10 Tips for Better Penmanship
10 Tips for
Beta, Batter, Better Penmanship
I have decided to jot down some of my gripes with the written word that I have come across. The best thing about dissecting a novel you are reading is that you can take notes on how to perfect your own penmanship. Since I believe that one should never stop learning or improving, my writing is naturally far from perfect. Perhaps you can learn a thing or two from my own mistakes.
Tip 1 – Stop Repeating Yourself
Yes, we get it … your heroine has lovely, long, flowing, chestnut coloured hair with streaks of golden sunshine that reminds the author of spun gold and, of course, Rapunzel. Every time she flings her lovely, long, flowing, chestnut coloured hair with streaks of golden sunshine that reminds the author of spun gold and, of course, Rapunzel, hair over her shoulder, please don’t tell us that it is lovely, long, flowing, chestnut coloured hair with streaks of golden sunshine that reminds the author of spun gold and, of course, Rapunzel. Seriously, I implore you to assume that your reader has some intelligence and capacity to remember rudimentary details.
If Sexy Swedish Sven has a six-pack upon his tanned, washboard-firm abdomen, and he does not consume three dozen doughnuts as a daily snack, it is probably safe to assume he retains the above-mentioned physique when the couple next makes love. Please tell us about a different body part and let us get to know more about his many blessings.
The same applies to repeatedly telling the reader how upset your character is. If we are to believe this, then show us proof. Perhaps she bursts into tears and slumps to the ground, or Thornton throws a television through the French doors. Show us how being upset affect the character. If you ‘tell us’ once, then it is enough, but we can get much more insight into their state if you find new ways to convey emotions and sensations.
If you have already informed the reader of the time, or the season, it is safe to assume that the reader understands that there has not been any significant time warp, and it still the same season. Stop repeating, repeating your repeated content.
Tip 2 – Can it Actually Happen?
We often confuse terms when we write. We think of one thing and before we know it, the green frog has grown wings, and taken to the sky like a giant pink elephant with verbal diarrhoea. Be wary of using terms and phrases that ‘sound’ correct, but aren’t. These errors will dull your writing and often annoy the reader.
Some of the established phrases may be daft, but they have been accepted by the reading society at large. Never compound a bad cliché by getting it incorrect. I recently read that a character, “Threw the car down the street.” Boy! Now that is a strong man, indeed! So where does this come from? It’s become an accepted driving term to describe the centrifugal and gravitational force that occurs when a driver takes a corner too quickly. Both the car and the passengers are ‘thrown’ to the outside of the curve. You cannot throw a two tonne vehicle down the road unless your only weakness is kryptonite or Lois Lane.
Similarly, please make sure your characters are double jointed if they are going to perform odd acrobatics during love scenes. By some accounts, these lovers may even have more than just the regulatory two hands, and their firm bodies take on the attributes of molten rubber to reach … well, the ordinarily unreachable spots. Hmmm … very convenient and rather kinky!
When it comes to storytelling, authors should presume that along with basic literacy skills — required for reading — that the reader knows how to unlock car doors, put a key into the ignition, and that in order to drive the vehicle, he or she would need to be seated in the driver’s seat. This would seem obvious and yet, I read so many books padded with dull information. An author doesn’t need to explain the basic commonplace mechanics of everything. We live it every day so we want to experience something different.
Before your character reaches to press the button on the coffee machine (or even worse, describe the entire sequence of filling it with water, coffee, and anything else like the cat’s whiskers), think about it: is this relevant or even interesting? Would YOU want to sit down to read a book filled with never-ending rudimentary motor skills? I know I don’t. Instead, why not concentrate on the desire for the coffee. How she is craving it. Let her go have a conversation with a talkative parrot, and then let her smell the ‘coffee’ that wafts in on a heaven-sent cloud of pure bliss. Describe how it makes her feel not how she operates kitchen appliances.
When you next notice yourself writing about reaching for buttons — just don’t! Smack your knuckles with a ruler. Unless it’s a large red button is in the oval office, it’s just trivial information that detracts from the story.
Tip 4 – Irrelevance
All authors do this to some degree, but some have a master’s in irrelevant information. If a scene requires additional information, then as a reader, I encourage that you provide it. I do not want to know about the colour of the postman’s cat if the book has nothing to with the postal services. I don’t need to know the colour of the waiter’s hair unless one of the character’s has lecherous thoughts about the staff. Really, if you cannot remember the colour of the person’s socks who operated the last till you paid at, why are you giving the reader this dull information in your book?
