Ah, words – they are mysterious, enticing, and possess the ability to evoke a wide range of emotions (e.g. anger and joy) in readers.
Ever dreamt of becoming the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King? Although fame for an author is never guaranteed, you can take active steps to improve your writing today!
Here are 10 writing tips to help you on your writing journey.
1. Mind Your Punctuation
Do you usually end sentences with question marks, or have the habit of using exclamation marks in place of full-stops?
We suggest you stop with the excessive punctuation right now – it’s a big no-no, especially for professional writers.
While punctuation marks serve as important markers in sentences and are able to create the right atmosphere, peppering sentences with punctuation marks isn’t going to help with readability – in fact, sentences are! Likely! To! Sound! Strange? (major cringe)
Then there are instances whereby sentences never seem to end (run-on sentences), the infamous its vs it’s, and the hyphen vs the dash.
TL:DR; always remember to check your punctuation – it’s more important than you may think.
Wrong: Its been a while since I met any of my friends.
Correct: It’s been a while since I met any of my friends.
It’s is short for it is.
Wrong: My friend has 3 pets; a cat, a dog, and a fish.
Correct: My friend has 3 pets: a cat, a dog, and a fish.
Whereas semicolons are mainly used to link two independent clauses, colons are commonly used for emphasis, or to introduce a list of items.
2. Verb Conjugations Matter
…and verbs themselves matter very much indeed.
Some of the most frequently misused verbs include lay, drag, shine, sink and swim.
Wrong: The ship sinked.
Correct: The ship sank.
Wrong: Everyone in the company do a great job.
Correct: Everyone is the company does a great job.
3. Active Not Passive
Active: The cat scratched the girl.
Passive: The girl was scratched by the cat.
Active: Dogs like going on walks.
Passive: Walks are something that dogs like.
Notice the difference here?
The active form of sentences tend to be more straightforward, more easily understood and less awkward. The passive form, on the other hand, reads rather awkwardly. Lesson learnt – when presented with active and passive forms, always go for active!
Note: One exception is when you want the reader to focus on the subject as opposed to the object. (E.g. Pinocchio was swallowed by the whale vs. The whale swallowed Pinocchio)
4. Concision Is Key
If there’s one thing to note about writing, it’s that high word count doesn’t necessarily mean quantity work.
What you can do to be more concise:
- Change negatives to affirmatives
- Eliminate redundant qualifiers
- Get rid of redundant pairs
- Replace phrases with words
- Reduce the number of prepositional phrases
- Locate and delete modifiers that serve no purpose
Wordy – In spite of the fact that Ben bullies Sally on a daily basis, she continues to look up to him.
Concise – Although Ben bullies Sally daily, she continues to admire him.
Wordy – In my personal opinion, education should be free for each and every individual regardless of whether he or she is rich or poor, young or old, black or white.
Concise – In my opinion, education should be free for everyone regardless of his or her demographic background.
Keep this writing tip in mind, and you’ll save both time and space!
5. Commas Make A Huge Difference
Why are commas important? Let these examples show you why:
Wrong – Let’s eat mum!
Correct – Let’s eat, mum!
Whereas the second sentence suggests eating with the mum, the first sentence suggests a totally different thing (eek, cannibalism).
Wrong – Certain types of vegetarians, such as, lacto-ovo vegetarians, consume dairy products as well.
Correct – Certain types of vegetarians, such as lacto-ovo vegetarians, consume dairy products as well.
There is no need for a comma after such as.
6. Take A Break
Like the stomach needs food, sometimes the brain needs to rest too.
If you ever find yourself stuck while writing (writer’s block is, sadly, all too common), get up and just take a walk around your block.
Contrary to popular belief, productivity isn’t necessarily achieved by putting in long, hard hours. Productivity happens when you acknowledge that burnout is a thing, and take steps to actively prevent it from happening.
7. Read It Aloud
This is an effective writing tip to spot any mistakes in your writing – think misspellings, missing and/or repetitive words, and chunky or run-on sentences.
By reading your work out loud, you will also be able to identify more awkward, jarring parts of your story, and make the necessary corrections accordingly.
8. Eliminate What’s Unnecessary
Filter words are often the main culprit here. Some examples of filter words:
- To seem
- To decide
- To think
- To hear
- To see
… and so on (and so forth). In these instances, sentences are written in third person instead of first, which makes sentences lengthier.
A filter word here and there may not seem like much, but can quickly add up – especially in the cases of 100, 000+ words novels.
9. Limit Flowery Language
Writing tip: while we get that writers are “supposed” to have a good grasp of vocabulary, don’t use words simply for the sake of using them.
Sometimes, simple words are the best way to get your message across. How many times do people actually use words like oratorical and pleonastic, for example?
Not often, I would assume. Well, the same applies to your writing!
While the occasional pig out and devour might work, often it’s just better to use “eat” in place of fancy vocabulary like “gormandize” (which, fyi, means eating good food in large amounts).
10. Tenses, Tenses, Tenses
One common mistake writers make is being inconsistent with the tense they use.
For example, writers may start by writing in the past tense, but slip up and end up using the present tense instead.
Before writing your story, think about which tense you’d like it to be in. Present tense is an especially popular pick for genres like action and thriller because they allow the reader to be in the moment.
Apart from tense inconsistency, there’s also the issue whereby the wrong form of the past tense is used.
Wrong: I went for several interviews before being recruited by my current company.
Correct: I had gone for several interviews before being recruited by my current company.
Wrong: When I met her, I noticed that she had a haircut.
Correct: When I met her, I noticed that she had had a haircut.
So, to sum up, you can pack impact into every word by eliminating the unnecessary, checking your grammar, and mastering your punctuation marks.
What’s crucial, ultimately, is that you pay attention to the little details (like grammar and punctuation). Depending on whether you do those right, readers will either be put off or keep on reading.
Here’s what you should know before you start writing your own novel!