I am compelled as a writer to weave words together, and to connect my readers to the beating-pulse and rhythm of language. Like a perfectly executed waltz, the right word executes without missing a step; a reader trusts me to take their hand and lead them; if I write ambiguous, doubt creates a misstep—a break in attention—which the reader, now, out of rhythm, might misunderstand my intention, and our dance with language threatens to end in catastrophe; I never want the reader to think I am going to spin, when I intend to let go. Word choice is vital.
To use clear, engaging language, we writers must know the meaning of each word we choose to communicate with, and the careful writer thinks about each word’s meaning and seeks the best choice. If I want to be a great writer—a dance master of language—I must commit to clarity, and that means no Janus words—words with contradictory meanings. Clarity is the highest of ideals!
To my readers: I have over the last weeks plunged into another bout of depression. Like anyone who struggles with depression, you know there is no battle I can fight, no war I can win, no place I can hide; I can only wait-it-out and hold on to my blessings. I don’t ask for prayers or good vibes, and I certainly don’t want advice on how to fight my own demons. So, if my content appears light, knowing my plight, you might understand why. I love you all.
I had never read Karen Kingsbury before attending Liberty University. Watching her lectures and having her share her process, has been a blessing. So when my inspirational writing class assigned a book of hers this semester, I was excited to study her prose. And she far exceeded any expectation I had. Wow! Listen to me; you have to read this book. I am about to read everything she has ever written.
Sure, I may be generous with my five star ratings from time-to-time, but Kingsbury’s book here, truly deserves six, seven, or twenty stars. When I finished it, I squealed hallelujah.
I am a thirty-one year old grown man. I cried so much reading this book, I had to wipe my tears just to see the screen. I am being honest. Chapter twenty-five (no spoilers), I had to take a pause from reading; my heart required a break. I have read hundreds upon hundreds of books, and never had the experience I had with This Side of Heaven. Not only did her writing help muster deep within myself a spirit of revival, reading it I feel has changed me forever. This is life changing fiction.
Every once in awhile I come across a book, I will never forget my experience reading. Like almost having a heart attack on my couch, because of this gem.
Anything else I say, will be perceived hyperbole. I highly recommend this book. May God bless and sustain her art. Just wow!
W. Alexander Dunford I will never forget the television’s blue light that night fifteen years ago. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Blood Diamond played. Outside, beneath black skies, rain pelted our windows and the house’s bones braced against high winds. Thunder shook the walls. It was Father’s idea to watch the movie. He loved violence, and I loved…
“…in that moment my fear retreated. I discovered I hated him and his kind. I hated his affluence, his expensive clothes, his chiseled looks, and the arrogance he was born to. But most of all, I hated the power he held over me, his assumption of authority, and the truth of his superiority.”
A writer reads. Not all readers love to write, but all writers love to read. And the great ones read several different genres and styles. The most important thing to understand about writing well; you must read a lot and often.
I am not talking aptitude for writing essays. Those are easy. Writing creative fiction or creative non-fiction, means you cannot, for example, overuse determiners and transitions like you would with a school essay or professional email. So, scratch what you have been taught up to this point. Do not just take my word for it. Grab any creative book. Fiction or nonfiction, it does not matter. Open it to any page. Circle all transitions, prepositional phrases, and determiners you see. Find any? Yeah, I told you. They rarely show up. A professor of mine advises keeping them down to one or two per page (in story telling). Now compare that with your writing style. I know, it sucks to see it. But you are welcome. For now on, you will write better fiction or creative nonfiction. This tip alone will improve your writing immediately.
I promise what you are trying to convey will stand on its own. Actors notice great acting; writers notice great writing. Noticing means you know something about what you see. When you read, watch each sentence like an actor watches another’s hands. Notice pacing and rhythm. All capable writers are masters of noticing. Our lives are devoted to observing the finer details. See, your OCD is a blessing after all.
