It is easy to recognize bad writing and to identify why it is bad. However, it is harder to explain why a piece of writing is good.
Below is an article and an infographic which helped me to identify weaknesses in my own writing. I also included some of the strategies I applied to correct these shortcomings.
In writing, it is always better to show than tell. “Don’t Use Adverbs and Adjectives to Prettify Your Prose” by William Noble explains when and how to use adverbs and adjectives.
Laurie Wallmark directed me to “5 Basic Rules of English Writing That Everyone Should Know (Infographic)” by Jennifer Frost. After reading the infographic, I found that I am guilty of regularly breaking rules three and four.
Rule #3 – “Do not use words whose meanings you are not sure of.”
When I’m writing, I will sometimes use a word that I am 90% sure means one thing. Before I started blogging, I liked my chances of having used the correct word. Now, I either look up the word before using it or change it’s color in the rough draft, so I will remember to confirm it’s meaning later. I’m glad I started doing this. Sometimes, the word means exactly what I thought it did and other times the meaning is vastly different.
Rule #4 – “Use concrete rather than vague language.”
I tend to be sparse in my descriptions of cities and scenery during travel sequences. For example, I might write “While walking through the forest, a tree branch whacked him in the face.” What type of forest was he in: coniferous, deciduous, or rainforest? Is it dark or is there lots of sunlight? Was the tree branch leafy, flimsy, spiky, thick, dry, etc.? (Remember Noble’s advice concerning adjectives.) Since I am more drawn to witty dialogue and dynamic characters than descriptions, it can be difficult for me to recognize this lack of specificity.
After acknowledging this tendency, I began training myself to watch out for bland descriptions in my writing. First, I reread portions of The Hunger Games, Eragon, The Maze Runner, and Divergent to get a sense for how some successful Dystopian Sci-Fi and Fantasy authors described their worlds. I also re-watched The Lord of the Rings trilogy, paying special attention to the different looks of elven homes (Rivendell vs. Lothlórien), human cities (Edoras vs. Minas Tirith), and the changing landscapes. My brother, who studied film, recommended that I look at photos of whatever biome my characters are traveling through. I could then assign the locations in my world specific photos and consult them before writing the descriptions. I am hoping that these exercises will help me to eliminate vague language from my writing.
My challenge to you is to read “5 Basic Rules of English Writing That Everyone Should Know (Infographic)” and then look at your own writing. Which rules do you regularly break? After identifying them, take the necessary steps to reform. Your writing will be stronger if you do.