One of the big things that writers struggle to improve in their work is the quality of their prose. The difficulty with a phrase like ‘prose’ is it means a huge number of different things, from flow and register, to vocabulary choice and sentence structure, and then still to less tangible things like ‘voice’ and ‘beauty’.
It can be hard to identify what makes a particular piece of prose aesthetically beautiful, just as it is often difficult to explain why a particular piece of art or music elicits that response. In many ways, great prose is the most artistic part of the genre, defying attempts to tie it down to strict rules or structures.
Still, I like a challenge, so in this post I’m going to be writing about how to improve your prose and what great prose looks like. I will not be able to cover everything, or fix your prose in a simple post.
In the first section, I will provide a range of examples and try to examine the features that helps make the prose aesthetically pleasing.
The goal is to identify some features that help tie down that most elusive of beasts: beautiful writing.
In the second section, I will explore techniques and exercises you can use to help improve your own prose with the below ideas in mind.
I truly believe that one of the essential building blocks of great prose is an extremely solid understanding of English grammar and syntax - specifically sentence construction. I say this mainly because the nuts and bolts of sentence construction is often not explicitly taught in schools, or if it is then it is often forgotten later in life.
If you are not completely certain, I would take some time to revise your understanding of word types, passive and active verb construction, nominalisation, main clauses, dependent clauses and construction of simple, compound and complex sentences, and punctuation usage (like how you use commas, semi-colons, dashes, and colons).
The information about all of these things can be easily found on the internet and is worth some of your writing time to consider and learn these.
Being very comfortable with how these all work is a necessary precursor to being able to write beautiful prose. A lot of great prose breaks these grammatical rules, but you really need to know them before you can break them.
I would strongly recommend reading Strunk's Elements of Style as a great starting point if you feel this is an area that needs work.
Variety is key in prose. Many of you will have seen Gary Provost’s oft-stated passage about sentence length, but it bears repeating here:
“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety.
Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.”
This fantastic example highlights the importance of variety, but variety does not just apply to sentence length. It applies to paragraph length, word choice and tone. You want to aim to change these up over the course of your writing. In the words of George Bernard Shaw, “consistency should be reserved for rice pudding.”
Here's a task for you: For the rest of the post, look at all the examples I use and consider how the reader has used variation to enhance the beauty of their prose.
3. Sensory Description - Breadth and Depth
Remember to include a range of sensory description in your prose. There is a tendency for novice writers to only describe what the narrator would see, but not what they would feel, smell, hear, or taste. However, we do not experience the world this way and the most immersive prose will deal with all of it. Let’s look at a couple examples.
The first is from the excellent The Northern Lights by Philip Pullman (or The Golden Compass if you’re American):
‘One morning there was a different smell in the air, and the ship was moving oddly, with a brisker rocking from side to side instead of the plunging and soaring. Lyra was on deck a minute after she woke up, gazing greedily at the land: such a strange sight, after all that water, for though they had only been at sea a few days, Lyra felt as if they’d been on the ocean for months. Directly ahead of the ship a mountain rose, green-flanked and snow-capped, and a little town and harbour lay below it: wooden houses with steep roofs, an oratory spire, cranes in the harbour, and clouds of gulls wheeling and crying. The smell was of fish, but mixed with it came land smells too: pine-resin and earth and something animal and musky, and something else that was cold and blank and wild: it might have been snow. It was the smell of the North.
Seals frisked around the ship, showing their clown-faces above the water before sinking back without a splash. The wind that lifted spray off the white-capped waves was monstrously cold, and searched out every gap in Lyra’s wolfskin.’
As you can see here, Pullman describes a range of different senses. More importantly, he layers them. Another trap to fall into is to assume there is only one smell or sound in a setting, but, just like sight, there is a full range of these senses that contradict and compliment each other.
Look at the way Pullman describes smell. He layers different smells on top of each other, ‘fish’, ‘land smells’ ‘pine-resin and earth’ and something ‘animal and musky’ and again something else ‘cold and blank and wild’. Together they build to create what he describes as ‘the smell of the North.’
Note also here that other senses, like smell, can be dealt with in the same kind of metaphorical way as you would with sight. You don’t always need to describe a specific smell, like ‘burning wood’ or ‘spiced apples’. You can just as easily, and sometimes more effectively, use feelings. Pullman does this when he describes one of the smells as ‘cold and blank and wild.’ It is hard to tie down exactly specifically what this smell is, but personally, I can imagine it.
