During the last two weeks, I’ve critiqued seven stories, written by two children and five adults, who have asked for assistance in enhancing their writing skills. As I progressed through each body of work, common errors emerged, and I want to share them with you for future reference when writing your own stories.
1-A prime rule is DOUBLE SPACE your work, whether sending it snail mail or as an E-mail attachment. If it arrives at an editor’s desk single-spaced, it won’t be read. (Recent exception: Some writing contests are now requiring submissions be sent WITHIN the body of an E-mail, and those are single-spaced.)
2-A new paragraph is needed each time another person speaks, and when there are scene or time changes.
3-Frequent use of telling words. Eg. “Jamie wore a pink dress to the party because pink is her favorite color.” Showing: “Everything in Jamie’s closet is pink.”
If one is writing a journal, it’s usually a telling: piece without dialogue, but in a manuscript it’s important to include dialogue. (breathes life into the story.) A few telling (inactive) (boring) verbs include: came, went, looked, saw, walked, got, placed, spoke, etc. Work with your action verbs, which create images of real-life emotions in the reader’s mind: screamed, scurried, raced, rambled, meandered, stared, slammed, etc.
4- Keep adverbs to a minimum; they should precede your verb because its job is only to “ad” to the “verb.” The following sentence with an adverb placed after the verb, sounds awkward when spoken. “The bird flew into the sky gracefully,” should read, (if one must use an adverb.) “The bird gracefully soared into the sky.” (notice, the inactive verb, “flew”, has been replaced with an action verb “soared” providing a more stimulating mind picture.
5-Each new paragraph should work to move your story plot forward. Even when using flashback, it should provide the reader with insight into a present character and/or scene.
6-If a story begins in present tense, keep it in present tense. When editing, check each paragraph to ensure the tense is constant. Always read your work aloud for continuity.
7-Common error with new writers: When referring to my mom, my dad, my dog, etc., NO capital is used. When written as a title, it IS capitalized. Eg. Mom, Dad, Scruffy, etc. “When my dad presented my mom with Scruffy, Mom cried and hugged Dad.”
8- When listing a series of events or objects, keep the number to THREE so it doesn’t become a boring read. Eg. “She changed clothes, grabbed her bike, sped toward town, stopped at the grocery store, bought the sugar she needed, and raced back home before it was too late to help.” (I don’t know about you, but I felt like I was reading a whole story in one sentence; the most important part, “…before she was too late to help.” drowned in that sea of words.) Try re-wording your series into two sentences for greater effect. Eg. “She changed clothes, grabbed her bike, and sped toward town. After she bought the needed sugar, she raced for home praying it wasn’t too late to help.” Now, as a reader, I want to know what will happen if she is too late to help–a great hook.
9- End each chapter leaving the reader wondering what is coming next. Eg. “Jenny’s fear that someone, somehow, was already in danger would soon be realized.”
10- When only two people are speaking, there is no need for “he said…” “she said…”
NOTE: Conversations need a new paragraph EACH time the speaking person changes. They’re listed together here only because of the blog rule to save space.
Eg. “Jake, why are you taking so long?” “I’m coming!” “Hurry, please. We’ll miss the show.” “Shutting off my computer, Mom. I’ll be right there.”
11-When writing a portion of someone’s words, use only three dots. Eg. “Heath announced, “…life isn’t always what you’d wished it would be.” or “I can’t keep doing this…” when the speaker trails off without an end to his or her sentence.
Finally, thanks for tuning in. I hope the listed information will help you with your stories. It’s been a joy for me to read our new and young writers’ thoughts. Creativity is alive and flourishing. Until next Wednesday, be well and enjoy our summer. Linda