I sometimes find myself pouring over fascinating description of objects and scenes in novels only to realise that it has nothing to do with the story. Not only do I feel annoyed, but it also pulls me out of the story. I demand that the author write another book so that I can go explore that section more thoroughly.
Many of us have reached a point in a novel where word count rears its ugly head. Damn! We need to write more words. More words! We must have more words or no one will buy the book — and we start padding. I know, I’ve been there too, but I’ve learnt my lesson. It is better to have a robust, shorter piece than a bloated, uninspired dull-umentary.
If you enter a building off the street, and take the lift … don’t ‘ride the lift up from the ground floor’. We already know that street level is ground level unless there is something odd about the building or the site, and then as architect, I really want to know more, and in great detail.
Other ways we overwrite is to repeat unnecessary information, but I won’t repeat myself as I trust that you can still recall Tip One. If you find yourself describing mundane objects to pad your story, it might be time to finish it off before you lose the plot and ruin the experience. Always question your descriptions in the narrative. Try to include information that builds up the ambience of the scene, not detract from it.
If something is not extraordinary, don’t shift focus by describing it in detail. Save your expressive, graphic, and vivid narrative for the purple dragon breathing toxic lime-green fire just beyond the flimsy plywood door. If you are just answering the door, please don’t describe the wood grain! It is just unnecessary padding.
Tell me something exciting! The ordinary we already experience every day. If you are going to describe the characters that I call ‘extras’ in your story, please make them wacky. Create odd and unusual people with some quirks. Haven’t we all had enough of bland descriptions of wallflowers? Just say no to dull and boring extras!
Tip 5 – Senseless Branding
Some authors just tell us things. In point form. Concise. Precise. Dull and emotionless. It is a dull-u-mentary. Throwing names of famous brands and clothing labels at the reader is meaningless unless they know what you are writing about. Rather, describe to us how the clothing makes the character feel. Do not even think, “a million dollars” or I will reach for a ruler! Perhaps it is silk and feels decadently luxurious as it glides over her hips.
Maybe the Ferrari makes him feel like a playboy. It gives him an ego boost because he has a small penis and is afraid women will point and giggle. Why and How? NOT WHAT! I love cars, but I really don’t care what a character drives unless they also love cars.
The soft, pliable leather seats that mould to your behind, the low-slung lines of a sport’s car, then there is the rakish roofline, and the … okay, I got a little excited for a moment. Do you see what I am doing? I haven’t even told you what car it is, but boy, it sounds sexy.
Tip 6 – Don’t Break the Rules
It is one thing to break the rules and know it, but it is quite another to break them and have no idea about it. Why not learn to write properly before breaking the rules? Better yet, don’t break the rules, but rather learn to write more vibrantly. Only break the rules for good effect not through ignorance. If making mistakes and writing badly is your style then perhaps you need a new one. Contrary to dreadful popular belief, breaking the rules with little effect just shows the writer to be lazy and ignorant, not fancy and ‘with it’.
Rules exist for one simple reason: clarity. If you want your work to be read as broadly as possible, then write properly. This becomes even more aggravated when you try to translate into foreign languages and the piece is riddled with mixed tenses, incorrect punctuation, and indecipherable colloquialisms. You are not writing for your girlfriends down the street. You are writing for the world at large.
It may be fashionable to break rules, but it doesn’t make your writing any better. In fact, it makes it worse and far more difficult for you to be understood. It doesn’t make you a rebel; it makes you appear ignorant of the basics of the language that you are writing in.
Yes, I know they are called speech tags. It’s my little joke. You can’t simply make them up as you go along. Just think about it for a moment. If you are using words incorrectly, be prepared to be ridiculed. It’s not creative licence, it’s simply laziness. Go do some research if you are unsure about any speech tag that you use in your writing.
You cannot cough, purr, or sigh speech. If you are about to argue with me, try to cough out a line of Shakespeare, or purr an entire paragraph. These are sounds that are produced and not dialogue. You cannot purr and speak. Cats can’t either. You either speak, meow, or purr, but not all the above. Barked is accepted as a speech tag for a harsh aggressive form if issuing commands, but purr requires further global acceptance.