This act of layering smells, or other senses, can also be used to set them up in contradiction of each other, or to explore other ideas.
A great example can be found in the opening of Pat Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind, which deals with sound in similarly complex and layered way.
'It was night again. The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.
The most obvious part was a hollow, echoing quiet, made by things that were lacking. If there had been a wind it would have sighed through the trees, set the inn’s sign creaking on its hooks, and brushed the silence down the road like trailing autumn leaves. If there had been a crowd, even a handful of men inside the inn, they would have filled the silence with conversation and laughter, the clatter and clamor one expects from a drinking house during the dark hours of night. If there had been music…but no, of course there was no music. In fact there were none of these things, and so the silence remained.
Inside the Waystone a pair of men huddled at one corner of the bar. They drank with quiet determination, avoiding serious discussions of troubling news. In doing this they added a small, sullen silence to the larger, hollow one. It made an alloy of sorts, a counterpoint.
The third silence was not an easy thing to notice. If you listened for an hour, you might begin to feel it in the wooden floor underfoot and in the rough, splintering barrels behind the bar. It was in the weight of the black stone hearth that held the heat of a long dead fire. It was in the slow back and forth of a white linen cloth rubbing along the grain of the bar. And it was in the hands of the man who stood there, polishing a stretch of mahogany that already gleamed in the lamplight.
The man had true-red hair, red as flame. His eyes were dark and distant, and he moved with the subtle certainty that comes from knowing many things.
The Waystone was his, just as the third silence was his. This was appropriate, as it was the greatest silence of the three, wrapping the others inside itself. It was deep and wide as autumn’s ending. It was heavy as a great river-smooth stone. It was the patient, cut-flower sound of a man who is waiting to die.'
Once again, we get a complex and interesting layering of sounds (or silence) just like Pullman did with smells.
Here's a final example that starts to merge and layer them together. You start to get what I consider to be really aesthetically beautiful prose. This is from Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries, a fantastically written Man Booker prize-winning novel.
‘The storm was borne on greenish winds. It began as a coppery taste in the back of one’s mouth, a metallic ache that amplified as the clouds darkened and advanced, and when it struck, it was with the flat hand of a senseless fury. The seething deck, the strange whip of light and shadows cast by the sails that snapped and strained above it, the palpable fear of the sailors as they fought to hold the barque on her course - it was the stuff of nightmare, and Moody had the nightmarish sense, as the vessel drew closer and closer to the goldfields, that she had somehow willed the infernal storm upon herself.’
In this extract, Catton describes a storm by giving us the already sickly, nauseating feeling of ‘greenish winds’, followed by a ‘coppery taste’, then a feeling with ‘metallic ache’. This is compiled with the sight of ‘darkened’ and ‘advanced’ clouds and, finally, the sense of touch again as the storm hits with a ‘flat hand of senseless fury.’
And this is all in a couple of sentences. We then get more layered senses - the ‘strange whip of light’, in contrast to the only other sight description we have which is ‘darkened’ and then the sounds of ‘snapped’ and ‘strained’. It continues masterfully until we end with the fearful personification of the boat as some kind of self-flagellating woman, willing the storm onto herself.
Layered and complex sensory description is a key tool in the writer’s handbook. Go through the descriptions of some of the most important events in your novel - are you layering the sense like these authors are?
While on the topic of description, it is important to think about contrast. All of the examples above offer some sense of contrast in their description. By this I mean, they offer up juxtaposing images to highlight the power of them.
Imagine it like a painting: if you want a lighter colour to stand out, surround it with a darker colour so that it becomes clearer (or vice versa). This is very much the idea of a frame.
In the Catton example, the ‘clouds darkened’ contrasts with the ‘whip of light’, and so both the storm and the lightning are rendered darker and brighter respectively. In the Rothfuss example, the entire piece is contrasting one ‘silence’ against two others. If Kvothe’s silence was described on its own, it would lack all the depth that the contrast brings.
These juxtapositions can happen on a larger paragraph level or on a smaller sentence level, but if you want your images and ideas to stand out, try contrasting them against something else.
Part of what makes excellent prose is the structure of it, as well. Beautiful prose has a structure that is well thought out, rather than just a building of one idea onto the next.
Think about Rothfuss’s passage above - it has a clear structure of three parts that is set up at the beginning with an introduction, almost like an essay, then each topic is treated and the final conclusion that it all leads to is the character.
