I value vivid imagery in books I read, and strive for clarity as I write. As a result, the style tips I value most involve cleaning away dead wood to reveal the heart of the story. What do I mean? Ruthlessly replacing dull verbs, and breathing life into dead words.
Up for the challenge? See if these sound familiar.
Eliminate “that” and “this”We fall back on “that” and “this” when we’re not sure where to draw the reader’s attention.
Be specific. What is “that” really? Could you replace the imposter with a real noun? How can you make the passage clearer?
If you pen foggy lines, you risk setting your audience adrift.
Strive for active voice.Active voice gives your characters a backbone. (Subject) + (Verb) + (Object).
Many famous lines share active voice structure:
“You can’t handle the truth.”
“I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.”
“I’ll be back.”
So what is passive voice?
Unfortunately, in real life you’ll hear people say things like, “The werewolves were beaten by the banshees.” “We were invited by a friend.”
Passive voice = (Object) + (Verb) + (Subject).
Passive voice turns your characters into bystanders, casually allowing the story to happen to them. Active voice pulls them out of the stands, and throws them into the arena as active participants.
When you’re on the lookout for passive voice, scrutinize “be” verbs as well. They tend to pair up and soften your writing. Seek out for stronger verbs.
: Kill adverbs and cull adjectives
In the immortal words of Mark Twain:
“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.”
If you often find yourself carried away by a flood of adjectives and adverbs, you need stronger nouns and verbs. Make the thesaurus your anchor and friend. Commit to strengthening your verbs and intensifying your nouns.
Where to start?
“Get rid of all of this at once? But that’s impossible!” you say. It’s alright. Don’t panic. Just pick one technique at a time. Tackle verbs first. Then once you’ve tasted the fruits of victory, you won’t settle for weaker words.