To make your writing clearer and give it punch, avoid overusing vague words in your prose. Words and phrases such as feel, seem or looked like can often be omitted or replaced with specific details that will root your readers in the world you’ve created, as well as allow them to understand your intent. Consider this sentence:
She stepped on the gas and the car seemed to shudder.
The word “seemed” isn’t needed in the above example.
She stepped on the gas and the car shuddered.
In addition to the above examples, here are some other common culprits: many, most, few, soon, early, late, good, great, very, a lot, things, stuff and the list goes on. Search your work-in-progress for overused vague words. Then re-read the sentences where they appear to see if you can remove or replace them with descriptive words that help your readers experience the scene right along with your characters.
In our last installment of How to Get Inside Your Character’s Head for More Authentic Writing, we offered strategies to help you figure out how your character would act and react to the circumstances of a scene. This week, re-read the scene and ask yourself whether the character’s actions and thoughts are simply convenient to your plot or a true reflection of his/her heart and soul. If it reads genuine, congratulate yourself on a job well done. If it still feels like it’s falling flat, try this exercise to add more depth. Ask yourself:
How does my character’s _________ influence the way he/she acts and reacts in this scene?
- Family circumstances
- Economic circumstances
- Education level
- Belief system
- Birth order
- Race or Ethnicity
- Period of history in which he/she lives
Taking the time to answer each of these questions will help you get a better handle on who your protagonist is so that your readers will care about what happens to them throughout your story.
Last week, we encouraged you to do a pre-writing exercise of visualizing a scene before you wrote it. If you had trouble, it might mean that you don’t know your protagonist as well as you think you do. Here is an exercise you can try to help you get a better sense of the central figure to your story.
Consider the following scenario: The coach for your 6th grade PE class has just appointed the two best basketball players in the school to pick teams for a class scrimmage. What would your character think, see, hear and feel if:
- He/She missed the shot at the last game that cost them a win.
- She/He has a massive crush on one of the captains picking the teams.
- He’s/She’s known more for skills with a video game controller than athleticism on the court.
- She’s/He’s been practicing all summer and knows he’s/she’s going to own the court this season.
Jot down your ideas for each character. Then, apply the same exercise for the protagonist of your story. Consider how the character’s life experiences (or lack thereof) would affect everything he or she notices and feels in the circumstances of the scene.
Before you start a writing session, eliminate distractions, close your eyes and picture the setting your protagonist is in. Visualize the play-by-play action and what the character would see, hear, smell and feel. If you want, set a timer during this exercise. Think about what your character would notice and how he or she would react to the events happening. Then, when you have a good sense of the scene, start writing.
The pandemic challenged us in ways none of us could have anticipated, including how and where we write. Since we ended Write by Midnight, each of the Write Owls have received their COVID-19 vaccines and the communities we live in are seeing businesses opening their doors again. After writing from home for more than a year, often with little humans and spouses around more than they usually are, we’re ready to venture out to libraries, book stores and cafes to get our writing done in new spaces. Are you ready for a change of scenery too? Are you in a position to get back to a writing routine that reflects your pre-pandemic life? If so, now’s the time to reassess your goals, set new ones and create a new routine.