Two nice ways to think about prose structure are circularity and extended metaphors.
Circular prose begins and ends with the same idea, exploring it in more detail in between. The same line might frame the piece and add it extra weight. Similarly, extended metaphors are metaphors that build and layer over time, almost like the senses I discussed before. To return to something we’ve already seen, Rothfuss does this by using the silence as an extended metaphor for Kvothe’s haunting loneliness.
Both of these ideas can be seen in the following example: a wonderful piece by Richard Brautigan, entitled 'I was trying to describe you to someone.'
‘I was trying to describe you to someone a few days ago. You don’t look like any girl I’ve ever seen before.
I couldn’t say “Well she looks just like Jane Fonda, except that she’s got red hair, and her mouth is different and of course, she’s not a movie star…”
I couldn’t say that because you don’t look like Jane Fonda at all.
I finally ended up describing you as a movie I saw when I was a child in Tacoma Washington. I guess I saw it in 1941 or 42, somewhere in there. I think I was seven, or eight, or six.
It was a movie about rural electrification, a perfect 1930’s New Deal morality kind of movie to show kids. The movie was about farmers living in the country without electricity. They had to use lanterns to see by at night, for sewing and reading, and they didn’t have any appliances like toasters or washing machines, and they couldn’t listen to the radio. They built a dam with big electric generators and they put poles across the countryside and strung wire over fields and pastures.
There was an incredible heroic dimension that came from the simple putting up of poles for the wires to travel along. They looked ancient and modern at the same time.
Then the movie showed electricity like a young Greek god, coming to the farmer to take away forever the dark ways of his life. Suddenly, religiously, with the throwing of a switch, the farmer had electric lights to see by when he milked his cows in the early black winter mornings. The farmer’s family got to listen to the radio and have a toaster and lots of bright lights to sew dresses and read the newspaper by.
It was really a fantastic movie and excited me like listening to the Star Spangled Banner, or seeing photographs of President Roosevelt, or hearing him on the radio “… the President of the United States… “
I wanted electricity to go everywhere in the world. I wanted all the farmers in the world to be able to listen to President Roosevelt on the radio….
And that’s how you look to me.’
As well as a lovely use of extended metaphor, the circularity of beginning and ending with the focus on the ‘you’, the woman he is talking about, is what gives this piece so much of its beauty. It pulls it back down to the ground, away from the extended and almost rambling dream-like metaphor he is exploring.
Consider how Brautigan, in the example above, manages to use a circular structure in his prose to lend so much extra weight to a simple phrase: “and that’s how you look to me.” Because it is touched upon at the start with, “I was trying to describe you to someone” the last line has much more symbolic weight.
One way to think about the structure of your prose is to look at it as extracts, or individuals paragraphs, then consider what the first and last lines are. Do they reflect each other? Do they build upon each other? Is there some sense of growth?
Another aspect to focus on that is essential to writing compelling prose is the level of focus in the scene. In order to understand this, you need to know what your narrative lens is. The closer your narrative lens, the tighter your focus.
By narrative lens, we mean the vehicle through which you tell the story. In order of ever focusing narrative lenses, we have:
There is a reason many writers of sprawling epics like to go for 3rd person limited, as it gives them the freedom to have a close narrative lens but also a range of characters. Similarly, most literary fiction tends to be 1st person, because it is much more personal. Very few writers regularly use 3rd person omniscient these days.
So if you are writing in 3rd limited or 1st, you need to be sure that what you are describing is what your focus character or narrator is interested in. In other words, if you see a mountain, you are not describing the mountain to your reader, you are describing how your character would perceive a mountain.
This is quite straightforward - what I want to do is take it further and talk about what this means for focus. Often in big important scenes, writers have the tendency to forget what is important to characters. We need to remember what humanises characters and it is the small things. These deserve our focus. Raymond Chandler summed it up wonderfully when he wrote this:
‘A long time ago when I was writing for pulps I put into a story a line like “he got out of the car and walked across the sun-drenched sidewalk until the shadow of the awning over the entrance fell across his face like the touch of cool water.” They took it out when they published the story. Their readers didn’t appreciate this sort of thing: just held up the action. And I set out to prove them wrong. My theory was they just thought they cared nothing about anything but the action; that really, although they didn’t know it, they care very little about the action. The things they really cared about, and that I cared about, were the creation of emotion through dialogue and description; the things they remembered, that haunted them, were not for example that a man got killed, but that in the moment of his death he was trying to pick a paperclip up off the polished surface of a desk, and it kept slipping away from him, so that there was a look of strain on his face and his mouth was half open in a kind of tormented grin, and the last thing in the world he thought about was death. He didn’t even hear death knock on the door. That damn little paper clip just kept slipping away from his fingers and he just couldn’t push it to the edge of the desk and catch it as he fell.’
