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Ways to Enliven Your Writing (In The Word Cellar)

Carousel beneath Space Needle, Seattle (Diana+; Kodak GC400)

This week's nitty gritty writing tips are short and sweet, or maybe they're quick and dirty. (You decide which cliché you like better.)

How can you make your writing more lively? If you're bogged down in a section of writing that drags its feet and bores you, try a few of these tips to perk it up. In fact, they're good techniques to use all the time.

  1. Avoid clichés. Wait, that tip itself is rather cliché, isn't it? Sometimes a cliché can be funny or drive home a point as a sort of cultural shorthand. But if you use one, be aware of it. Use it because it's the best way to say something, not because it's the easiest and quickest way to say it.
  2. Use active voice. In active voice, the subject of the sentence does the action. In passive voice, the action of the sentence happens to the object. This is passive voice: The omelette was dropped on the floor by the chef. This is active voice: The chef dropped the omelette on the floor. Passive: The baseball was thrown by me. Active: I threw the baseball.
  3. Use good verbs, not adverbs. Strong writing uses strong verbs, not weak verbs modified by adverbs. Don't run quickly out the door; sprint or dash out the door. Don't cry profusely; weep or wail. Don't call out angrily; shout or yell or scold. Some writers swear against adverbs at all costs. I'm not that strict, but I believe in the power of lively verbs to strengthen writing.
  4. Use fewer "to be" verbs. To be verbs include the following: be, am is, are, was, and were. Sometimes you need to use a to be verb. But often you can find a much more interesting way to write the sentence.
  5. Avoid word bloat. You probably need fewer words than you think you do. Remove unnecessary phrases or replace them with shorter, more direct phrases. Less is more. (Hey look, another cliché!)

Do you have any favorite tips for enlivening your writing? Any questions on how to handle specific sluggish sections? Share in the comments or email me: jennifer{at}thewordcellar{dot}com.

In The Word Cellar runs on the second and fourth Wednesday of the month. Read other posts in the series here.

Reader Comments (1)

Re #5, this is how Twitter makes me a better writer. Also loved #3.
June 26, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjen zug

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