Hello, everybody, and welcome back to ElvenWhiteMage’s Artist’s Corner!
Recently, I’ve gotten a few questions from people asking me to critique their stories, so today, I would like to discuss some simple tips for writing professional-sounding literature.1.) AVOID REPEATING WORDS.
If you use the same word multiple times in a sentence or paragraph, it has the effect of making the literature sound (gasp! Dare I say it?) unpolished. Don’t be afraid to say, “Hey, is there a synonym for this word?” and grab the nearest thesaurus to nerd out with. It’s one of the best ways to improve your writing and make it sound more mature. Just be sure that you are absolutely positive of the synonym’s exact definition before you use it, and that you use it in the correct context. Here are a few examples: “Cosette tightened her jaw in pain. The pain was so painful that she did not think she could keep riding, and with every hit of the horse’s hooves as she went down the old Roman road, the pain of her leg’s bullet wound increased.”
This is an example of a sentence using repetitive adjectives and simple verbs. “Cosette ground her jaw in pain. The anguish was so raw that she did not think she could keep riding, and with every patter of the horse’s hooves on the old Roman road, the fury of her leg’s bullet wound increased.”
In this sentence, I took words that could be listed as synonyms for “pain” and used them without looking up their context. As you can see, the meaning of the sentence changes entirely. “Cosette clenched her jaw against the pain. The agony was so intense that she did not think she could keep riding, and with every impact of the horse’s hooves on the old Roman road, the raw heat of the bullet wound in her leg flared with renewed intensity.”
This is the type of sentence I would normally use in my writing, where I vary my adjectives and verbs while fully aware of their proper meaning and the context in which they can safely be used. There are a couple of exceptions to this rule. The first is when you want to create a certain effect with your words.
For example: “The next thing I knew, there were bright lights directed at me, there was a screeching of tires on rain-slick pavement, and pain, pain, pain, unlike anything I can ever remember feeling”. The second exception comes when you are writing dialogue.
A character without a doctorate degree usually will not speak like one who has a doctorate degree, so keep in mind the character’s background when you are writing their dialogue. Write dialogue how YOU would speak, even if it means using the same word multiple times.2.) DO YOUR RESEARCH.
This will probably be the most common thing I say in this blog, but it does not make it any less true: “Do your research.” Your story will be ten times more believable if you know what you’re talking about. If you’re writing a story about a Mohican wedding, look up Mohican wedding customs. If you’re writing a story about a gun-toting vigilante (*coughcough*RedHood*coughcough*; you can see my inner DCU fan coming out, here), do some research into firearms: terminology related to firearms, their uses, how they function, and, PERHAPS MOST IMPORTANTLY, how many rounds they can hold in a magazine at one time. If you are writing a sex scene that involves a dagger called the “Bodice-Ripper”, make sure there’s a bodice involved.
A common problem I see in period stories is a lack of research into clothing and fashions of that time period. People will write in “socks” when the people of the time wore “stockings”; “boxers”, when boxers did not exist, yet (try pantaloons or smallclothes or loincloths); “breeches” (in Roman Britain!) when the term they used was actually ”braccae”
; etcetera and so forth. Do some research into clothing terminology, and you’ll sound like a pro when you write your period pieces!3.) DON’T BE AFRAID TO BE DESCRIPTIVE, WHEN THE NEED CALLS FOR IT. Description is only bad when it bogs down the story, so don’t be afraid to get a little flowery with your words!
(*coughcough*Tolkien*coughcough*) Anybody who has ever read The Hobbit
or The Lord of the Rings
or Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
knows what I mean. Those stories are amazing and entertaining, but there are some parts of them where the stories get bogged down in description. These “slow parts” are usually where the reading stalls (i.e. The Old Forest in LOTR!Fellowship, Mirkwood in The Hobbit, and the entire introductory segment of OOTP) and people tend to go pick up a more exciting book. But description can make stories much more fascinating if wielded correctly.
Here are some more examples. “The horse went down the street, and Connor looked around at the people in the street.”
This sentence uses no adjectives, and is rather dull. ”The old, war-weary horse clip-clopped sluggishly down the street, and the people fearfully made way for it, afraid to be trampled; and Connor gazed intensely at them, striking fear into their hearts with his fierce, coffee-brown stare that was as feral and dangerous as it was warm and comforting; it reminded the stunned onlookers of a mountain wolf’s deadly, penetrating stare.”
Who wants to read four lines about a horse’s walk and a man’s stare? Most people do not have the patience to endure such a deluge of superfluous detail. (If you caught that, you’ll see why I’m such a shit.
) A good sentence is descriptive without being OVERLY descriptive. ”The battle-weary horse clattered sluggishly down the street, and the people unconsciously made way for it; Connor gazed at the crowd around them with a quiet wariness and subtle intensity.”
This sentence, while not overly long, makes use of evocative imagery to get the point across, in place of five or six flowery adjectives that would otherwise bog the sentence down. Sometimes, less is best. Again, there are some exceptions to this rule.
When you’re going for a particular effect, you can sometimes get away with using “too many” adjectives. For example, if you’re writing what a character is like
(which counts as a series of adjectives), you might say something like, “Tifa tastes sweet, like mint and vanilla and chocolate all rolled into one” (Cast Me Gently Into Morning, Chapter 1). Or, if you’re placing emphasis a particular ADJECTIVE by describing it further, you might say something like this: “His hands were not just filthy, but filthy:
bloody, dirty, torn, and utterly filthy
.”So, a quick recap:
1.) Vary your vocabulary.
2.) DO YOUR RESEARCH.
3.) Don’t fear description.
That’s about all I can think of, for the moment. If anybody has any questions, feel free to comment or to note me! I can’t wait to view all your excellent artwork and read your literature!
This is ElvenWhiteMage, signing off.