Great focus in prose isn’t about telling the action, or all the details. It is about knowing what the character would focus on and making that the emotional hook or anchor in the scene. Let’s look at another piece of prose from Catton’s The Luminaries. For some context, our character Moody has stumbled onto a bizarre conspiracy and there is clearly something illicit going. But despite the fact that we, as a reader, are very interested in this, Catton recognises that Moody is enraptured by other things:
‘But Moody was not listening. He had forgotten, for a moment, the creeping ash of his cigar, and the warm brandy pooling in the bottom of his glass. He had forgotten that he was here, in a hotel smoking room, in a town not five years built, at the end of the world. His mind had slipped, and returned to it: the bloody cravat, the clutching silver hand, the name, gasped out of the darkness, again and again, Magdalena, Magdalena, Magdalena. The scene came back to him all in a snatch, unbidden, like a shadow passing coldly over the face of the sun.’
Note Catton’s use of sensory description, which we discussed earlier, is also very strong here. The focus of the scene expands outwards and away from what is actually going on, and instead flits to what is really on our character’s mind. This is all that concerns him, and, with a tight narrative lens, this should be all that concerns the reader.
Great prose considers and employs the following:
How To Improve Your Prose
These analyses may make sense to you, but I’m sure you are thinking, as I often do: okay fine, but I never seem to be able to write like that. How can I improve my prose?
The truth is that it is practice, just like all writing, but this stands particularly true for the quality of your prose. The more you read and the more you write, the better your prose will become. It is very much like learning an instrument in that way.
However, like learning an instrument, there are clearly some techniques that you can practice and some exercises in order to make that process more effective.
Read authors who are noted for their excellent prose. You are more likely to find this in literary fiction than in other genres, but that doesn't always hold true. Look for prize winners - Pulitzer Prize, Man Booker Prize, etc.
My personal suggestions include the following: Eleanor Catton, Donna Tartt, Richard Flanagan, Julian Barnes, Kazuo Ishiguro, Oscar Wilde, Ray Bradbury and Viet Thanh Nguyen.
For those looking for beautiful prose in genre fiction, I'd encourage you to start with Ray Bradbury, N.K. Jemisin, and some elements of Patrick Rothfuss.
Read some of their work and let it just settle into you, but if you come across a particularly wonderful piece of prose, study it. Think about the above things and how their prose is constructed.
Take a piece of prose that you think is wonderfully written and literally write it out again. You can do this by hand or on the computer. The act of writing it yourself really helps your mind get into the rhythm and the style of the piece. If you have time, write out a couple of pieces.
Then immediately after, return to your own writing. You’ll notice yourself starting to apply some of the same styles and turns of phrase. Don’t worry at this point if it seems like imitation. It will be. But once you have imitated enough different writers, their styles will merge and change and slowly develop into something you can call your own voice.
Try to write the same passage of your own work in a variety of different styles. Once you become comfortable with different authors you love, try to match their styles without copying directly from them. This is a really good way to get your brain consciously thinking about the way you are using language.
Try writing the same scene from the POV of multiple characters. Change the narrative lens and focus and think about what each character would care about. Change the diction and voice as the character changes and the change the focus of the scene. Consider how something as basic as your sensory description would change as the point of view changes.
Place strict word restrictions on complicated scenes. Try to express the same concept or action in 100 words, then 50 words, then 500 words. How does it change the way you write? What things are you forced to explore or forget?
Read it aloud. The brain has a much better sense of rhythm when speaking than reading. You will notice when sentences sound clunky or when they flow. Change anything that doesn’t sound right.
Again, read, read, read. Thinking you can get good at writing with reading is like thinking you can be a great musician without listening to music, or a great filmmaker without watching any films. It’s absurd. In the words of Stephen King, “if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or tools) to write.”
On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… twelve pieces of writing advice for the start of 2018.
