Monday, April 14, 2014

10 Ways to Develop Style

We are all looking for ways to improve our writing. Today, I thought I would help you develop your style. So, what is style? When in the discussion of writing, style is "the way in which an idea is expressed, not the idea itself."

1. Think About Style -  Think about how you want to express your idea. Use all of your senses.

2. Listen to What you Write - Think of your writing as music. The words you write make sounds, and when those sounds are in harmony, the writing will work. Read your writing aloud. Listen for the beat. Listen for gaps where the music doesn't work. "There are no good sounds or bad sounds, just as there are no good notes or bad notes in music. It is the way in which you combine them that can make the writing succeed or fail. It's the music that matters." states Gary Provost.

3. Mimic Spoken Language - Writing should be conversational. Your writing should convey to the reader a sense of conversation. Mimic spoken language in the variety of its music, in the simplicity of its words, in the directness of its expression. Writing provides time for contemplation. Use it well.

4. Vary Sentence Length - Vary the sentence length and you create music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm. A lilt, a harmony. Write with a combination of short, medium, and long sentences. Create a sound that pleases the reader's ear. Don't just write words. Write music.

5. Vary Sentence Construction - Subject. Predicate. Object. That's how we were taught early in life to construct sentences. However, identical sentence structure can become boring to readers. Of course, you should strive for clarity and not arrange your sentences in a way that strangles their logic. Keep the primary elements of the sentence dancing so that they will create their own music.

6. Write Complete Sentences - Complete sentences have a subject and a predicate. You should always try to write complete sentences. Good writing often contains incomplete sentences. The incomplete sentence is a useful tool. Using it wisely can invigorate the music of your words. Like a chime or the beat of a drum.

7. Show, Don't Tell - When you are showing people something, you are trusting them to make up their minds for themselves. Readers like to be trusted. Don't dictate to them. Let them see the person, situation, or thing you are describing, and they will not only like what you have written, they will like you for trusting them.

8. Keep Related Words Together - Adjectives should be placed near the nouns they describe so they don't appear to be describing some other noun. In the same vein, adverbs should be close to verbs they modify, and dependent clauses should be near the words on which they depend for meaning.

9. Use Parallel Construction - Just as the steady beat of a drum can often enrich a melody, the repetition of a sound can often improve the music of your writing. When you deliberately arrange words and sounds in similar fashion to show the reader the similarity of information contained in sentences it is called parallel construction.

10. Don't Force a Personal Style - Style is your writing. It is tangled in the content of your words and the nature of you. Do not create some kind of persona in your head and try to capture it on paper. Do not try to write like Erma Bombeck, Hunter S. Thompson, Ernest Hemingway or anybody else. Write well and without self-consciousness. Only then will your own style emerge.

If you follow these simple points, you'll be writing your own music and it will be delightful to the reader and to yourself.

Writing Reference - 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing by Gary Provost

Friday, April 11, 2014

Friday Five Minute Exercise - A Need that is Not Being Met

1. Set your clocks/timers for Five (5) Minutes.

2. Write about A Need that is Not Being Met. It can be a need of society or your own need. Make a list of action steps to bring the society or you closer to meeting that need.

Get into as much detail as you can for the next five minutes.

3. Ready?

4. Go.

5. Finished? Review and be amazed.

I hope you had fun. Come back next Friday for a new writing prompt.

Was this exercise helpful?

Did you succeed with this writing exercise? Was it helpful? Were you able to discover a need about yourself or society that is not being met? Did you come up with logical action steps to bring society or you closer to fulfilling that need? Was this exercise helpful? Did you enjoy it?

Why or Why Not?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Using Adverbs Effectively

Not every writer is a fan of adverbs. According to Stephen King, "the road to hell is paved with adverbs."

There have been many campaigns led to "kill the adverb."

But, in all that blunder and huff, did it ever occur to anyone that the adverb can also be used effectively when writing?

I'm not saying we should pepper our writing projects with adverbs, but used judicially, they can be very effective and help progress your story.

So, what does an adverb do, actually?

1. An adverb tells us more about a verb.

2. An adverb describes or modifies the verb in some way.

3. Many adverbs end with the suffix "ly" but not all.

4. Adverbs often tell us how something happened.

A good way to identify an adverb is to look for the "ly" ending, however not all adverbs end in "ly".

Here is a short list of some adverbs that do not end in "ly".


We use each of these words "often", don't we?

According to the website Emphasis ".. good, clear writing is more about communicating your meaning efficiently than banging your point home – and that means only using adverbs that add genuine, useful information. Whenever possible, show, don’t tell."

It makes sense, right? In whatever we write, we need to always make sure we are "showing" and not "telling" to get our point across. So, a smart move would be to only use adverbs in the add genuine, useful information.

