As I rev up for the Springfield Book Fair on Saturday, I need reminders to tackle the small stuff like this week's blog challenge. Thanks to Dee for that dope slap so that I got this written.
This week's writing prompt concerns the best writing advice I've ever received. That can be summed up in four short bullet points:
Ignoring the first three contributes to lackluster writing. That doesn't mean it won't be grammatically correct. A lot of amateur writers convince themselves that their work only needs someone to catch those typos and ensure correct grammar to polish it. As an editor, I know better. As a writer, I know better. As a reader, I know better. Good writing doesn't always follow the strictures of correct grammar. However, writing that consistently breaks the "rules" governing proper grammar demonstrates an ignorance of language and sloppy carelessness that offends. My teeth clench every time I read "I seen" or "her and I" or "between you and I."
I tell people that a good writer must know proper grammar in order to break the rules to great effect.
Oftentimes, I'm just speaking to the wind, for all the heed anyone pays my advice. Regardless, I'll continue with this short list of good advice.
Adverbs tell how something is done; they don't show. One can write "He walked proudly across the stage." It's grammatically correct. Yet using a more appropriate verb delivers greater punch: "He strutted across the stage." Of course, sometimes telling is the most expedient way to present what the author wants to say. In such cases, reserve adverbs for those passages when showing would occupy too much page space and cause the reader to lose focus on the advancing plot.
Active verbs keep the story moving. They add power. Sentence after sentence in passive voice drones, drags, and causes the reader to lose interest. However, when used sparingly (there's an adverb!), a declaration with a passive verb adds steely strength. If you're not sure whether what you wrote is active or passive, here's a quick guide: avoid using am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been, have, has, had, can, could, shall, should, will, would, may, and might.
Sensory detail adds richness and depth to immerse the reader within the story. Good writers appeal to more than just what the narrator sees, but involves the other senses of touch, hearing, taste, and smell. I find amateurs fail to do this especially in scenes involving lots of gore. They don't realize that blood and death stink.
Reader expectations, when violated, lead to brutal reviews. I have concrete examples of this. In The Barbary Lion, a paranormal romance that crosses over into abduction romance, the heroine reacts like a real person. The hero is a jerk of the first order. (He redeems himself. Mostly.) I didn't soften the characterization, which readers expected and for which they blasted the book. In Russian Gold, the heroine experiences of crisis of conscience and a terrible loss of self-respect for herself. Raised in the Midwestern heartland, she has values different from her more sophisticated urban friends and has a deep-seated need to earn the blessings she enjoys. So, she leaves the hero to earn back her self-respect and refuse to go back to him unless he gives up his criminal ways. I didn't see that as excessive or unreasonable for a normally moral woman, but readers did and--again--blasted the book.
Does this mean that I'll warp a plot if it doesn't adhere to reader-preferred expectations? Nope. I'm not that malleable. So, I'll roll with the punches knowing that I've employed the advice from others on writing well.