Tip 8 – Avoid Ambiguous Adjectives
Please stop confusing adjectives. Don’t mix your senses up. A cup of coffee cannot taste rich, dark, and smooth. How do you taste dark or smooth? You can’t because smooth it is a tactile sensation and dark is a visual perception. Therefore, you can experience the texture as being smooth, but you cannot taste it. You can see the depths of the darkness of the coffee too, but I challenge anyone to tell me what dark tastes like. No chocolate jokes please! Creamy is one of those words that can apply to either a dairy-like quality, or a texture.
Don’t write things that cannot happen. For example, a door cannot swing on quiet or noisy hinges. Hinges are not able to be loud or quiet. You can only describe the sound of the action. You might say that the door swung quietly. Describe the action and not the object. Many writers fall into this pitfall.
Be very careful how you use phrases and descriptions. ‘A frown betrayed his frustration.’ If the character was not trying to hide the fact, then betrayed is wrong. Nervousness can betray your calm façade, and reveal your inner turmoil, but the conspicuous is not betrayal, and a frown is damn obvious.
Tip 9 – Perfect your Grammar and Punctuation
Now, no article worth its weight in Sven six-packs would be caught naked without at least a well-positioned comma for emphasis. Punctuation is not an optional extra to be used sparingly, and designated to a strict regime of ‘none is best’. If you need a comma, then use one. All punctuation serves a purpose and is not mere ‘garnishing’ as I am often told.
Some people are terrified of punctuation. Perhaps they were severely beaten with an exclamation mark as a child and as a result, they shy away from using any. I’d like to encourage these people to befriend some punctuation, and to learn why they are vital to storytelling.
I never studied English — if you recall, I am an architect — and I learnt the rudimentary rules that govern our language. Grammar is designed to generate a universal understanding in literature. When you do not bother to learn the rules, and adopt the attitude that rules are meant to be broken, you are being disingenuous. You are actually telling the reader that you don’t care if they understand what you have written or not. How to alienate your readers, and spread animosity ….
For the love of English, write properly, and leave a beautiful legacy in your wake. A true artist can perform miracles from within the confines of regulatory moderation.
Hmmm … where is number 10? Ah well, here is an inconsistent bonus:
Bonus Tip – Be consistent!
Always be consistent with your description, timeline, and plot. If character has to work late, and has a burdening amount of stress to deal with, don’t have her reclining minutes later, eating bonbons and sipping champagne. Unless there is a good reason or something has changed in the scenario, be consistent. I know that I am being flippant here, but I read this sort of thing all the time and you can call it my pet peeve.
As part of my writing workflow, I have learnt to keep a few documents handy, one where I document character traits, and another to list the active timeline of the story. I keep a strict timeline even if it is not mentioned directly in my story. If you write how Sally is enjoying spring, and how it puts a bounce in her step, and then two pages and two months later, it is still the beginning of spring, then you have built a time machine! I do hope you are writing science fiction. I’d like to introduce you to the Aeonosphere.
When writing, it is often best to leave something to the imagination of the reader, but if you are going to detail everything, make sure you don’t slip up. It is far easier to keep referring to a cellular telephone than to use a branded product that will probably be obsolete in a few years. If you narrate that the belle of the ball arrives in a Vera Wang gown and Jimmy Choo shoes, she had better not leave barefoot and in a Versace pants suit unless she is carrying an overnight bag.
On a final note, enjoy your writing, but please remember that creative licence doesn’t extend beyond the realm of reality unless you are writing fantasy.
I do like dragons ….
Table of Content
- 1 10 Tips for Beta, Batter, Better Penmanship
- 1.1 Tip 1 – Stop Repeating Yourself
- 1.2 Tip 2 – Can it Actually Happen?
- 1.3 Tip 3 – Stop Pressing Buttons
- 1.4 Tip 4 – Irrelevance
- 1.5 Tip 5 – Senseless Branding
- 1.6 Tip 6 – Don’t Break the Rules
- 1.7 Tip 7 – Avoid Speaking Tags
- 1.8 Tip 8 – Avoid Ambiguous Adjectives
- 1.9 Tip 9 – Perfect your Grammar and Punctuation
- 1.10 Bonus Tip – Be consistent!
- 1.11 Facebook Comments