Two Simple Writing Notes

Two simple pointers to help you improve your fiction writing are:

  • Avoid flat description
  • Eliminate unnecessary adverbs

The first point is fairly obvious – your writing will be more mentally engaging if you can add more to your descriptions, and provide context, as opposed to instruction.

Here’s a basic example – in a recent short story I wrote, the first line was originally:

“When I was sixteen, I had this girlfriend, and one day she didn’t want to go home.”

That’s not so bad, but it’s fairly basic, right? I’m telling the reader, straight up, that ‘I was sixteen’. That, to me, is flat description, and I think there’s always a better way to communicate such detail.

On my second edit, I changed it to:

“Back before I was old enough to drive, I had this girlfriend, and one day she didn’t want to go home.”

That’s a small change – going from a direct age reference to an experiential one may seem like nothing. But reading both examples back, the latter is more engaging – it’s active and prompts a recollection, it engages a little more of your brain than just reading a summary detail.

Subtle changes like this can add significantly more depth to your work, and invite the readers to invest more of themselves, and their own experiences, into the story, which can help bring it to life. Reading a flat description doesn’t do the same, and it’s a fairly easy element to correct.

By pushing yourself to think of a more engaging description, as opposed to relying on prescriptive detail, you add more creativity to your work, and offer more ways for your readers to connect.

The second element to be wary of is unnecessary adverbs – words like ‘quickly’, ‘sleepily’, ‘sadly’, ‘hurriedly’ etc. There’s likely a better, more engaging way to say the same thing, normally within the surrounding context – when you go to use an adverb like this, it’s an opportunity to consider whether you could add in extra description, a more visceral reference, it there’s another way to add depth to your work.

For example:

“He moved quickly across the room and hurriedly scrambled with the lock”

Could be:

“He rushed across the room and clawed at the lock, as if it was hot, burning at his fingertips”

That’s an average example, but it illustrates the point – instead of relying on simplistic description, it’s an opportunity to provide a simile, a way for the reader to ‘see’ what you do, as opposed to simple noting the detail.

These rules, of course, are not definitive, and your capacity to judge when, and how, to apply them will be what truly separates your writing (which is why teaching creative writing is difficult). But they are some additional points to consider, which may help you improve your description and context, and build more engaging scenarios with your words.

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