“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”
― Mark Twain
[found on tylerlehmann.wordpress.com; by Tyler Lehmann]
“The test of any good fiction is that you should care something for the characters; the good to succeed, the bad to fail. The trouble with most fiction is that you want them all to land in hell, together, as quickly as possible.” — Mark Twain
“A good writer knows his characters better than he does his closest friends. Oh, that sounds nuts, you say? Yep, probably.
But the reality is, no one will give a rip about your characters if you don’t make them come alive, as good ol’ Twain points out above. Humans are infinitely complex, and if your characters don’t mimic that complexity, the illusion that is reading is lost.
For more tips on writing, and the complete list of traits from Tyler Lehmann, click here.
“As Mark Twain famously wrote, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” His point? Strong writing is lean writing.
When you want to make your writing more powerful, cut out words you don’t need–such as the 10 included in this post:
1. Just: The word “just” is a filler word that weakens your writing. Removing it rarely affects meaning, but rather, the deletion tightens a sentence.
2. Really: Using the word “really” is an example of writing the way you talk. It’s a verbal emphasis that doesn’t translate perfectly into text. In conversation, people use the word frequently, but in written content it’s unnecessary. Think about the difference between saying a rock is “hard” and “really hard,” for example. What does the word add? Better to cut it out to make your message stronger.
3. Very: Everything that applies to “really” applies to “very.” It’s a weak word. Cut it.
4. Perhaps/maybe: Do you want your audience to think you’re uncertain about what you’re saying? When you use words like “maybe” and “perhaps,” uncertainty is exactly what you’re communicating.
5. Quite: When someone uses “quite,” he or she either means “a bit” or “completely” or “almost.” Sometimes the word adds meaning; sometimes it’s fluff. Learn to tell the difference–but, when in doubt, cut it out.
6. Amazing: The meaning of “amazing” is causing great wonder or surprise–but some writers use the word so often that the meaning gets lost. How can something be amazing if everything is? Ditch this diluted word.
7. Literally: When something is true in a literal sense, you don’t have to add the word “literally.” The only reason it makes sense to use the word is when it clarifies meaning (i.e., to explain you aren’t joking when it seems you are).
8. Stuff: Unless you are aiming at informality, don’t use the word “stuff.” It’s casual, it’s generic, and it usually stands in for something better.
9. Things: Writers use the word “things” to avoid using a clearer, more specific word that would communicate more meaning. Be specific. Don’t tell us about the “10 things,” tell us about the “10 books” or “10 strategies.” Specificity makes for better writing.
10. Got: Think of all the ways we use the vague word “got” in conversation: “I’ve got to go,” “I got a ball,” or “I got up this morning.” Though it’s fine for conversation, in writing, “got” misses valuable opportunities. Rather than writing a lazy word, look for clearer, more descriptive language: “I promised I’d leave by 9,” “I picked up a ball,” or “I woke up today,” for example.
Whether you’ve been writing for a few days or for many years, you’ll benefit from evaluating the words you use. Cut the filler to make your writing stronger.”
“The real question to ask isn’t whether Mrs. Swingingjowls was right or wrong in teaching you to modify your sentences with adverbs. The question is, why are you modifying your verbs with adverbs?
This is an easy one to answer, when you think about it:
Because your verbs are weak.
Mark Twain once said, “Adverbs are the tool of the lazy writer.” Amen, Mark.
See, what’s going on is, you’re using a word that doesn’t really convey the sense, the feeling, the mood or whatever, you’re hoping to get across to your reader. “Walk” isn’t a very exciting word, and it doesn’t get across the antsy feeling you’re trying to portray in your description, so you make it “walk quickly” or “quickly walked”. You want your reader to see the force, the power in your characters’ argument, so instead of saying “they shouted across the table” you say “they shouted angrily and vehemently across the table.”
The problem is, the verbs you’ve chosen aren’t doing the job you wanted them to do in the first place. You don’t want your character to walk, you want your character to hasten, hurry, quick-step. You don’t want your characters shouting, you want them spitting words through clenched teeth, veins throbbing on reddened necks, molars locked and spittle misting between them.
The reason you’re reaching for adverbs to tell the story is because the verbs you’ve chosen are too weak to do it for you. The adverb isn’t the solution, however. Strengthening your writing is.
Think about this: If the verbs you’re using to describe the action in your story are weak and flimsy, the action description may be weak and flimsy too.
You wouldn’t be writing something with the intent of being flimsy or weak, would you? The reason you’re grabbing adverbs in the first place is because of discontent with what’s being said without them, right?
Why bother with modifiers for words that aren’t cutting it in the first place? The real crux of the problem is finding the right actions and descriptions for those actions, so that modifiers — adverbs AND adjectives — will be needed with rare and prudent infrequency.
When you’re writing adult fiction, the need to limit — if not eliminate — adverbs altogether becomes pretty obvious. What adult wants to read a grade school type of book?
No, adults want to be pulled into the story, and be engaged by it. The use of adverbs won’t get the job done, and loses the reader early on.
Show, Don’t Tell — Adverbs are NOT Good Description
With the evil adverb dragging your writing down, it’s now safe to say that using adverbs isn’t a way to make a lousy description good. It’s a lazy way to make a weak description obvious.
What adverbs do, in a nutshell, is tell the reader what’s going on in the story. That’s NOT what you want to do.
“But — I thought I was TELLING a story here?”
No. You’re not. If you’re a serious writer, you’re not “telling” a story, you’re SHOWING a story.
Don’t be lazy. Be specific. Use specific nouns and verbs to do the bulk of the work in your writing. By letting good, descriptive words do the heavy lifting, the occasional adjective and adverb aren’t the problematic, amateur-flagging beacons common in weak writing.”
For more great tips from DarcKnyt, click HERE.
“(from Mark Twain’s scathing essay on the Literary Offenses of James Fenimore Cooper)
1. A tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.
2. The episodes of a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help develop it.
3. The personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others.
4. The personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there.
5. When the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject in hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say.
6. When the author describes the character of a personage in his tale, the conduct and conversation of that personage shall justify said description.
7. When a personage talks like an illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven-dollar Friendship’s Offering in the beginning of a paragraph, he shall not talk like a Negro minstrel at the end of it.
8. Crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader by either the author or the people in the tale.
9. The personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausably set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable.
10. The author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones.
11. The characters in tale be so clearly defined that the reader can tell beforehand what each will do in a given emergency.
An author should
12. Say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.
13. Use the right word, not its second cousin.
14. Eschew surplusage.
15. Not omit necessary details.
16. Avoid slovenliness of form.
17. Use good grammar.
18. Employ a simple, straightforward style.”
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