Monthly Archives: June 2015

The Art Of Writing Powerful Sentences

how to write powerful sentences

Whether you’re a fiction writer, a journalist or a web content writer, you want your sentences to capture people’s attention. And for that, you need to write powerful sentences that spark curiosity and drive them to continue reading.

If you think of sentences as a piece of music – which would you rather listen to: music that lifts and moves you as it spans the musical scale or music that drones on in muted monotones? You don’t have to be a natural at this. By practicing some of the advice to follow, you can shape better sentences that snag the attention of your readers.

Trim the fat

The rule of thumb in writing powerful sentences is that less is more. Don’t saturate your sentences with drawn out phrases. Be direct and get to the point. Nobody has time to slog through circuitous writing to get to the author’s true intentions.

Some examples of fat-trimming:

Due to the fact that Sally has a cold, she didn’t come to work.
Sally didn’t come to work because she has a cold.

I skipped my workout so I could make my daughter’s soccer game.
I skipped my workout to make my daughter’s soccer game.

Lynn is the type of girl who likes to go for long walks.
Lynn likes to go for long walks.

There was basically no real reason for John’s dismissal.
There was no reason for John’s dismissal.

The gasoline tank suddenly exploded.
The gasoline tank exploded.

She came inside of the kitchen and sat down.
She entered the kitchen and sat down.

Move strong words to the beginning or end

The first and last words of a sentence are the most memorable. If your sentence’s strongest words are in the middle, you can restructure to bring them either to the beginning or the end.

Ex 1:
The storm caused a big fire and several electrical shortages due to strong winds.
Vs.
Strong winds caused several electrical shortages and a big fire.

The first example starts with “The storm” and ends with “winds” vs. the second example that starts with “Strong winds” and ends with “fire”.

Ex.2
The tiger pounced on the deer and managed to rip its jugular.
Vs.
Pouncing on the deer, the tiger ripped its jugular.

By starting out with the word “pouncing” you get the reader’s attention right away.

Get to the point

Don’t write in circles. Don’t try to be crafty or sneaky or hide your point in innuendo or double-meaning. Nobody is going to take the time to decipher your complicated sentences. Say it plain and clear or don’t say it at all.

Ex:
It was as if John were trying to fish for some sort of compliment about the quality of his report.
Vs.
John was fishing for compliments about his reports.

Oddly, there were virtually no young-ish men at the fireman’s bachelor party.
Vs.
There were few young men at the fireman’s bachelor party.

Don’t use fluff

Even fiction writers who are allowed a certain license to ramble can fall victim to this one. Make sure that your sentences are there for a reason. Are they moving the story forward? Are they driving the point home? A gourmet meal doesn’t include filler and good sentences don’t include fluff.

For example, if I added this sentence to the above paragraph:
Fluff fills up the page but doesn’t bring your reader any closer to understanding your message.

Is it really necessary? Or has this point already been made by the previous sentences?

Get rid of passive voice

Passive voice does not make strong sentences. It slows down the flow of information and sounds awkward. Replace your passive voice with action verbs and see what happens:

The deer’s jugular was ripped by the tiger.
The tiger ripped the deer’s jugular.

A fire was caused by the storm’s strong winds.
The storm’s strong winds caused a fire.

The child was knocked out by the flyball.
The flyball knocked the child out.

Choose better verbs

“To be” and “To have” are some of the first words taught to ESL students. Why is that? Because they’re the most commonly used verbs in the English language. For powerful sentences, you want to forge new terrain. Shelf “To be” and “To have” and venture into the wide world of verbs. Check out this list of action verbs for some ideas. Just be sure not to weaken them by putting them in passive voice (see above).

Create an image in few words

Okay, so you’re not going to use fluff, you’re not going to use passive voice or extra words. It may seem like I’ve taken away all your tools as a writer, leaving you with 5 word sentences that sound plain and robotic. But, believe me, there’s a better world waiting for you beyond wordiness. And you can write strong sentences with few words. Hemingway was the master.

He claimed that this was the best sentence he ever wrote:
“Baby shoes: for sale, never worn.”
It tells a story, creates an image and evokes emotion and has zero fat to trim.

Build suspense

Yes, you want to get to the point. No, you don’t want your individual sentences to be too complex to understand. But as you build a story, you can use good sentences as tools to help build suspense. You want your readers to hunger to know what happens next. Giving them suspense propels them to the next sentence without too much effort on their part. That’s what you want for your writing – to be effortless to read.

A sentence like…:
Jack had placed a letter under their door for them to find when they got home to their apartment.

…can be made more intriguing by adding some suspense:

Once inside the apartment, they found a letter shoved under the door.

Be provocative

Provoke someone’s anger or applause with polemical sentences.

Instead of this:
Many intellectuals tend to be atheists.
Try this:
Unlike believers, many intellectuals are atheists.

Here you have a fat-free sentence that gets to the point and doesn’t hide an opinion behind objectivity. Great sentences take practice. Good luck working on yours!

Writing In Education: Tips and Resources

writing in education tips

When you think about academic writing, what words come to mind? Inaccessible, stuffy and boring are some of the words I think of. Writing is a difficult craft no matter which genre you choose, but academic writing presents a special set of challenges. Much of the research that academics do is poorly written. So writers often end up adopting this same style in their own writing. Also, there’s the desire to be taken seriously as an academic and students to apply an extra coat of hyper-intellectual phrasing to their work.

Academic writing is at its best when it’s clean, simple and easy to understand even to the layperson. The academic writer should become skilled at taking complex concepts and breaking them down into bite-sized pieces. Otherwise, no matter how incredible and innovative their idea is, it runs the risk of becoming lost in overly academic language.

