5 Simple Red Flags to Improve Your Writing
You let dialogue tags do the heavy lifting
Dialogue tags identify the speaker. In a perfect world, 95 percent of dialogue tags would be “said.” Like so: “You should watch your dialogue tags,” Erin said. Unfortunately, many writers don’t like “said.” I get it. It’s not sexy. It doesn’t have the same pizazz as, say, “chortled” or “exclaimed.” But you know what has more pizazz than all? Having enough sensory detail so you don’t need to tell your story through overworked tags.
Your job is to tell a story. Your job is to make the reader see or feel something. Instead of saying your character “threatened,” show him actually doing something threatening,
Your characters are constantly starting something
Here’s an easy revision exercise: Do a find-and-search for the word “start,” “started,” and “began.” Nine times out of ten, you don’t need it.
You’re in love with your thesaurus
The thesaurus is a ferocious enemy of the novice writer.
Here is an excerpt of a YA manuscript that I once edited:
Samuel’s nine-year-old body moved as fast as it could as he took off running down the block. It was a game of chase, and Maria was behind him. She ran with great precipitateness.
I saw “precipitateness” and suddenly I was no longer running with Samuel as far as his nine-year-old body could take him. Instead I’m going: Huh?
Yes, I know that precipitateness is a word. I even know what it means. But why is it sitting in this paragraph? A word as clunky and awkward as this should be living inside a medical journal or the Oxford English Dictionary, not in Samuel’s game of chase with Maria, unless they’re chasing bad writing technique.
You lean on adverbs
When you stumble across an adverb in your work, stop yourself. Ask: Is this the best way to write this scene or sentence? Is there a better way for me to convey what I want to convey? Sometimes, the adverb will stay put. Often, you’ll discover the adverb falls flat, and you have an opportunity to show the reader something instead.
Your eyes are everywhere
Most of our communication in life is made through body language. Presumably, your characters need to move to get places and to show emotion. But remember: The body is made of many parts, and eyes are just one of them. So while it makes sense to have eyebrows raised, eyes narrowed, and eyes scanning a room, there are many other ways to get your message across. Don’t rely solely on the eyes.