Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Enliven Your Writing, Part 1

Lost in Thought--Henri Caro-Delvaille (1876-1926) Have you ever run into really flat writing?

It’s the kind of wooden writing you see from many non-writers. Desultory, lifeless. There’s no passion at all in it…just a straight narrative. A retelling of events.

It can be a trait for newbie writers, too. Eager to cross their t’s and dot their i’s, they might lose the energy and excitement in the passages they’re penning.

I’ve even read scenes in published books that seem really flat. It’s like the writer wasn’t even trying that day. I’ve had days like that, too—where I was just throwing it on the paper and knew I’d go back and fix it later. But I did make the writing livelier during the revision process.

Tips for Infusing Life in Your Writing:

Consider your voice. Are you trying to have a wooden, flat storytelling style? (J.D. Salinger’s Holden Caufield had a monotone delivery for Catcher in the Rye—but Holden is depressed.) If not, try to find your voice. When you’re telling a story about your weekend to a friend, you wouldn’t tell it in a wooden, flat style. How you tell the story is uniquely yours…but you need to discover that voice.

Cut out the dead wood. Is there a scene that’s really pedantic? Is it necessary? Pinpoint the information that the scene is there to convey. If it doesn’t advance the plot, develop conflict, or assist characterization, then why is it there? Cut it out. If it does advance the plot, see if there’s a way to rewrite the scene to give it more feeling.

Create settings that pop. There’s nothing worse than reading descriptive lists in a story. Listing the types of birds at the birdfeeder, listing the flowers blooming in the garden, listing the foods on the menu. Make your setting pop by using vivid words and imagery.

Change the sentence structure. Are you stuck in a subject-predicate pattern? Try switching the arrangement of your sentences a little. Start a sentence with a verb, prepositional phrase, or adverb.

Get your characters moving. Are your characters spending too much time sitting at diners and talking? Talking over coffee? Talking over supper? Maybe it’s time to kick your characters in the rear and get them to move around a little. They don’t have to be jogging or anything—they could be looking for something they misplaced and be absentmindedly answering the protagonist’s questions. They could be washing their car. Change the scenery, use some verbs. Give them some action to respond to or have them instigate action.

After writing this post, I realized it was way too long for a blog. I’ve got five more ways to liven up your writing tomorrow…hope you’ll come back by.