Thursday, January 03, 2013

Thursday Thirteen #275

Today I offer up a list of ways to improve your writing.

1. Own your words. By this I mean use active voice. Instead of writing, The laundry, which was very dirty, was done by me, write this: I washed the clothes. They looked like my husband had wallowed in cow manure. Anytime you can end a sentence with "by the man" you can consider rewriting. Examples: The painting was done (by the man). The cat was fed (by the man). The beagle was beaten (by the man). Fix: The man created the painting. The man fed the cat. The man beat the beagle (and then I beat the man for beating the dog).

2. Write in pictures (or show don't tell). Write so that someone can visualize what you're seeing. This means using appropriate verbs, nouns, and adjectives. Example: I saw a car go down the road. Fix: I cringed when the black BMW zoomed past me, moving so fast that I thought it stripped the leaves from the trees.

3. Toss out the lazy verbs. All forms of "to be," "to get" "to want" and "to go" generally can be eliminated and replaced with stronger language. Check your sentences for words like am, was, is, were, been, get, getting, gotten, go, going, gone, want, and went and see if you can rewrite them into more dynamic lines. Example: I have been sick. Fix: My throat hurt. Or: I puked. See how vivid that is?

4. Don't overdo the "ly's". Most words that modify verbs end in "ly." These are words like quickly, hurriedly, slowly, sadly, etc. These adverbs, if used to excess, can weigh down your sentences. Example: I ran quickly into the store. Fix: I raced into the store. Example: I fell heavily to the ground. Fix: I dropped like a sack of flour to the ground.

5. Enjoy your likes and ases. The use of simile can help you write in pictures by bringing something to mind as a comparison. Similes employ like and as to good effect. Examples: She felt like Howdy Doody after her haircut.  The soup was as cold as a Popsicle, yet her mother expected her to eat it.
6. Make comparisons. Using metaphor, which is similar to simile, paints those word pictures. Example: This day is a circus, filled with color and sound, all because of the elections.
7. Do it in threes. When you're listing objects, making comparisons, or otherwise creating a set of something in a sentence, stop the list after three items. Then start a new sentence. Otherwise the sentences grow clunky.  Example: I listened as Sheryl played Bach, Beethoven, and Willie Nelson on the piano. Then she began to play jazz.

8. Don't repeat your words. It is easy to begin using the same adjectives or nouns in a paragraph or on the same page. Try to avoid such repetition. Example: He ran a little ways down the gravel road toward the house. The little shade allowed the sun to burn into his head, causing sweat to roll like gravel down his skull. In a little while, he knew, he would need to stop for water, but he wanted to reach the asphalt driveway first. Fix: He ran a short distance down the gravel road toward the house. The sun burned into his brain since there was no shade. Sweat poured from his crown to his neck. Soon, he would need to stop for water, but he wanted to reach the asphalt driveway first.

9. Cut unneeded words. Those "ly's" and other adverbs, descriptive adjectives that do not describe, etc.

10. Do not use cliche. Bummer. There goes the neighborhood!

11. Avoid the words "very" and "hopefully." Hopefully, you will see that these word uses can be very wrong.

12. Be concise.

13. Use a thesaurus.

Thursday Thirteen is played by lots of people; there is a list here. I've been playing for a while and this is my 275th time to do a list of 13 on a Thursday.


  1. This is a great list! I have the bad habit of "lazy writing" when I get tired. I need to be more vigilant in following a few rules!

  2. A wonderful list. I'm glad you offered examples. I most usually learn or understand quickly by examples.


  3. Great tips, Anita. I don't use my Thesaurus near as much as I need too. Thank you for the reminder. Happy Thursday and Happy New Year!

  4. Always good advice - here's hoping more writers will pay attention to such wise words!

    Happy TT to you! :)

  5. These are all great. I don't know if I follow them all but do some of them intuitively. I love your comment 'there goes the neighborhood!'

  6. Too much for this blonde head to think about. Guess I won't win that Pulitzer will I.

  7. if you don't use hopefully & very ... what do you use?? ... i know you will say check the thesaurus??!

    i know you did not talk about these 2 but what always makes me confused & makes me put out my hair is (effect verses affect) & (me & i) i read the rules online & i still get frustrated & worked up about it. glad it is something that is easier for you. enjoy it!! i feel the grey hairs popping in as we speak. ha. ha!!! ( :

  8. Amazingly enough, passive voice actually does have a place in fiction. After years and years of fighting to make my voiced more active, I had to re-learn passive for the kids in Suzie's House. Passive voice is part of what makes them sound young.

  9. Thank you for the list...I will take it and file it so I can refer to it again and again. Excellent tips and examples.

    Happy New Year.

  10. You're right about the "ly" thing.
    Happy New Year!

  11. All good points. Let's hope I can remember them.

  12. Hopefully, I won't make these mistakes again. Oops!. Dang-it. I do this all the time : )These are great tips and so practically explained. Thank you Anita!

  13. Great list. I'm reading "The Happiness Project" right now and she does number 8 all the time. As soon as she repeats a word, I notice it instead of the content of what I'm reading.

    I disagree about the cliches though. I use them often but I'm conscious about it. I guess it depends on the kind of writing you are doing. My essays are chatty and mostly written the way I speak. I think it makes my reader feel like she is sitting across the kitchen table from me, yakking and drinking so much coffee she is jumping out of her skin. Cliche intended.


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