It’s a new year and all sorts of people are likely to have all kinds of New Year’s Resolutions to do with their writing. You might be determined to finish that damn book this year, or to get an agent and head down the road to traditional publishing, or to finally self-publish your novel. Or maybe just to write a few more stories. But whatever you are doing, here are twelve pieces of writing advice that I think will be invaluable for the year ahead. Most of it has been covered in a variety of different places in this blog, but for me, these are some essentials to remember.
1. Plot Is Character
When you are writing and planning your stories, always remember that plot is not a thing that exists on its own. The idea of a plot is secondary by-product to character development. In the words of Stephen King, "Plot is, I think, the good writer's last resort and the dullard's first choice." Great stories, regardless of genre, are about character first and foremost. For those of you struggling to fit to piece together your plot, go back to thinking about your key characters.
The recipe for character development is as such:
Your character needs a goal, whether physical or metaphysical, that they need to be trying to achieve.
Your character needs to face obstacles that force him to question their world view, their assumptions, and their beliefs.
Your character needs to change in order to achieve their goal, or fail at their goal, but achieve another more intimate goal.
Plot should be subservient to the above. If you are unsure about where to take your character next, this is one of my favourite pieces of writing advice: what is the one thing that your character would absolutely never ever do? Right, you’ve got it? Good. Now make them do it. What happens to them now?
2. Your Protagonist Must Be Active
One of the biggest issues with stories is that the protagonist is not active enough in the story. Things happen to them, rather than because of their choices. Remember that the protagonist is the driver of the story. Throw obstacles at them, sure, but make sure that they make the choices that lead them through the story and the choices are not made for them. Make sure they make the mistakes. Make sure they provide the solutions.
Frodo ends up taking the ring to Mordor because he stands up and says “I’ll take it.” Not because it is forced on him. He is offered a way out. Make sure your protagonist is ‘taking’ the story themselves.
There is nothing more boring to read than a passive character that gets dropped into situations they haven’t caused, aren’t responsible for and then get out of it thanks to someone else. That isn’t a protagonist. That’s furniture.
3. Fiction Is Not Life
This applies to characters, plots, dialogue and just about everything else. Fiction is stylised. As much as it is important to try to make your fiction realistic and believable, life can also be very boring. You don’t want your characters talking to sound exactly like a normal conversation you would have on a normal day because it’s boring. We don’t need to go through the motions of normalcy in a story if it isn’t directly necessary to character growth or development. In the words of Oscar Wilde, “In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing.”
A corollary to this this is that you should not stick to the advice “write what you know.” It’s nonsense. A writer is an explorer. Use your empathy to discover what is interesting, what is conflicting, what is disturbing and use your writing to explore it. Find inspiration in what you know, sure, but don’t just stick to it.
4. It’s Not The Tropes That You Use, It’s The Way That You Use Them
Tropes and genre conventions are not inherently bad things. Nothing is inherently bad in writing. Everything is in the execution. Don’t be so determined to do something different or to subvert every trope that it just becomes jumbled, a mess or silly.
As an example, everyone talks about how A Game of Thrones is great because it subverts tropes of the Fantasy genre. It does, but it also embraces a lot of them. Nothing is subverted about the inclusion of dragons, or the medieval swords-and-castles setting, or the face-changing ninja assassins. These are fantasy conventions that are embraced and executed well.
Be aware of your genre. Read heavily in your genre. Know the tropes and expectations so you can use, subvert or ignore them as you wish, but do so consciously. Decide what works for your story. Don’t avoid genre conventions just to be different.
And always keep in mind that your story is your story, and you can do what you want with it. This is wonderfully summed up in a conversation with Max Landis and his father John that goes something along these lines:
John: "Max, how do you kill a vampire?"
Max: "Holy water, stake through the heart, etc."
John: "No. You kill a vampire however the fuck you want, because vampires aren't real."
The moral of this story is that everything is in the execution. Every time you find yourself asking "is it okay if I...?", "Could I get away with...?" The answer is always always always: YES, if you can execute it well.
5. Keep The Stakes High And Personal
High stakes are key. At almost any point in your story, stop and ask yourself: what would happen if my protagonist just stopped what they were doing and went back to their normal day-to-day life? If the answer is not much, you don’t have stakes.
Make sure there are real, lasting consequences to choices. If any time something bad happens it gets fixed a couple of chapters later, your reader is going to stop caring.
