Monday, May 1, 2017

Three more tips for good writing

1.  Don’t use lazy clichés—clouds like cotton balls, lips like rose petals, the silvery path of moonlight on the water—and so on.  If a phrase feels familiar, it’s probably a cliché.  Many are not even true.  Do shots really “ring out?”  I’ve never heard a gunshot do so, and I’ve spent many hours in target practice with both rifles and hand guns.  Instead of grabbing an easy, comfortable phrase you’ve heard a thousand times, go outside on a moonlit night, say, and study your surroundings until you can describe them in fresh, original words.  Go to the beach and stay there until you can describe the surf in a way you’ve never heard or read it done before.  Study people in the same way.  Listen in detail to them speaking in all circumstances.  This will soon become habitual.  Your writing will improve considerably and as a side benefit you’ll experience the world around you as never before.

2.  Don’t forget you can use all the senses.  Visual descriptions will predominate, but you can also trigger strong emotions by using touch, sound, taste, and smell.  As a child I had a treasured red cedar pencil box, unfinished inside.  All it takes after many intervening years is a sniff of raw red cedar to transport me back to those pleasant days.  I grew up in New England, so such scents as new-mown hay and fall leaves or sounds like the crunch of snow underfoot or the crackling of lacy crystalline trees after a freezing rain or the silken feel of moss on a granite boulder or the scent of thawing ground in early spring can touch off similar feelings.  Many of these triggers remain so strong in the recesses of my mind that mere mention of them conjures strong feelings.  I’m sure you have similar triggers, easily tripped by all five senses, and your readers do, too.

3.  Always do enough research to be accurate and to invest your writing with enough detail to give it verisimilitude.  With ready access to the Net, there’s never any excuse for not getting it right.  Be sure your sources are accurate by double checking.  Fiction is a fragile construction, and all it takes is a single glaring error to crumble it all to dust for your reader.


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