Writing experts abound. I don’t claim to be one of them. My articles pass along things I have learned during my 40+ years of writing in various capacities. They are also meant to counter some of the sillier and downright harmful advice I have seen these “experts” spout for writers, such as the items below.
Sentence & Paragraph Length
The current “pearl of wisdom” coming out of the mouths of many writing experts is that you should keep sentences and paragraphs short. What does this say about all those dear readers out there? The implication seems to be that anything long would confuse them. Possible, since many readers are used to seeing short stuff on social media. But should this guide your writing? In my opinion, no. Be bold. If you need a long sentence, go long. The focus needs to be on telling your story. And with the advent of AI content creation, you need to pay more attention to making your text appear to be human-created.
Show vs. Tell
This is an old chestnut that no writing expert seems to be able to explain well. Here’s my take:
Telling is descriptive. Showing is active.
“… ‘telling’ can be useful, even necessary … ‘showing’ … allows the reader to follow the author into the moment, to see and feel and experience what the author has experienced.”
One of the most effective ways to show is dialogue, as seen in this example:
“I just saw a meteor crash into the Wilkins’ barn!” shouted the boy to his parents. “It’s on fire!”
Another way to show is to use descriptive, specific verbiage that enables readers not to just see, but also to hear, taste, smell, and feel what is on that page or Kindle screen, as seen in this example:
A juicy, red apple sat on the window sill. A beam of sunlight shone on it, making it appear to glow. Jenny could almost taste the crisp goodness of that first bite.
You might need to tell sometimes, though. Again, you, the writer, have to follow your instinct.
Passive vs. Active Voice
Basically, this is wording a sentence showing an object being acted upon as opposed to someone doing the action, as seen in these examples:
Passive – The car was washed by the team of teens trying to raise money for their school band.
Active – Teens washed the car as part of their effort to raise money for their school band.
But is this really bad? Frankly, I don’t think so. You have to go with your instincts and see what works for you.
One expert advises:
“Use active voice instead of passive voice, unless you have a legitimate reason for using passive voice (action being more important instead of the doer).”
Yes, you can have legitimate reasons for using passive voice, such as here:
The bomb was exploded in the old building by a man seeking vengeance.
“Use active voice when doing vivid descriptions.”
Active – Jenny took the apple off the windowsill and sunk her teeth in. (clear, concise, vivid)
Passive – The apple was taken off the windowsill by Jenny, who then sunk her teeth into it. (awkward, wordy, confusing)
Clichés are things that are overused, hackneyed. That includes not just phrases, such as “he folded like a cheap suit,” but also plot devices. I used one such cliché plot device recently, the tried and true “lab results mix-up” where the results for a main character are confused at the lab with those of someone with a similar name. I was crafting a dramatic scene. The stage was set in an earlier chapter in preparation for what I had planned. When the time came, ta-da! Drama!
As with just about any writing tip or advice, you, the writer, need to figure out how and what to use. As with fat and sugar in your diet, moderation is the key. A little adds just the right touch (savory or sweet). Too much destroys that flavor and can be harmful.
“Too Many” vs. “Overusing” Adjectives & Adverbs
A well-meaning fellow writer suggested I was using too many adjectives and adverbs and should trim some out. He said that many writing experts recommended this. It’s actually a misunderstanding. Those experts advised against overusing adjectives and adverbs. That’s very different. I agree that overusing a particular word or phrase (suddenly, simply, painfully, happily, “a bit,” somewhat, “for a moment,” etc.) can make your text sound very amateurish. I discovered when reviewing some of my manuscripts that I was using “a bit” quite a bit! You may have your own favorite words and phrasing that keep cropping up as you type. Watch out for them.
As for using “too many” adjectives and adverbs, it can happen, as here:
It was a blustery, windy, cold, miserable, dull, gray day.
But it can also be necessary, as here:
It was a blustery, cold, miserable, gray winter’s day.
You gotta give your readers something to help them visualize.
Some unnamed marketing “expert” out there says that more than two hashtags in your promo tweet/post/etc. is bad. Why? Sure, you can be excessive with your use of hashtags, but setting a maximum number? This “expert” seems to be missing the reason for you using those hashtags. They are keywords and search terms. If you’re writing a mystery, including #mystery, #mysteryfiction, #detectivefiction, and other relevant hashtags is a very good thing. Research them carefully, though, and make sure you use only appropriate hashtags. Nothing is worse than clicking on a mystery hashtag and seeing non-mysteries.
Hope you found this helpful and have been inspired to start and/or continue writing!
Please check out my works in progress (WIPs). And thanks for reading.
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