Dancing fingers

Kahasai

United States

I'm 17
I like to dream

Homeschooled
Maybe a fool

Trampolinist
and classical guitarist

Archer
Let us barter

Mountain girl
I like burl

River otter
Viking daughter

Wolfdog owner
Forest roamer

I'm no fighter
But I am a writer

Message to Readers

Just some tips.

P.S. Sorry for any typos, confusing sentences, etc. I did little proofreading and did this all in one shot.

Enjoy!

5 Technical Writing Tips

September 8, 2018

FREE WRITING

6
Okay, so I want to give writing advice. Not emotional power boosts (though those are important), but technical advice, because while reviewing, I've noticed something things popping up. (Also, I'll be using other people's pieces as examples for what's good, so stay tuned!) I'll be covering five different topics that I hope everyone takes a look at.

1. Indent your paragraphs, or at least, put an empty line* between each paragraph. This way the reader knows when one paragraph ends and the next begins. Please note: while your format may look one way when your write it, it looks different when it's published and when it's on mobile versus on a computer. So please, please, please make a clear delineation between paragraphs.

        ~    ~    ~

E.G., with indent:

    A thought twirled through her head. I'm a monster. She shuddered and pressed herself into the bush, unable to tear her gaze away from the lifeless body. 
    "Nixie!" Devon's voice echoed across the time-worn desert. The sudden noise lodged itself into the cracks of the dried earth and whipped into her head, startling her.

E.G., with paragraph line (which you can also indent):

A thought twirled through her head. I'm a monster. She shuddered and pressed herself into the bush, unable to tear her gaze away from the lifeless body. 
   
"Nixie!" Devon's voice echoed across the time-worn desert. The sudden noise lodged itself into the cracks of the dried earth and whipped into her head, startling her.

--excerpt from Midnight Child

        ~    ~    ~

This will make it a lot easier on the reader, because it'll make sure your flow is clear.

Okay, on to number 2!

2. Show, don't tell. This is an old rule. You've probably heard it a thousand times, but yet, I see a lot of writers on this site (including the veterans), not using this rule. Don't get me wrong, telling has it's place. Need to quickly summarize a lot of information like RainAndSonder's short horror story The Knocking in the Night? Then please, tell away!

But a lot of you don't need to tell. Are you writing an action scene? An emotional scene?

Any scene that takes place in current time (when we're going at "real-time" with the character) needs to use more showing than telling.

Okay, so maybe you don't know what showing is? What telling is? Well, telling, in essence, is summarizing.

"He was hot."

Okay. That's summarizing. But can you feel he was hot? It probably took you a moment, and didn't bring give a visceral reaction like this:

"His skin burned. His shirt was plastered to his body, several shades darker than usual. Sweat slid down his skin like salty snakes, making his face shine."

Which did you enjoy reading? Which gave you a more powerful image?

Writing is a sensual. It immerses the reader as if the reader is in a whole new world--if the writer did it right. If the writer just said, "he was hot," then the reader wasn't hot. The reader was sitting in the theater eating ice cream while across the street, it felt as though his skin would melt of him. But we didn't feel that.

So, what is showing? It is the art of observation. It is describing, rather than summarizing. Take a moment to pause and look at something. What does your bedroom look like? You could say, "My bedroom was a cluttered mess." That's all well and good, but now describe to me: what does the clutter consist of? "Clothes were ready to explode from their baskets. Previously clean laundry was a constant presence on the floor. My bed was rumpled and unmade, the dresser's surface a mix of sewing supplies, winter jackets, old toys, a microscope that was never used, and a hundred other things that had been lost for a year or so."

Showing will always up your word count, which is probably why I always go over the word limit every time I enter a competition. You won't always want to show. If you're writing an essay, you probably should keep to summarizing. If you're describing some inherently mundane, such as a character brushing their teeth, it can be boring (unless something exciting happens while the character is brushing their teeth)(but please, don't describe brushing teeth, you can summarize that, everyone knows how it goes). Showing slows time down so that the reader is walking (or running) beside the character. Showing is what makes Luna Lemon's The Ocean so awesome: we get a clear picture the ocean, which brings a new but familiar perspective. Telling is what makes Sophia DuBose's heartbreaking personal essay How Stories Saved Me give so much information so fast, and what makes it so sad. Telling is what makes my short story, Shattered Sky work.

Okay, who's ready for number 3?

3. Using paragraphs and sentence lengths to your advantage. This one is a bit more particular and is definitely something you look for in the last run through before you hit the publish button.

