Thursday, May 19, 2016

How to Write Good

As in drumming, I ain't the best scribe ever. But here are some hints and tips I've picked up over the years writing at various rags, on the Interwebs, in the employ of ego-driven agencies, and to myself. Remember, these are not rules. You know how I feel about them,

In no particular order:

You don't write for others. Then you would lose your voice. But you do write to others, unless its a diary or grocery list. Bear in mind that you want somebody to read your words. And enjoy or learn from them.

There is no substitute for a strong grounding in proper usage, grammar and syntax. If you still think "I'm gonna try and do that," or "I should have went home," is good writing, you need to buff up them skills. Once you have the basics down cold, it is easier to bend them. Honest.

Vary the length of your sentences. If they're all short or all long, they are hard to read.

In the same vein as the above hint, try not to start every sentence with its subject. Prepositional phrases and dependent clauses work wonders. NOT adverbs. Frequently, a weak sentence begins with an adverb.

Avoiding copulae (i. e., linking verbs) will strengthen your writing. This is true. It seems false. It also appears impossible. Stronger verbs bring vibrancy to writing. "The athlete didn't like the interviewer," vs. "Flapjack Culpepper deflected the beat-writer's questions."

I'm not a fan of long paragraphs. Unless you're Hemingway or Thomas Wolfe. Which you ain't.

Fancy writing is not necessarily good writing. "The slate sky loomed sadly over the landscape like a foundering blanket that kept people entombed," says plenty of nothing.

Unusual words are like habanero peppers. Used sparingly, they can spice up a piece. In liberal doses, they will ruin people's tastes. "The wind keened about the sagebrush," is fine. Then put keen to bed for the rest of the story.

Read—and sponge from—good writers. What are their habits? How do they treat plot movement, dialogue and exposition?

In like fashion, peruse lousy writers on occasion. There are plenty out there. This is why places called libraries exist. Learn to avoid their poor prose. Caveat: It's not enough to dislike a writer. The big question: How would I fix it?

Unless you're quoting, don't write in the same manner as you speak. To wit: "Many sophomores attended the annual Spring Frolic. It was like, I mean, awesome."

While I'm on my soapbox, I say isn't it time the entire English-writing world put awesome to bed?

A bad habit: telling readers what you've already shown them. "Sgt. O'Greeley moaned as he climbed another flight of stairs. Sweating mightily, he vowed to cut back on the cheeseburgers at J. G. Melon. He was out of shape."

Invite readers into your story. Do your best to put them in the setting and allow them to meet the characters. A hallmark of poor writing is to admit to readers, "You hadda be there." Bring folks there. The best compliments I have ever received are from people who said, "Wow, I felt as if I was in the story."

Too many rewrites spoil the broth.

Now, I shall try to put this shit to use when I write a story tomorrow. Watch for Uncle Joe.

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