From the Daily Post at I found a great post about adverbs:

Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and sometimes even other adverbs. They’ll often tell us “how” something was done, e.g., He walked slowly. Or, He walked very sowly. But, do adverbs clarify, or are they crutches for lazy or rushed writers who rely on adverbs to do their verbs’ heavy lifting? What if, instead of using adverbs to tell us how the man walked, we swapped in a stronger verb to show us how he walked?
Consider these alternatives:
  • The man plodded.
  • The man ambled.
  • The man trudged.
In each instance above, our new verb not only better describes how the man moved, it creates a picture in the reader’s mind. Stronger verbs can also convey emotion more effectively, which makes for stronger, vivid writing.
If you're looking for some extra exercises on helping understand modifiers go here.

Always remember this, your purpose in writing your story is to show as much as possible to the reader. If all else fails, reach for an adverb, but try in every way to find an alternative first. For stronger writing, use stronger words.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Friday Five Minute Exercise - Fate

1. Set your clocks/timers for Five (5) Minutes.

2. Write about Fate. Do you believe in fate -- that power which is thought to determine one's future? Does fate play a role in your success or failure as a writer?

Get into as much detail as you can for the next five minutes.

3. Ready?

4. Go.

5. Finished? Review and be amazed.

I hope you had fun. Come back next Friday for a new writing prompt.

Was this exercise helpful?

Did you succeed with this writing exercise? Was it helpful? Did you come to terms whether or not you believe in fate? Did you determine if fate played a role in your career as a writer? If you do not believe in fate, what do you believe in? Was this exercise helpful? Did you enjoy it?

Why or Why Not?

Monday, March 31, 2014

Writing Tips - Telling a Story or Giving a Report?

The difference between "story" and "report" is crucial to the reader's expectation and the writer's execution.

The word "story" has a special meaning, and stories have specific requirements that create predictable effects.

What are the differences between "report" and "story", and how can the writer use them to strategic advantage?

A scholar by the name of Louise Rosenblatt argued at one point that readers read for two reasons:

1. Information
2. Experience

That's the difference.

Reports convey information. Stories create experience.

Reports transfer knowledge. Stories transport the reader.

The tools required to create reports and stories differ as well.

Every writer should know about the famous "Five W's and H". They've helped writers gather and convey information with the reader's interest in mind.


They are the most common elements of information.

When used in reports, these pieces of information are fixed in time, fixed so readers can scan and understand.

This is how you "un-fix" them, when you can transform information into narrative:

Who becomes Character
What becomes Action (What happened.)
Where becomes Setting
When becomes Chronology
Why becomes Cause or Motive
How becomes Process (How it happened.)

As the writer, you must figure out whether your project requires the crafting of a report, a story, or some combination of both.

In can be said that stories require rising and falling action, complications, points of insight, and resolutions. As a novelist, you can invent these movements into a story. However, as a reporter or non-fiction writer you must report them.

A narrative requires a story and a storyteller.

An article in a newspaper requires a reporter.

By combining story and report, you, the writer can speak to both our hearts and our heads, creating sympathy and understanding.

Here are some things you can do:

1. Look at the newspaper with the distinction between reports and stories in mind. Look for narrative opportunities missed. Look for bits of stories embedded in reports.
2. Take the same approach to your own work. Look for stories, or at least passages in stories, where you transport the reader to the scene. Search for places in your reports where you might have included story elements.
3. Reread the conversion list for the Five W's and H. Keep it handy the next time you research and write. Use it to transform report elements into the building blocks of a story.
4. The next time you read a novel, look for the ways in which the author weaves information about politics or history or geography into the tapestry of narrative. How can you apply these techniques in your own work?

So, in your next project, are you going to tell a story or give a report?

Writing Resource: Writing Tools - 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark

Friday, March 28, 2014

Friday Five Minute Exercise - Event from your Childhood

1. Set your clocks/timers for Five (5) Minutes.

2. Write about an Event From Your Childhood. Try to recreate the smells, the textures, and the sounds as you describe the event.

Get into as much detail as you can for the next five minutes.

3. Ready?

4. Go.

5. Finished? Review and be amazed.

I hope you had fun. Come back next Friday for a new writing prompt.

Was this exercise helpful?

Did you succeed with this writing exercise? Was it helpful? Did you find an event from your childhood to write about? Did it bring back happy or sad memories? Was this exercise helpful? Did you enjoy it?

Why or Why Not?

Monday, March 24, 2014

29 Ways to Stay Creative

I found this great image that gives a list of the 29 ways to stay creative. 29 ways?!? You've got to be kidding, right? So, I figured I'd go through them with you and see if we can come up with any more to add to the list.

1. Make lists. Okay. Sounds easy enough. I make lists all the time. I think this one we can make a bit more specific. Make a list of topics you want to write about.

2. Carry a notebook everywhere. Definitely something I'd advocate. Even if it's just your smart phone. If you get a burst of genius, get it down. There are plenty of applications for your phone to help you keep track of topics you want to write about. Evernote is a great one. iPhone comes with two: Lists & Notes. I use both. 

3. Try free writing. This is a perfect way to start writing. You don't have a topic so just start writing about whatever is on your mind or just type the same word over and over again until you finally break free and a topic comes to mind. Works nearly every time.

