyone knows research is vital to non-fiction writing, but don’t underestimate it in your fiction writing as well.

Another thing fiction and non-fiction writing share in the preparation stage is you determining why you’re writing the book. Are you writing it because you have a good story to tell? Storyline(s) are important in both fiction and non-fiction writing. Are you writing it because you want to explore an idea or emotion? Again, this applies to both fiction and non-fiction. Are you writing it to give the reader something to ponder? Yep, both fiction and non-fiction writing do this.

One more thing fiction and non-fiction writing have in common during preparation is how do you want to get your message out? Do you want to use description? Character profiles? Statistics? History? You have many choices, but one thing to always remember is your job is to get your message out while doing your best to meet reader expectations.

If you’re writing genre fiction (romance, mystery, thriller, horror, sci-fi, western, etc.), follow the formulas for the genre. If you’re writing non-fiction, provide the information the reader needs without overloading the reader with information that can  confuse or blur the point of your book.

Preparation is critical to writing a good book for both fiction and non-fiction writers, so don’t overlook its importance.

Happy writing!