Three Simple Ways To Level Up Your Prose

Once you’ve written a short story or novel, it’s tempting to start sending it out right away. Of course, writers with sense know that you need to edit and polish any work before you consider sending it away.

Once you have edited, dealt with any structural issue or plot holes, and otherwise refined the story, there’s still the matter of technique, or style as Strunk and White would call it.

It takes a lifetime to really master writing technique, if anyone can actually do it, but there are a few simple changes you can make to instantly level up your prose!

1) “Omit Needless Words”

Brevity and clarity are things every writer should aspire to. Words are precious; say what you need to as efficiently as possible by never repeating yourself.

Don’t get me wrong, you don’t need to make all sentences short. Just make sure that every word progresses the story. Here are some examples of words and phrases that are “needless”:

With regard to

In the event that

In a hasty manner

The reason why is

These can be replaced, in order, by:

Regarding

If

Hastily

Because

There will be times when you want to affect an archaic and formal writing style; when this is the case, you could consider reversing this process for a stiffer, less flowing style.

2) Beware The Plague Of Adverbs

Stephen King stated that adverbs are much like Dandelion; if you have just one or two in your garden they can look pretty, but when you let them run amuck they lose their charm.

This is the best explanation I’ve seen as to why you should avoid using adverbs. Notice I say avoid, not stop.

One or two well placed adjectives can add suspense, feeling, and flair to the right moments of your story. Too many shows a lack of confidence; you must be confident that the reader can understand your intent without them. If you’re not, something is wrong.

Adverbs tend to be words that end in -ly, e.g. firmly, happily, angrily, hauntingly. They modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs, and they are superfluous. If your sentence can’t stand without an adverb it’s a bad sentence. Start by removing them all, read through your piece, and add them in again if you feel it’s necessary.

When you do use adverbs, however, make sure you use appropriate and efficient ones. For example, tiredly is a trash-fire of a word that adds nothing to the world which wearily doesn’t do better. Think before using an adverb.

3) Don’t Qualify

Remove qualifying words and statements from your writing – be bold!

Qualifiers, much like adverbs, modify meaning. In this case the meaning of a full statement or sentence. They don’t add new meaning, however, but dilute the original statement.

Consider,

Tyrion Lannister could have been said to be the best man in his family. 

Not only is that a sentence full of needless words, it’s full of qualifiers. “could have been said to be” here means, ‘some people thought that, others didn’t, and I’m not sharing my opinion.

Consider instead:

Tyrion Lannister was the best man in his family.

Or

Tyrion Lannister was the worst of them. 

Both of these sentences are more effective than the first because they are bold, they are clear, and they are no longer than they need to be.

If you want to stand out, keep your prose lean and professional; you’ll notice a difference in no time.

If you want a more in-depth guide to an efficient writing style consider Strunk and Whites The Elements of Style. This is a seminal text and should be on every writers bedside table!

//ws-eu.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=GB&source=ss&ref=as_ss_li_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=writthem-21&language=en_GB&marketplace=amazon&region=GB&placement=020530902X&asins=020530902X&linkId=0e6a5cabd6902c9b3d6ad2f88fa29df4&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=true

 

Advertisements

3 Differences Between Genre And Literary Fiction

Literary fiction is popularly thought to be un-publishable; it’s too dull, too dry, too convoluted. This isn’t the truth, though. There are many published. successful authors who write literary fiction. Barbara Kingsolver, for example, has written The Poisonwood Bibleand The Lacunaamongst others, both of which are classed as literature.

These are seriously well-known and loved novels, too! The Poisonwood Bible was part of the Oprah Book Club for Christs sake!

So – where did this myth come from? I honestly don’t know, and that’s a question for another day. What I do know is how to tell whether your novel is literary or genre fiction!