4. Get away from the computer. This one my dog loves. When I need to take a break from the computer I take my dog for a walk. Win - win situation for everyone.

5. Quit beating yourself up. Please, stop berating yourself if things don't go right or if you can't think of a topic. Please, no violence against writers. Give yourself a break. oops, I think that's another tip later on. But, I'm serious. If you still can't think of something to write about, don't worry. An idea will come. If you beat yourself up about it, nothing good can come of it.

6. Take breaks. See, there you go. Take breaks. Flip through a magazine. Go for a walk. Watch a TV show. Call a friend. Stroll through Facebook. Google strange stuff. Your brain needs a rest. Why do you think some of your greatest ideas come to you when you're in the shower or driving? Murphy's Law at it again? Not necessarily. Your brain is constantly working. When you give yourself a break, your brain can finally concentrate on what it needs to do. Find you a topic to write about.

7. Sing in the shower. Well, okay, I think that's a bit personal. I'd prefer not to, but to each their own. But, like I said before, sometimes the best ideas come when you're in the shower.

8. Drink coffee. Fire up those synapses. Give yourself a bit of a jolt. Just don't go overboard and get all jittery and end up walking circles in your living room mumbling to yourself. I don't think this idea wants you to get addicted to caffeine. 

9. Listen to new music. That's always a great one. And, really listen to the lyrics. You can get some great writing topic ideas.

10. Be open. I'm not exactly sure what this one means. I'm an open person, to a point, but I think it mean be open to new ideas. Be open to new options of finding topic ideas. Sometimes an idea comes from the strangest places or person.

11. Surround yourself with creative people. Join a writer's group. There's nothing like being in a room full of creative people. The room literally buzzes with creativity.

12. Get feedback. Everyone needs this. Even those of us who think we've got it all together. Another person's opinion helps to alter our perspective. You never know when someone else's opinion might send you on another path to another great idea.

13. Collaborate. This only works if you work well with others. Think back to kindergarten? Did you work well with others or did you spend a lot of time in the corner? eh?

14. Don't give up. Biggie. Never give up. I've been writing for twenty-five years. I still consider myself a child of the trade. I'm always learning. 

15. Practice. Practice. Practice. Practice makes perfect, right? Well, not always, but the more you practice something, the better you get at it. That includes writing.

16. Allow yourself to make mistakes. We all do. Heck, just the other day, I created something for our next writer's conference and I went over it and over it. Proofread the heck out of it. Created an e-mail, sent it in, and wham. Looked back at the piece and saw a blazing error. Argh! I had to correct it and send it again. But, all is okay. Allow yourself to make mistakes.

17. Go somewhere new. A new environment can fill you with new ideas.

18. Count your blessings. Definitely. You are truly blessed. You're a writer, doing what you love, how blessed is that? Keep counting, I'm sure you can come up with more.

19. Get lots of rest. A must for anyone, especially writers. If your brain doesn't have time to shut down and restore itself, how is it ever going to continue working?

20. Take risks. Not literally. I don't mean walk in the middle of traffic or anything. But, consider a topic you haven't before and put your special twist on it.

21. Break the rules. Rules were made to be broken, right? Well, not all of them. Some of them can land you in jail. But, when it comes to writing, definitely break some rules. See what it does to your writing.

22. Don't force it. The ideas will come in their own time. A watched pot never boils. Oh, wait, it will eventually. Same with your ideas. They'll come. Eventually. Just give them time. In the mean time, go back to number 6.

23. Read a page of the dictionary. Now that's definitely an extreme way to find a topic idea. Try the Thesaurus as well. I remember back in the day, we had a set of Encyclopedias on our bookshelf. I loved reading them. What do we have now? Wikipedia. Try it.

24. Create a framework. Hmmm, well, let's see. Framework? Outline? I think that's what this means. Try an outline. Try a flowchart. Start with a word, then move on to the first thing you think of, then move on to what that makes you think of and so on until you've come up with an idea to write about.

25. Stop trying to be someone else's perfect. I'll do you one better. Just stop trying to be perfect. Period. See number 16.

26. Got an idea? Write it down. Don't trust your memory. Especially at my age. I write everything down. If I don't, I know I'll forget. Your brain can only hold so much information before it dumps a few things to hold more. Don't let one of your great ideas be that something that gets dumped.

27. Clean your workspace. A bit of procrastination, but it works. A messy desk is the sign of a genius, right? Einstein never had a clean desk. But, every once in a while, organizing your desk can help you organize your thoughts.

28. Have fun. That's what this is all about. Writing is fun. You get to have fun doing what you love. If it starts to feel like work, it's not fun anymore. Keep some fun in your life. I have a helium-filled balloon in my office. It always makes me smile when it drifts around into my vision.

29. Finish something. Yes, it ultimately comes down to this. You must come up with a topic, write about it and then finish your piece. Just as we've done here. We're at the end. 

Now that we've seen the 29 ways to stay creative, do you have something to add?