Monday, August 11, 2014

12 Ways to Give Your Writing Special Powers

Did you ever wonder how to give your writing special powers? Well, Gary Provost, who wrote 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing, did just that.

And, lucky for you, I'm going to tell you just what those 12 special powers are and you are going to get to use them in your writing and be special too!

1. Use Short Words
Shorter words are more powerful and less pretentious. Provost says, "The fastest way to learn why you should use short words is to read anything by Ernest Hemingway. ... Hemingway was a miser when it came to syllables and words."

2. Use Dense Words
Dense words are words that crowd a lot of meaning into a small space. Provost says, "The fewer words you use to express and idea, the more impact that idea will have.... For example: Once a month is monthly; something new is novel; people they don't know are strangers; and something impossible to imagine is inconceivable.

3. Use Familiar Words
Familiar words have power. A words that your reader doesn't recognize has no power. Provost says, "if it confuses the reader and sends him or her scurrying for the dictionary, it has broken the reader's spell." Provost adds a couple of tips: "A words is unfamiliar if you never heard of it until you found it in the thesaurus or if you haven't read it at least three times in the past year."

4. Use Active Verbs
Active verbs do something. Inactive verbs are something. Provost says, "You will gain more power over readers if you change verbs of being such as is, was, and will be to verbs of motion and action."

5. Use Strong Verbs
Words are weak when they are not specific, not active, or are unnecessarily dependent on adverbs for their meaning. Action verbs, are the primary source of energy in your sentences. Provost says, "They are the executives; they should be in charge. All other parts of speech are valuable assistants, but if your verbs are weak, all the modifiers in the world won't save your story from dullness."

Choose your strong verbs wisely. Sharpen a verb's meaning by being precise. Turn look into stare, gaze, peer, peek, or gawk. Turn throw into toss, flip, or hurl. Be suspicious of adverbs. They are usually adjectives ending in -ly. Did your character nervously pace or pace? Did your character quickly wolf down her supper or wolf down her supper?

6. Use Specific Nouns
Provost says, "Good writing requires the use of strong nouns." What is a strong noun? It's one that is precise and densely packed with information. Watch for adjectives doing the work of nouns. According to Provost, "Adjectives do for nouns, what adverbs do for verbs; that is, they identify some distinctive feature."  They identify the color of the noun, the size, shape, or how fast it moved. Adjectives do great work when they're needed, however, a lazy writer drags them along too often when they're not needed. Think of it this way. Would you rather know Steven Spielberg or someone who knows Steven Spielberg?

So, before you write a noun that is modified by one or two adjectives, ask yourself if there is a noun that says the same thing. That really is Steven Spielberg. Instead of writing about a black dog maybe you want to write about a Labrador? A large house or a McMansion? Do you want to start the joke with a man just walked into a room or the priest just walked into the room?

Specific nouns have power. When you take out a general word and use a specific word, readers assume you are trying to tell them something. And you usually improve your writing. So make sure you choose the specific word that delivers the message you want delivered.

7. Use the Active Voice ... Most of the Time
Provost can't say it any better, "When a verb is in the active voice, the subject of the sentence is also the doer of the action." Am I right? or Am I right?

The active voice makes for more interesting reading. Right? Right.

The sentences are shorter.

It holds the reader closer.

It creates the ambience of "something is going to happen."

However. But. On the other hand. Yeah. You get the picture.

There are times, as Provost says, "when you need to use the passive. If the object of the action is the important thing, then you will want to emphasize it by mentioning it first. When that's the case, you will use the passive voice."

AGast! I know. I know. It's true.

We'll use Provost's example: Let's say you want to tell the reader about some strange things that happened to your car. In an active voice it would look like this:

Three strong woman turned my car upside down on Tuesday. Vandals painted my car yellow and turquoise on Wednesday. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration launched my car into orbit around the moon on Thursday.

The example above is not wrong, per say, but it's choppy. To give the story flow, you would use passive voice keeping emphasis on the car:

On Tuesday my car was turned upside down by three strong women. On Wednesday by car was painted yellow and turquoise by vandals. On Thursday my car was launched into orbit around the moon by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Get the gist?

8. Say Things in a Positive Way ... Most of the Time
Usually what matters is what did happen, what does exist, who is involved. So develop the habit of telling things in a positive manner. If you want your reader to experience the silence of a church at night, write it in a way so that the reader understands the effectiveness of how silent the church was in a positive manner.

Of course, sometimes the negative must be emphasized as well to get your point across. If it's past 6 pm and your wife isn't home yet, you're going to say, "Jennie isn't home yet." not "Jennie is out."

9. Be Specific
Specifics is always better than generics. Provost says it this way, "A specific word or phrase is usually better than a general one."

He has a little exercise for you.
Picture a box.
Now picture a black box.
Now picture a black box with shiny silver hinges.
You can see this box more clearly as it becomes more specific. Right?

Of course, I could go on and on about this small black box with shiny silver hinges on one end and an inlaid marble top which has a crimson heart painted on it with the most darling cupids dancing around the heart, and on and on, but by then you'd be bored out of your mind. Right? Right.

So, the point I'm trying to make is be specific, but not wordy.

My son James is having difficulty with two subject.
Not specific.

My son James is flunking math and science.
Specific.

10. Use Statistics
According to Provost, "A few placed statistics will establish your credibility. If they are accurate and comprehensible, they will show the reader that you have done your homework and know what you are talking about."

However, too many statistics can number your reader's brain and their ability to draw meaning from them. Provost says it very well, "Statistics should be sprinkled like pepper, not smeared like butter."

11. Provide Facts
Use facts to give the reader the opportunity to draw their own conclusions. It gives your writing a stronger impact.

12. Put Emphatic Words at the End
What are emphatic words? Why those are words you want your reader to pay special attention to, of course!

They are the words that have the information you most want to communicate to the reader. As a writer, you can get extra attention from your reader, by placing these words at the end. Provost explains that this is a lesson best learned by ear, "Listen to how the impact of the sentence moves to whatever information happens to be at the end."

I come to buy Caesar, not to praise him.
I come not to praise Caesar, but to bury him.

Ask what you can do for America, not what America can do for you.
Ask not what America can do for you, ask what you can do for America.


Did you learn some new special powers for your writing? Are you going to apply them and begin improving your writing today?












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