 

The 3 Main Differences

  1. The Subject Matter: Literary fiction tends to deal with macro ideas and happenings. I.e. literary fiction deals with themes and ideals, not, generally speaking, the day to day milleu of life. If you write a literary novel about the Jacobite Rebellion it will most likely be a sweeping social commentary which covers the whole affair. If you write a genre novel on the same subject its more likely to be an action-packed, romance laced retelling of the most pressured events.
  2. The Pace; Genre fiction is quicker, more agile, and more compact, generally speaking. This doesn’t mean the number of pages, by the way, the inimitable and haunting The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers (I know, I know, if I ever stop ranting about this book assume I’m dead) is a slim literary volume, but its pace is steady and calm. No, genre fiction tends to take place over a shorter period of time (in story), and will generally move between major plot points with more alacrity. Literary fiction, however, more commonly takes place over generational timescales and may play loosey-goosey with the very concept of a hard and fast plot point.
  3. The Character Plot Balance; the real, telltale sign however is the balance between plot and character. Genre fiction is most likely to lean towards being plot driven. In fact, in some minimalist genre fictions we may learn very little about the largest parts of the character cast. Consider Garth Nix’s Sabrielfor example. We spend a fair amount of time with Sabriel, but we don’t learn as much about her as we might have assumed. We know about her father, her schooling, and her magic, but we very rarely see into her mind. In Julian Barnes’ haunting novel The Sense Of An Endinghowever, the “plot” seems to be nothing more than an endless unravelling of the innermost fears and failures of the protagonist. Literary fiction is driven by the exploration of philosophies, ideas, and characters, whereas genre fiction is driven by the events of the plot.

 

Simple, no?

Now you just need to write the damn thing!

3 Mistakes That Kill Your Novel At Outset

Beginnings are tough for me, and for many writers, and I firmly believe that you’re either a beginning or end kind of writer; people always excel at one above the other. So for all you other “Can’t-get-it-started” writers out there I’ve got three pieces of advice. Three mistakes that I’ve made over, and over, and over before putting them to paper (or page) here so that you can learn from my hard experience. These three things are almost guaranteed to murder the potential of any novel before your reader gets through the front door!

 

One; Leading with Backstory

We’ve all made this mistake; there’s some nugget of the past that we are adamant the reader absolutely has to know in order to understand the protagonist, and therefore the story…

Well, actually, they don’t usually.

If you’re tempted to lead with backstory ask yourself this one, very important, question; is this information/event directly related to the story that is about to follow? If not, no matter how interesting it may be, drop it. If you want to keep a story progressing (and constant progression is one of the things which singles out truly gripping stories) tell the reader only what they need to know at any given time! That could mean going back to touch on events which pre-date the story, but include only what is necessary to story progression and character growth.

 

Two; Purple Prose

Excessive description is a silver bullet when it comes to killing a novel; effective novel description should enhance the readers experience of the story without overtaking it. If you begin with description make sure that this is paired with a character in motion; if the setting is really key make sure that you’re also beginning the story as you introduce the setting.

Description should always, always be incidental, attached directly to the progression of the story, and applied with caution; if you allow your descriptions to overpower the action and story you’re already on a path of steady decline. This used to be less of a hard and fast rule, but these days the fiction that gets published, and certainly the fiction that sells, tends, more often, to be to the point, lean, and athletic (for lack of a better term). That’s not to say description is obsolete, but you should definitely be making your description work for its bread and butter. 

 

Three;  Lack of Threat

Threat is an essential in every novel; good fiction revolves around a person or people who face a problem, a situation, or an event which threatens their world as they know it in some way. To paraphrase a well-worn statement; get your characters up a tree and throw rocks at them. Introduce your story with threat; this can be a disturbance to their usual routine, for example a police officer at the doo a la The Rose Petal Beach, or a blow to their psychological state, think that single drop of blood in Rose Madder. It doesn’t have to be brutal or overly dramatic, but it must shift the paradigm of the characters life in a way which requires their input/action or you’re starting from a sedentary point. All novels should begin with need, desire, or danger, e.g. something that poses a threat to the usual working of their lives.

 

This advice won’t see you through every stage of your novel, but it’ll get you through the first chapters and that’s a damn good start!

Image Source; http://pearlsofpromiseministries.com/why-does-god-allow-roadblocks/