I wish there were other quick tips to improve your writing. But even the advice given, might prove difficult to implement. At first. The best way to improve your writing is to read, often. Not one book a month, but four or five or more. Tiger Woods is a famous golfer whom is universally recognized as one of the games greatest athletes to ever swing a driver. He boasts that before he plays a round a golf on any given day, he hits one thousand balls. Reading is like going to the driving range before playing eighteen holes. It can be a great warm up. How could anyone be a great story teller, if they do not read stories? The answer is, any writer’s whom do not love to read, end up editors or worse, sales people (publishing agents). I shutter. That is joke. But one thing is certain, If you do not read, you are not a writer. You might be a great school paper writer, but a far cry from a novelist.
Read. Read. Read. Read some more. And read across styles and genres. Immerse yourself into poetry (which will teach you everything), fiction, creative nonfiction, etcetera. Manuals might be the only exception. But even they will prove useful to the creative. Read everything.
I hope this blurb of mine helps. Classes are going well and I enjoy sharing what I learn with all of you. Tell me what you think? Maybe you have an idea about a topic I should cover? Tell me what you are reading? I want to hear from you!
I am currently reading Les Miserables. You can follow what I am reading on Goodreads.
Anyone can write. Few revise well. Revision is essential. It is much more than spell-check and grammar adjustments. Revision is ensuring the story you are telling is clear. Rarely is misinterpretation the mistake of a reader. The job of writers is to ensure readers do not do any heavy lifting. Any skewed reading, comes from bad writing. How does the writer ensure the message they are conveying is interpreted clearly? You guessed it; revision. No one sits down and writes a novel by the seat of their pants in one long first and final draft. If they do, the writing will be garbage, regardless of talent. I would not count on being the exception.
“…I hated him and his kind. I hated his affluence, his expensive clothes, his chiseled looks, and the arrogance he was born too. But most of all, I hated the power he held over me, his assumption of authority, and the truth of his superiority.”
Starting over sucks. I dread it. All who write dread it. My stomach turns at the thought. But understand this, the rewards of revising will outweigh the pains. You will be shocked. Learn to enjoy the process. Here are some questions you can ask about your work:
Why should my reader turn the first page to the second? Does the first sentence, paragraph, page introduce tension? If not, red alarm.
Is there unnecessary summary? Cut. Cut. Cut! I too often have the impulse to cover too much ground. It destroys energy and I find, I tell more than show. This is a bad thing. The whole premise of writing prose, is to show not tell. A concept I will elaborate on with a later post.
Is it original? Stereotypes are lazy. A good writer will extract any cliches and make a point to show the exact and honest.
Is it clear? Ambiguity and mystery are one of the pleasures of literature. But there is a fine line between mystery and sloppiness. I love characters rich with contradictions. That is the human condition. But I often have to start off with a more simple reality. Then I can build out the imaginative. Have your character answer these: Where are we? When are we? Who are they? How do things look? What time of day or night is it? Weather? What is happening? On how to create captivating characters, check out: Create Captivating Characters
Is it self-conscious? Just tell the story. Your style will follow of itself. But you have to just tell the story. If you get carried away dressing your prose with all your wit and insight, there is a good chance you are having more fun writing that the reader will have reading. Good writing is easy reading! Just tell the story.
Where is it too long? In fiction, you want sharpness, economy, and vivid details in telling. With every sentence, say what you mean to say and get out. Hit it and quit it. Use the fewest possible words. What does this look like? My advice, read the poets. Trust me, the poets will teach you everything.
Are there too many scenes? Try and tell your story with the fewest possible scenes. It is tempting to give each turn of plot or change of setting a new scene when fusing several together would proffer better effect.
Where is it too general? Look for general and vague terms. Write instead a particular thing, an exact size and degree. In fact, my short tip, cut the words very and really out of your work entirely. You are welcome!
Revision, revision, revision. Originality, economy, and clarity all come from thorough revision. These questions are just the start and short of taking a creative writing class, they will serve you well.
Remember in fiction, the goal is to show characters doing things. Never tell what you mean. I promise if the prose is clear and concise, the reader will not misinterpret. You write for the reader. If you forget that, you have lost your way.
My goal here is to share what I am learning with others. I would love for you to follow my blog and join my journey. I also wanted to ask you something. I am thinking of creating a photography page on my blog. I love urban photography. Let me know if you think it would be a good idea or not?