Now, this will be harder to explain. Knowing when to use what length where is something you'll have to work for. It requires a lot of reading a fair bit of a conscious understanding. It'll take time, but it'll be entirely worth it. Being able to utilize sentence length will bring your writing up several levels. It is what marks the difference between a novice and a capable writer (though it'll never be perfect).

So, anyone who has been on the receiving end of my reviews, may have heard me say this before. (Hi, Paperbird!) This is going to require a lot of rambling to make you understand what I'm talking about.

Storytelling is drama. The key is to know when and where to emphasize the drama. For example, I'm about to launch into a long story, just to show you, so hold tight.

Long sentences are ramblings, exhausting, old fashioned; they go on and on without definite pause; it is harder to keep track what is going on and can easily become boring if you're not careful. When someone says a textbook is dry, they're probably referring to the endless sentences in giant paragraph blocks, which, by the end of the reading, can look like a bunch of meaningless squiggly lines. (This is ironic, don't you think?)

Not that long, tedious sentences don't have their place; they just need to be broken up by short! Exciting! Sentences! Well, maybe not that short. (Also, a sentence that should have ended long ago is called a run-on sentence.) Long sentences are thoughtful, rambling. They have their place, such as Gabriel Goodwin's Red Marathon.

What about short sentences? Well, let's see.

Short sentences. They bring more attention to each word. They are more dramatic. They can be melodramatic, if done wrong (or right). Action sequences are are short sentences in a block paragraph. They give flashes of an image before continuing. A fist into stomach. Swerve, dive, roll. Up, kick. Suck in the tang of blood, duck another fist. Head butt the guy in the chest, knee him somewhere painful. These sentences are less thoughtful. They are whipped out. Jotted quickly, leaving only a vague impression. I use this in my piece, The Raven Mask. Done to the degree I used in my piece, they're called fragment sentences, which is when it isn't a full sentence.

Now, what about paragraphs?

Paragraphs are a lot more powerful than most people think. They're not there simply to keep the block paragraphs from growing exhausting. They're also there to add drama, and in some cases, melodrama.

Like this. Your attention was immediately brought to the first sentence of this paragraph.

Paragraphs bring attention to particular phrases.

They emphasize.

They are melodramatic.

If used too much.

Especially in use with short sentences.

For a good example, take a look at aforementioned Paperbird's emotional excerpt from their novel, ironically called something really long that I'm going to shorten to Somewhat Dark Excerpt From My Novel. They have good use of paragraphs and sentence length.

Okey dokey, number 4!


4. Extra words. This is something with which we've all had a problem. We've all included meaningless words into our stories, but at the time, we didn't think they were meaningless.

I don't know if this is still a theme, but apparently, a lot of teens used to use "like" and "know" and "right" for every other word, like some adults put a cuss word between every other words. To put it into the extreme, a teen's sentence could come out like: "Yeah, I know, right? I mean, it's not like, like she's popular or anything."

If I were to be blunt, that teen sounds like an idiot. That teen could've just as easily said: "I know. It not as if she's popular."

Those extra words were meaningless. They bogged down the teen's true intent, her true meaning, making her incoherent and not enjoyable to listen to.

In writing, it isn't nearly as obvious. In some cases, those "extra words" can help with voice and personality, especially if the story's spoken in first person.Lily May's My Trip to New York, Narrated by Holden Caulfield is a good example of this.

So, what are these extra words? I've used a bunch in this piece (article?). I've used "so," a lot, and I've used, "well," a fair bit. The very phrase, "If I were to be blunt," is extra, because I wasn't being blunt before? And the word "very" I used in the previous sentence--that was extra.

There is a key balance between personality and bogged sentences. Too much, and you start unintentionally sounding melodramatic. Something along these lines:

He went very still, clutching the sword so tightly his knuckles were white. The door behind him creaked. He spun quickly around, arms shaking as he lifted his sword. There was nothing there! He lowered his sword, so relieved that the monster hadn't reappeared. But then he felt a warmth tickling his neck.

Okay. That was melodramatic, like a little kid's show. Like Scoobydoo and Shaggy creeping around a castle. It's fine for those who haven't refined their language skills, but as writers, we aren't always going to be writing for children. Allow me to rewrite this so that all extra words are gone.

He went still, clutching the sword so tightly his knuckles were white. The door behind him creaked. He spun around, arms shaking as he lifted his sword. There was nothing there. He lowered his sword, relieved that the monster hadn't reappeared. Then he felt a warmth tickling his neck.

Suddenly, this isn't a kid's show. This could be a horror movie. (Notice I took away the exclamation mark?)

