Does your writing sometimes fall flat?
You can’t figure out exactly why, but you know when it happens. There’s no chemistry, no sparkle to lift your writing and give it wings.
There are practical ways to put that ‘je ne sais quoi’ back into your writing.
All you have to do is to recognize and fix the five common errors that dull the sparkle of your writing.
1. Your characters are fraternal twins.
They might not look like each other, but they often mimic one another’s movements and reactions. Building unique characters extends to giving them unique ways of responding to the world.
What do your characters do when they’re nervous? If they all wipe their brow, you’ve got problems. These are common gestures that don’t make memorable characters.
If you find it hard to come up with different, memorable gestures, create a database of them. People have a smorgasbord of reactions that most writers never take advantage of. Always carry a notebook to record the less obvious ones.
If you see a quarrel at a cashier’s counter, watch the customers carefully. Where are their hands? How are they standing? What do they sound like? You’ll soon have a cheat sheet of wonderfully original, true reactions. These will form the basis for unique characters.
2. Your sentences play the same beat.
If you read like a reader, you’ll see how important pacing is.
Varying the length of your sentences gives the writing its own rhythm. It keeps the reader alert and allows you to shine a spotlight onto the right sentence. For example, Dean Koontz writes:
“According to the current master of Roseland and everyone who worked for him, the source of the disturbing cry was a loon. They were either ignorant or lying.”
The emphasis is on the short sentence. They were lying.
3. You let a cliché escape.
You jotted down a stale, overused term or description, but it was never meant to stay that way.
You were going to return and fix it at some point. Then on your second or third edit, changing it seemed like too much work. It’s just one or two sentences anyway, right? What’s the big deal?
Any phrase or way of seeing that is common and overused is a death grip on your writing. The words have no impact; readers gloss over them.
Force yourself to think more creatively. Between “She read my mind” and “She saw clean into the marrow of my thoughts”, which one is more likely to grab a reader’s attention?
4. You tell instead of showing.
Sure, it’s clichéd advice, but it’s also the Venus flytrap of writing. Touché!
Unless you’re on the lookout, a leisurely paragraph can easily turn into a section that loses your reader. And the book snaps shut, never to be opened again.
We’re accustomed to telling instead of showing in conversation, since showing requires more thought and ingenuity. That’s why it’s such an easy mistake to make – one that even Chekhov felt he had to illustrate:
“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
5. You never abandoned the manuscript.
You’ve written your umpteenth draft, and you’re as happy as a writer can possibly be.
Now it’s time to lock the manuscript in a drawer and forget about it. As Zadie Smith recommends, spend at least three months away from its clutches. You will then be able to return with a fresh perspective, as a reader instead of a writer.
At this point, redundancies, limp sentences, and awkward transitions will seem obvious. You’ll be your own best editor.
If you can grab hold of these five errors and rein them in in your writing, you’ll find your writing sparkling – and sparking your audience too!
I am so confident of the sparkles, that I guarantee them. In fact, if your experience turns out differently, I want to hear from you!
Please share your thoughts and challenges in the comments. I’d love to know what you think.