Thursday, January 10, 2013

Ten Quick Steps to Fix your Story

Over the weekend I got inspired to start a story I had concocted in my head a long time ago. It finally came to fruition.

Then last night, a fellow writer and dear friend of mine called me to share some news regarding a project. She also informed me that after a long hiatus she was ready to tackle her writing. And since I had started writing again, we agreed on giving each other feedback. Sometimes a little push is all you need to get motivated again.Based on our current editing process, I realized we need to apply what we learned in our writing workshops.

1. USE ACTIVE VOICE INSTEAD OF PASSIVE.
In general, the active voice is stronger because it is more direct and cuts down on the number of needed words.

2. SIMPLIFY YOUR LANGUAGE.
Use simpler words—whether verbs, nouns or adjectives— replace a less familiar word with a more readily understandable one to avoid misunderstandings.

3. USE VERBS, NOT NOUNS.

Sometimes nouns make sentences longer and weaker. For instance, “The passing of time was…” Why not say, “Time passed…”  

4. CUT BACK LONG SENTENCES.

One way to make your writing clearer is to limit the use of long sentences.

5. TRIM EXCESSIVE QUALIFICATION.
At times, qualifiers will serve their purpose but overdoing it can weaken your writing. Excessive qualifiers add bulk without adding substance.

6. USE PARALLELISM.

Parallelism is an important element of style because it builds clarity and power.
7. AVOID REDUNDANCIES.
A story can become tiresome when a writer needlessly repeats a word or an idea.


8. AVOID UNNECESSARY SELF-REFERENCE.
Avoid such unnecessary phrases as "I believe," "I feel" and "in my opinion."

9. AVOID THE MASCULINE GENERIC.
The masculine generic refers to the sole use of the pronoun “he” or “him” when referring to situations involving both genders. Opt for gender-neutral language, instead.

10. BE SPECIFIC.

Vague language weakens your writing because it forces the reader to guess at what you mean instead of allowing the reader to concentrate fully on your ideas and style.
Do you usually apply these rules when writing? Do you sometimes need a reminder?

15 comments:

  1. Welcome back to blogging, dear Claudia! Loving your tips; they so inspire! Now let's get writing!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Kelly,
      Thank you. It's been hard to start blogging again since I'm working on other projects, but I'll do my best to at least write weekly ;)

      Delete
  2. Great list Claudia! I tend to get wordy in my writing and often need to shorten sentences, eliminate nouns and go simple!

    Thanks for the reminder and this great reference.

    :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Cathy,
      I used to write long sentences, too. One of my mentors told me that "less is more" :) I still need a reminder every now and then.

      Delete
  3. Very nice tips. I always opt for gender neutral language, and yes, I try to be as specific and detailed as I can. Excessive qualification, hmm, I fall in the trap sometimes; verbs, yes, I do. Self-reference I never use, hate it. Parallelism, I'm not sure, I should check what it is exactly; but I love rhetorical language and figures of speech, so I try to use them as much as I can. Redundancies are something I need to be careful with; long sentences, that's where it gets me: the problem is, I like them! They're a great challenge to me! Many of the classic writers I love use very long sentences, and they worked and reworked them until they are just perfect. I like to try and do the same. The results might not be satisfying, I know, but I love the challenge.
    Welcome back posting!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Jay,
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this list. When I started writing, I made every single mistake on the list, LOL! Now I try to be mindful. By the way, parallelism is when you keep the same elements in a sequence. For instance, "She came home, opened the door, turned on the lights, and removed her coat." All the verbs here are in the simple past. You can't mix tenses. Same applies when you have a list of adjectives, you cannot mix nouns or adverbs in the list.
    I hope this helps. :)
    See ya in the blogosphere!

    ReplyDelete
  5. I simply love, love, love this kind of advice/help. Once again, Claudia, you've pulled something great out of the bag - thank you :)

    One problem - I can't get my tongue around #6; I sound like I'm half-cut on alcohol!? I seem to put in too many L's.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm so happy to hear that, Mark :)
      I hope you apply them, too. I know it could be tricky as we writers tend to get lost in our thoughts and forget about the rules (at least that's my case). But, that's why we have editing, to fix and tweak any errors we may have ;)

      Delete
  6. Damn! I hate this - I type out a nice, lengthy (and minus spelling errors) comment, hit return and it requests I log in, which I do, only to find my comment has been scrubbed... gah!

    Just wanted to say 'thanks' for some great pointers. Sheer gold. Sometimes, Claudia, you're like my fairy Godmother of the blogosphere ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, as you can see it was posted :)
      Thanks for trying again though.
      Cheers!

      Delete
  7. A sound list here, Claudia. I'd qualify just two of your points. I consciously use 'passive' when the context demands it. The key is knowing when and why. My second qualification is not overdoing the 'active'. It can lead to a terse and choppy rhythm and in writing rhythm is everything. (Actually it's not. I'm must emphasising a point : )

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nice to see you around here, Mike!
      Hope you had a nice holiday season.
      Oh boy, "passive" vs. "active" yup! I was hooked on the passive at one point, but my mentors made me get over it pretty quickly though, the hard way. LOL!

      Delete
  8. This is such great advice. Thanks for pulling it all together. What do you suggest to use, as far as your advice for #9? I ask because while opting for gender neutral language in the past, I have been corrected by professors who've always said to get specific. Thanks so much!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Hi Raquel,
    Well, if you're writing a short story, then there's no room for gender neutral characters. You have to be specific unless your intention is to be vague. If you're writing a novel, you definitely have to be clear. There are a few instances where you can get away with it, for instance, when a character is giving advice, or thinking, or speaking in a monologue. Here, it's more appropriate to be gender neutral. Hope that answers your question :)
    As always, thanks for stopping by.

    ReplyDelete