Okay, but what about those pieces that need personality? Until you have a strong handle on language, it can be easy to go too far. Here are a few "correct" sentences, and a few sentences that has extra words.

We went to town, but it was slow-going because the traffic was thick. Cars were packed bumper to bumper, didn't anyone know to leave space?

Okay. That tells us what's going on, but it has little personality. What about this?

So, we went to town, but it was slow-going because the traffic was thick. Cars were packed bumper to bumper, and wow, didn't anyone know to leave space?


It's a hard balance to strike. From what I can tell, the difference is that if you add extra words for humor, it'll work better than for drama. Add extra to humor? It becomes humor, even if it isn't enjoyed by everybody. Add extra to drama? It becomes melodrama.

On to the finale, number 5!


5. Dialogue tags. For me, it was relatively easy to learn these rules. I don't really understand why it's so hard for some writers to grasp. Don't know? Pick up the nearest book, flip to some dialogue, and take note. Do quotation marks go on the inside or outside? Do you capitalize your words, or do you leave them undercase? 

To demonstrate the rules, I'm just going to quote something I found on Pinterest which came from Tumblr:

"This is your daily, friendly reminder to use commas instead of periods during the dialogue of your story," she said with a smile.

"Unless you are following the dialogue with an action an not a dialogue tag." He took a deep breath and sat back down after making the clarifying statement.

"However," she added, shifting in her seat, "it's appropriate to use a comma if there's action in the middle of a sentence."

"True." She glanced at the others. "You can also end with a period if you include an action between two separate statements."

"And--" she waved a pen as though to underline her statement--"if you're interrupting a sentence with an action, you need to type two hyphens to make an en-dash."

"Furthermore," she added, "there are instances when open quotation marks are acceptable.

"For example, if the same person is talking for a significant length of time, you break their speech into paragraphs by leaving off the quotation marks at the end of a paragraph, then opening the next paragraph with quotation marks to indicate a continued monologue."

        ~    ~    ~

I highlighted the beginning and ending of each piece of dialogue. I don't want to get into this, so please! Study! It's not so hard, just go reread your favorite story. Harry Potter, Hunger Games, the Book Thief--find pieces of dialogue. If you have a question while you write, go find a book. Read. Study. Write.



That's all! *says it as if it wasn't 2,200+ words".

I love opinions! Please, comment! They are worth so much to me, way more than a simple like.


 
I didn't use the author's permission to link back to them. If anyone wants me to take their name and piece down, just say the word and I'll do so.

Woah, my draft changed!

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  • September 8, 2018 - 11:08pm (Now Viewing)

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9 Comments
  • Kahasai

    Thank you! Oh, um, you're welcome. :) Good grammar is essential to good writing. I often feel like rolling up my sleeves when I see a really good story with poor grammar.


    11 months ago
  • Silver Pen

    @Kahasai, I know what you mean. "Your story is great! Your grammar is terrible."
    Good writing and good grammar go hand in hand. That's why I'd like to thank you for posting this! I already knew some of this stuff thanks to penetrating drills in grammar in school, but it's nice to see someone explaining it, especially for newbies or people who need to work on the flow of their writing.


    11 months ago
  • Corner Writing Club

    Our first newsletter is up! Please check it out!


    about 1 year ago
  • Kahasai

    I hope so. 2 and 3 are things I have to consciously remember in the final edit. I really hope I've helped at least a few people, especially with 1,4, and 5. It gets tiring to review pieces (maybe even by the same person) that are good except for those grammar rules!


    about 1 year ago
  • JadeAndSerpentine

    Thank you for putting this out! It was very thorough.

    I totally get what you mean---it bothers me when people don't do these things (especially 1, 4 and 5), and I notice them a lot.

    I hope this has done good for the entire community---for the ones who could use these tips (myself included for 2 and 3) and all us grammar police (myself included as well).


    about 1 year ago
  • Kahasai

    @stripedfly1001: you're welcome!

    @Starlightsong: Thank you!! And you're welcome, I'm glad you found this to be helpful.

    @secret agent RainAndSonder: you were the first person I thought of when I was looking for an example.


    about 1 year ago
  • Corner Writing Club

    Hey, I was an example! This is RainAndSonder btw, I’m just too lazy to switch accounts. Nice tips! I’ve also seen a lot of these problems on here.


    about 1 year ago
  • --RosieOnTheRun (from reality)--

    This is so helpful and well written! I honestly felt like I was reading a 'the write place' article or post by a established author. Really helpful, thanks! (:


    about 1 year ago
  • janice

    Thanks for the tips!!!


    about 1 year ago