- Give up adverbs. Adverbs are a sign of weak or timid writing. Learn to write with strong verbs and forceful dialog instead
- Give up weak, static verbs. Sure, you can slap down some wimpy verbs in your first draft. But go back and muscle them up!
- Speaking of verbs, give up passive voice unless it serves an intentional purpose. Even as an academic writer, fight against the convention of passive voice in academic writing. It was a tough battle for me in graduate school, but I dented the convention and you can, too.
- Give up stilted dialog. Listen to how real people talk. We speak in incomplete sentences, with lots of interruptions and non sequiturs.
- Minimize or omit dialog attributions, and kill the adverbs in a dialog attribution. Notable writers such as Raymond Carver and Elmore Leonard believe there is only one acceptable attribution: “He said,” or “She said.” (I’m not adding links here because there are too many. Just Google it!)
- Give up vague settings. The reader needs to know where and when the story is taking place. The setting should set the tone and enhance the mood; great writers are able to make the setting become so real it’s like one of the characters.
- Give up head-hopping. Pick a point of view and stick with it. Sometimes the whole premise of a story is based on alternating points of view. If that’s your jam, make sure you do a clear divisée to indicate that you know what you’re doing and you are not an amateur.
- Give up your fear of conflict. Conflict is what makes a story great. You have to make things rough on your characters, because that’s what draws the reader in. The worse your antagonist the better! And don’t go easy on the reader, either. Ratchet up their emotions – emotion sells!
- Give up control over your characters. Make them so strong they take charge and write their own story. Give up flat, two-dimensional characters and make them so real they jump off the page.
- Give up “floating people” and “talking heads.” You’ve got to write in scene! Being inside someone’s head while they muse in a coffee shop is not writing in scene. Every scene has to be clear, there has to be a reason for it to exist, and it has to have its own emotional arc, even if it is a mini-arc.
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© Sharon Cairns Mann