Make sure the stakes are personal. It isn’t about the size of the stakes, it’s about the importance and impact on the protagonist. Stopping the end of the world is all well and good, but it’s nowhere near as compelling as saving your daughter’s life. Worrying about if you're going to get enough credits to graduate could be more compelling than exposing a world-wide conspiracy if it’s more personal.
6. Ideas Are Cheap, Words Are Gold
Sitting and thinking and plotting is all well and good, but you need to write. Words on the page is everything. Ten words written is more valuable than four hours of thinking about your story. You can’t redraft, fix or improve until you’ve written. Write first, even if it’s rubbish. Even if you don’t know where it’s going. Write and it will come to you.
7. Writing Is Practice
If you have just started writing, you won’t be very good. You might be better than other novices, but you won’t be great. Thinking you are is like thinking you can pick up a guitar and play it perfectly without lessons. Or that you can step onto a tennis court and go toe-to-toe with Roger Federer without ever having picked up a racket. It’s absurd.
As you write you will improve. There are four stages of mastery that you will go through:
You aren’t that great at it, but you aren’t sure why. You can’t see what’s missing. Keep writing. Keep reading. Look for writing advice and blogs and youtube videos and read more fiction.
You understand what your writing is missing, but you can’t quite seem to implement it. Again, keep practicing, but focus on these particular things. If it’s dialogue, write lots of dialogue. If it’s action, write more action as practice. Read authors who do these things well. Try to copy their style for a bit until you learn how to incorporate it into your own.
You can see yourself improving and you can see your writing getting better because of specific things you are doing. Keep working on those things. Pat yourself on the back that your writing is improving. Don’t think you’ve made it yet, always try to get better.
You are now naturally writing better than you were without thinking about it. You have better flow, characters, etc. because you have it ingrained in you. This is what separates established, professional writers who have written many books from you. It takes time and work to get here. Lots of it. There is no magical way here but practice. Also remember: this is a great place to be, but don’t stop here. Identify other things you need to improve and work on them. No one is perfect.
8. Get In Late, Get Out Early
Cut filler wherever possible. Start each chapter, scene, and book as close to the necessary incident or development as possible. Get out soon after and move on. This keeps pace taut and pages turning.
This doesn’t mean you can’t have slow moments or introspective moments. They are, of course, necessary developments too. But make sure you know what the point of those scenes are and cut the filler that doesn’t add to it. They say that every scene in your novel should advance plot or characterisation, but given that plot is character… every scene in your novel should advance characterisation. To some degree, at least.
9. “Therefore,” and “But,” instead of “Then
Make sure every new thing that happens in the narrative can be connected with the previous scene by either ‘therefore’ or ‘but’, not ‘then.’
‘Therefore’ means that the next scene happens as a direct consequence of the choices made in previous scenes.
‘But’ means that the next scene produces a direct obstacle to what the characters are trying to achieve in previous scenes.
‘Then’ means that another unrelated thing just happens. Don’t do this. This is not forward momentum nor is it a story. Stories are about cause and effect, not collections of unrelated events.
10. Characters Should Have Wants Distinct From The Protagonist
In the word of Vonnegut, “every character should want something, even if it’s just a glass of water.” If your characters share exactly the same goals and wants as the protagonist, they aren’t characters, they are extra limbs. Make sure you know why all your characters are in the story and what they want to get out of it, even if you don’t directly tell the reader.
11. Simple Is Good
Express your ideas in the simplest way you can. Sometimes, it takes long and complicated sentences to express long and complicated ideas. But it should never take long and complicated sentences to explain simple ideas. If you ever find yourself looking for a thesaurus to find a bigger word just because, you’re doing it wrong.
Clarity and coherence are the number one goals, everything else comes after. If you lose clarity and coherence, you have nothing.
12. If You Write, You Are A Writer
Keep writing. Keep plugging away at it and getting better. Don’t fall prey to imposter syndrome where you feel like you are just amateur faking at writing, while all the other writers are out there achieving things. Everyone started where you are starting. Brandon Sanderson wrote 13 books before getting one published.
If you want to write, then write. But don’t find excuses not to. Of course, you don’t have time. Nobody has time. JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter while struggling with poverty. Almost all writers start out with day jobs. If you find yourself making excuses not to write, maybe you just don’t want to write.
If you want to be a writer, all you need to do is write. Write, write, write.
I am a writer, a reader and a teacher. I write about writing. Sometimes I write about other things too.