Friday, January 24, 2014

10 Things to Avoid in Your Writing

1. Avoid using flowery language to make yourself look clever.
This can be confusing for readers and is unlikely to have the desired effect. Instead, write the way you’d speak to someone in real life – not using informal English, but natural and flowing.

2. Avoid using generic descriptions.
Readers need to be able to visualise what they’re reading. Using nouns like ‘home’ or ‘tree’ don’t give the same visuals as words like ‘flat’, ‘double storey’, ‘log cabin’ or ‘great oak’.

3. Avoid using character names too often in dialogue.
When speaking to each other, most people don’t use the other person’s name that often. Most of the time, people only use another person’s name in real life to greet the person, to get that person’s attention, as an exclamation of shock or surprise, and perhaps every now and then. It’s unrealistic and annoying to read a conversation between two characters in which they address each other by name in almost every dialogue section.

4. Avoid using redundant descriptions.
For example, if the music is blaring, it’s a given that it’s loud, so if you write ‘it blared loudly’, the word ‘loudly’ is redundant.

5. Avoid swapping point of view (POV) in the same scene.
While many find it acceptable to write in God Mode these days, I don’t like this POV, as it can confuse readers too easily. Rather, choose a character from whose POV to write from in each scene, and stick to that character’s thoughts and observations for the duration of the scene.

6. Avoid info dumps in narrative.
Obviously, you need to share a certain amount of information with your readers. However, in cases where the information is long-winded and detailed, try to split this up across a few scenes, or add it in dialogue rather than narrative. In narrative, it can feel like an info dump that might bore readers (after all, they want the story more than the information). When you add the information to dialogue – say, one character explaining how something works to another character – you can add character interactions and give readers an indication of those characters’ personalities and relationships with each other at the same time, thereby making the information-giving more entertaining.

7. Avoid using clichés.
Avoid it like the plague. Seriously. Clichés are boring and unoriginal. Rather, use more interesting comparisons that you thought up yourself. This will entertain your readers a heck of a lot more than a well-known cliché, and they’ll be more likely to remember you for it if the comparison is good[V1] .

8. Avoid plagiarism in any form.
This might sound obvious, but many writers don’t realise that using song lyrics and quoting other authors’ work in their writing is considered plagiarism just as much as putting your name on another author’s manuscript. It’s okay to refer to songs by title, but, if you really want to include lyrics, rather make up your own. If you desperately want to use existing lyrics (I don’t recommend it), get written permission from the copyright-holder.

9. Avoid passive voice.
There are times when passive voice works better than active voice, but, most of the time, it just slows down the story’s pace and can often lend confusion. For example, rather than write ‘the food of the cat’, write ‘the cat’s food’.

10. Avoid using the same sentence structure too closely together.
While there are only so many ways to structure a sentence, avoid using the same structure too often too closely together. It makes the writing feel repetitive and boring, and takes the reader’s attention from the story. An example of this is: Slowly, he opened the door a crack. Cautiously, he peeked through the crack and looked down the path. Amazingly, no one was there.

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