This thread is an experimental series, an accumulation of pointers and ideas from the perspective of an amateur writer. Naturally, take them as you will, but I’ve found them to work well for me. If anything, they serve as a public listing of thoughts and techniques. This section highlights some technical tips. Any suggestions or feedback is appreciated.
- Invisible words – Certain words appear ‘invisible’ to the reader’s eye. Words such as ‘said,’ ‘the,’ or ‘and’ are fillers that won’t particularly grab the reader’s attention. Their purpose is to bridge the gap between words that do matter. Regardless, if used in excess, they can cause friction in the rhythm of prose, so try to mix up the frequency or remove them entirely.
- Exclamation marks – Many writers agree that exclamation marks are overused. The ‘!’ symbol is a powerful tool in prose, but it can quickly lose impact if abused. Think of it as a replacement for emotional adjectives. Instead of ‘he growled’ or ‘she shouted excitedly,’ you use ‘!’ at the end of their speech for the sake of conciseness. Exclamation marks should rarely appear outside character dialogue, if at all. While ‘!’s have a bad rap, some bestsellers utilize them in efficient clusters that are few and far between. If you find yourself overusing this symbol, try including a variety of adjectives instead.
- Conciseness – While there are invisible words and prose symbols that serve some purpose, others have no place at all and shouldn’t include in your work. You can trim down excess adverbs and adjectives into shorter versions; e.g. ‘he was going to the store’ versus ‘he went to the store’; ‘she had been practicing’ versus ‘she practiced.’ Often this involves a little ingenuity to mold the sentences to the tense of your written piece. Contractions are another easy way to sharpen your manuscript, so don’t feel afraid to use them. Some words to watch out for are: obviously, almost, just, essentially, basically, totally, seriously, honestly, and actually.
- Descriptive depth – When describing something, be they character emotions, objects, or the environment, actively participate in the sensations that the particular item evokes. Consider human senses: sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing (and intuition if you’re feeling adventurous). Place yourself in the characters shoes; how would you describe the item personally? Olfactory is a particularly strong sense to utilize, as it draws the reader into the scene intimately. Be careful not to overdo descriptors, which can quickly fill your paragraphs with superfluous words. Try to limit to three or four per item. Spreading out the descriptors is okay.
- Paragraph pacing – Long paragraphs slow the pace of writing and may come off as daunting to a reader. While seldom fat sections serve a function, overuse forces slower prose tempo and gives writing an unfavorable taste. Action paragraphs need to be quick and to the point. Short sentences add to the jarring sensation of battle, increasing the depth of the reader’s experience. Descriptive paragraphs are longer, slower, and more robust, similar to how human perception slows when we study or observe.