There are many ways to improve your writing, but focusing on your prose is likely the most impactful. So, let’s discuss how you can do that.
The most crucial aspect of writing prose is learning to be clear and concise. This style of writing, which gained popularity in the 19th century and continues to this day, favors brevity over verbosity. There are many reasons for this, but the most significant is the deterioration of people’s reading skills over time. This decline is offset by an increase in the total number of literate people, so overall, it’s a win.
However, as people’s vocabularies shrink and time becomes a precious commodity, complex sentences have been relegated to the academic world. In novels and stories that people read for pleasure, no one wants long, complicated sentences. Therefore, being clear in your meaning and concise in your word choice will help you communicate your story more effectively to your reader.
There are exceptions to this rule, of course. I’ve read fantastic works with long, complex sentences, but these sentence structures were always used to enhance the story’s atmosphere. That’s fine, but as we strive to improve our prose, we should focus on mastering the basics.
Keep it short and tight.
One of the major challenges new authors face, and something I grappled with as a new author, is writing in a way that slows the story’s pace. Surprisingly, the words you use, especially the length of your sentences, can slow your story’s pace to the point of boredom. This is lethal. If a reader is bored, they’ll put your book down and not finish it. Conversely, it’s possible to write prose that doesn’t hinder the story and actually enhances the sense of urgency. That’s our goal. We want to write short, snappy sentences that pull the reader along.
This leads us to our second point, which is a clarification of the first. Many young authors start writing in a short, snappy style, but their sentences all end up the same. “Sally did this. Then Sally did this. Then this happened. Then Sally did this.” If all our sentences are approximately the same length and structure, it creates a monotonous reading experience. Remember, boredom is lethal. We don’t want to convey to our reader that we have nothing interesting to say or no reason to keep reading.
Just as a monotone voice can put someone to sleep, if our sentences are all the same, we won’t be able to convey excitement to our reader. However, if we vary our sentence structure and length, ensuring the reader doesn’t feel like they’re reading the same thing repeatedly, we’ll pull them through the story. This is because we’re giving them a micro problem: their brain is trying to figure out a pattern. If they can’t discern the pattern of our sentences, they’ll subconsciously want to keep reading to figure it out. If there’s no pattern, they’ll finish the book before their brain is satisfied.
While you want to be clear and concise in your style, you also want to ensure you vary the cadence of your sentences. This is a challenge for every writer. Sometimes, as I’m editing, I find myself looking at sentences and wondering why they don’t sound good. Then I realize it’s because they’re all the same. The structure is identical, and because it’s repeated so often, it makes for a monotonous read. Even if the content is exciting, the delivery of the information is poor due to its structure.
This brings us to our third point: choose strong phrases and words to convey the information you’re trying to share. For example, I have a bad habit of saying a character “seemed to be” something. This is a weak way of conveying information. “He seemed to be angry” is much weaker than “he was furious.” You want to avoid this as much as possible. You want to convey the feeling that exists in the strongest terms. Feelings aren’t always so magnified. Someone might be irritated instead of furious. But if they’re irritated, you can show their irritation in a concrete way. You want to remove ambiguity. Remember, we want to be clear and concise. The less ambiguity, the better. Choosing strong words and phrases will help you achieve clarity, ensuring you’re communicating exactly what you want your reader to know.
All of this takes practice. Writing requires a lot of practice. But if you keep these three things in mind—ensuring your style is clear and concise, varying your sentence structure, and choosing strong words—you’ll find your writing improves drastically.
YouTube Video Link: https://youtu.be/Vk3lIccmDxk
Thanks for reading and watching.
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