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Three Simple Ways to Give Your Writing More Oomph
by: Jill McDougall
As a writing coach, I read dozens of manuscripts each week by aspiring children’s writers. Most are very competent but in many cases, the readability of the text and the emotional impact of the story could be cranked up with just a bit of tweaking.
Here are my current top three tips ....
Let the reader experience the character’s emotion directly.
Don’t just say: Lydia felt embarrassed. That leaves the reader with a bunch of words that convey pretty well ... nothing. The reader needs to feel what Lydia is going through to become emotionally involved in the story. Dredge deep into your own personal experiences to find the right words. Genuine descriptions will feel real to the reader.
Okay ... what do you do or feel when you’re embarrassed? You might feel a warm flush creep up your face. You might stare dumbly at your shoes or discover something important under your fingernail. You might force a laugh or put on a fake-cheerful smile.
Instead of telling the reader that Lydia felt embarrassed show her experiencing the embarrassment:
Lydia’s face grew warm. She busied herself with a loose thread on her jacket.
Make friends with the delete button. Why? Because good writing is tight writing. I’ve lost track of the number of editors and agents I’ve heard lately saying: I want a great story written sparely.
What does this mean? It means you should say what you want to say using as few words as possible. This will force you to use only your sharpest images, your most engaging dialogue, your liveliest action.
Here’s a trick: Pretend that you have to fax your story to a publisher at $2.00 a word. You’ll quickly discover words, phrases, sentences and whole paragraphs that aren’t vital to the story. If you find your ms shrunk to half its original size – don’t panic, celebrate!! That means it’s more tightly written and has a livelier pace.
Here’s an example of pruning:
BEFORE: Andrew noticed that there was a very big spider on his pillow.
AFTER: An enormous spider sat on Andrew’s pillow.
This example reminds us of the impact created when you move the focal part of a sentence (in this case, the spider) to the beginning.
Instead of beginning sentences with ‘He saw” or “She heard”, launch directly into the action. Here’s what I mean ...
BEFORE: Jemma saw Dad cooking muffins.
AFTER: Dad was cooking muffins.
If Jemma is your viewpoint character, the reader will instinctively know who is observing Dad. By talking about the main character (Jemma saw Dad ...), you remind the reader that a narrator is at work, describing the scene from a distance.
Watch out for:
He/she saw ...
He/she watched ...
He/she noticed ...
He/she looked at ...
By avoiding these and describing the action directly, you strengthen the readers’ ability to imagine themselves in the role of the viewpoint character.
About The Author Jill McDougall has published over a hundred books for children and is working on her next 100. You can find more writing tips at Jill’s website http://www.jillmcdougall.com.au and download a free preview of her ebook: Become a Children’s Writer.