Often I’ll see a writing tip that sounds great, until I think about it and realize, “Well, it sounds simple, but how do I even go about doing that?”
These five tips aren’t like that. These are my favorite, most impactful tips, so basic that you can implement them into your own writing immediately.
Sound good? Let’s get started!
5 TINY TRICKS THAT IMPROVE YOUR WRITING INSTANTLY
Note: remember to take every “trick” in this list with a grain of salt. I can’t say you should always “show, not tell,” and I can’t say adverbs don’t have a place in writing. These apply to the generality of writing, but not all of it.
1. ELIMINATE “FEEL/FELT”
Generally, words like “feel” and “felt” are good signs you’re showing, not telling. Here’s a quick example:
He felt lightheaded.
This sentence is fine at its core, but here’s a better version:
The floor swayed under his feet.
If you’re revising, an easy way to find this is to search for “feel” and/or “felt” in your document, and rewrite the sentence if necessary.
2. REPLACE DIALOGUE TAGS WITH ACTION
This is such a basic tip that is often overlooked. Of course, I’d lose all credibility if I were to say, “delete all dialogue tags!! It flows much better!! Dialogue tags lose the reader!!”
Because, yes, dialogue tags (whether you use “he said” or “he whispered”) are important. But I’m here to tell you that replacing them with a line of action is an instant improvement.
Need some proof? Here’s a line with a dialogue tag:
“Isabel?” she said. “I never cared for her.”
And here’s that same line, with an action in place of the tag:
“Isabel?” She leaned back in her seat, picking at her fingernail. “I never cared for her.”
See how much better that looks? And it’s an amazing way to include characterization without pulling your reader out of the story.
On the same note – you can use this trick to emphasize emotion without the use of tags like “she whimpered,” “he murmured,” etc. An example:
“Are you even listening to me?” he yelled.
Versus this slight change, replacing the tag with action:
He slammed his hands on the desk. “Are you even listening to me?”
Okay, one more:
“He’s staring at you,” she whispered.
She leaned in close to my ear. “He’s staring at you.”
It’s a simple change, but the impact is noticeable. Replacing the dialogue tag with a simple action flows better, incorporates character quirks, and keeps the reader more engaged.
3. LIMIT EXCLAMATION POINT USEAGE TO 2 EVERY 50K WORDS
This is an easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy tip; probably the most easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy tip in this list.
Generally speaking, you’ll want to exclude exclamation points from narration altogether. Unless you’re writing in first person, or a children’s book.
But I see them overused in dialogue all the time, which is a real problem. You want your writing to be as strong as possible. Exclamation points are strong, but when you use too many, they lose their effect. Limiting them to as few as possible is the best way to keep their strength.
4. LIMIT “WAS/WERE” IN NARRATION
Similarly to feel/felt, “was” is a good sign you’re telling, not showing. Here are some examples, because we can’t get enough of those:
The sun was shining.
Improve this line by removing “was” and rewording the sentence, like this:
Sunlight streaked through the window.
Look better? It should!
And finally, number 5:
5. THE ADVERB TRICK
Adverbs are a tricky subject. A lot of people suggest removing them altogether.
But there’s an easy trick to deciphering whether or not your adverb is useful!
The problem with adverbs is they’re generally unnecessary. Every word should add to your present knowledge thus far, and adverbs tend to do an awful job at that. For example:
She laughed happily.
The happily isn’t needed here. She’s laughing, for goodness sake: the happiness is implied!
But what if it wasn’t? Here’s a simple example of utilizing an adverb better:
She laughed sadly.
See the difference? Now you’ve changed the emotion altogether, and though I admit that sadly is a weak word, the sentence is already much better.
A good rule of thumb: if the sentence still gives the same information without the adverb, that adverb isn’t necessary. In the first example, you could’ve removed happily and it’d still work; but in the second, you would be changing the whole point of the sentence by removing sadly.
1: Eliminating “feel/felt” is a great way to maintain showing, not telling.
2. Actions can replace dialogue tags for a better story flow and the chance to implement characterization.
3. Limit exclamation points to 2 every 50k words for maximum impact.
4. Limit use of “was/were” to also maintain showing, not telling.
5. Adverbs should add to your present knowledge.
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As always, happy writing!
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