Monday, June 9, 2014

Writing Tip: Show What the Character is Doing

Seems simple. Right?

But how many times have you written something like: "She just could not make herself go to the party." or "He did not want to play baseball."

Sometimes sentences like these are necessary, but if you overuse these nondescript phrases, you will lose the reader. They won't be able to connect to the character or the story, because you're not showing what the character is doing.

Pull your readers into the story by putting "statements in positive form."

According to the ever popular book, THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE, by Strunk & White, "Make definite assertions. Avoid tame, colorless, hesitating, noncommittal language. Use the word not as a means of denial or in antithesis, never as a means of evasion" (page 19).

When you overuse the word not, your writing is weakened, and "Consciously or unconsciously, the reader is dissatisfied with being told only what is not; the reader wishes to be told what is. Hence, as a rule, it is better to express even a negative in positive form" (page 20).

For example:
not honest = dishonest
not important = trifling
did not remember = forgot

And to rework the two sentences from above:
"She refused to go to the party, because she dreaded seeing her birth dad again."
"He wanted to practice the piano so that one day he'd play in sold-out venues."

When you go back to your manuscript, highlight the word not and any contraction with it (like couldn't, shouldn't, wouldn't) and change the sentence to a positive statement showing what the character IS doing. You'll find that your reader will be able to connect with your story on a deeper level.

What do you think? Do you agree with Strunk & White that sentences are stronger in a positive form?

1 comment:

  1. Excellent advice! You're right - it sounds so simple, and yet it rarely is.