Here are some tips and resources to help you become a better academic writer:

Academic Coaching & Writing is a consulting agency that helps writers craft and structure their work more effectively. You can hire a consultant for one-on-one coaching or you can glean the pearls of wisdom from their ample blog that covers everything from “Using APA Style in Academic Writing” to “How Academic Writers Lose Confidence and How to Regain It”.

The Royal Literary Fund offers an excellent Dissertation Guide with practical and conceptual tips such as:

  • When should I start writing?
  • Note-taking and writing – what’s the link?
  • How do I give order to a jumble of notes?
  • How do I stay motivated?
  • How can I revise my original structure?
  • What is the importance of feedback?
  • Where can I find guidelines on style?
  • When do I stop writing?
  • + links to more academic writing resources.

Write a lot

There’s no substitute for practice. The more you write, the better you will get at writing. Write every day. For most, the secret to finding the time to write every day is waking up early and getting an hour or more of writing in before the rest of the world notices you’re awake and starts bugging you. Make sure you make a comfortable space for yourself to work. Physical comfort plays an important part in keeping you motivated to write. A comfortable chair, a heater/air-conditioner and a ritual cup of coffee or tea can help ease you into your writing time.

Read a lot

The more you read, the better you’ll get at sorting through different styles to decide which ones you want to adopt and which ones you don’t. A good reading list is the best kind of classroom for a writer. Read on diverse topics including those outside of your area. Does someone manage to use statistics in a way that engages the reader? Does someone’s research impress you? How can you work these qualities into your own writing?

Stay current

Reading a lot of other people’s work also helps keep you up-to-date with current trends and emerging concepts. A big misconception about academic writing is that it’s all historical – based on past events and thoughts. In fact, academics have a lot of pressure to stay current. Even if your area is Ancient Egyptian Politics – the questions you should be asking are: How can this knowledge be applied today? Why is it relevant now? How does this information help us understand or solve a question or problem in our own time?

Write the way you speak

Probably the biggest complaint about academic writers is that the writing is too…academic. Imagine that you’re at a party and are trying to explain a concept from your book to someone in a crowded room with a lot of distractions. How would you explain your idea in a way that would maintain the person’s interest? Trade long overly complex sentences for shorter ones. Ditch the fancy vocabulary in favor of the vernacular. Use action verbs and avoid over use of past participle and passive voice. When you’re finished writing, read what you’ve written out loud. If it’s hard to say, it’s probably hard to read. Re-write until it flows smoothly off the tongue and the page.

Use social media

Write blog posts, Facebook or Twitter posts on your topic. See what kind of response and feedback you get. Sometimes people can post comments that lead you to new research in your area that you weren’t aware of before. It can also help you gauge the effect of your writing: is it engaging readers and creating dialogue? Which posts stood out and got responses? Which posts fell flat? Another benefit of posting your work is to help you achieve stages of completion. Rather than thinking of a whole book or dissertation that’s hundreds of pages, post chapters and excerpts. It can help keep you motivated and guide your next steps.

Don’t plagiarize

There can be a fuzzy line between which ideas are yours and which ideas are someone else’s as you do your research. Short of copying someone else’s work word for word, plagiarism can be hard for a writer to identify. There are resources available to help you make sure you maintain your academic integrity by understanding the different forms of plagiarism and how to avoid them. Developing excellent citation skills can help you a lot in this area. Harvard offers several excellent guides on how to avoid plagiarism.

Use a reference manager

Since academic writing is research-based, you’ll need a way to organize and manage your references. Keeping your references well-organized also helps you to avoid plagiarism (see above). Try on of these popular reference managers:

Endnote:

  • Maintains and organizes all your references.
  • Downloads PDFs to your references.
  • Make comments and annotations on your sources.
  • Choose from 6,000 bibliography formats.
  • Automatic formatting available for several types of documents.
  • Share with colleagues and professors and other researchers in your field.
  • Get advice on which journals are the best fit for your research.

Mendeley

  • Syncs across all your devices.
    Access sources by using keyword search.
    Highlight and annotate sources.
  • Use on or offline with full access to PDFs.
  • Share with other researchers, colleagues or professors.

10 Storytelling Tricks For Fiction Writing

storytelling for fiction writing

The difference between telling a story and storytelling is simple. Telling a story relates the facts to your reader, but storytelling makes a tale come alive.

Below you’ll find 10 tricks to help you incorporate storytelling techniques into your writing at every stage of the process.

First Things First: Pace Yourself

1. Identify key moments

Before you write a scene, take the time to think about the key moments that need to occur. Make a list of both emotional and action based moments. This will keep you focused on the elements of your plot and make it clear where and when you can add storytelling to enhance these crucial points.

2. Save the best for last

Now that you have a list of key moments, make sure that you are saving the most impactful moment for the final part of the scene. This doesn’t need to be a cliffhanger, but it should be the most important part of the scene – where you reveal something that drives your plot forward. Placing this information at the end of a scene keeps the reader interested, and gives you a good rule of thumb by which to structure your storytelling.

Next Fill In the Gaps: Get Physical

3. Build your stage

Think about your scene as a play. Too often as authors we can be so focused on our character interactions that we forget to build a set around them. With each scene, you need to convey where your characters are to give the reader a foothold in their world. This means you need to name a location and/or give a few details as to what the place looks like.

4. Check your 5 senses: Sight, Touch, Taste, Hearing, Smell

Barring alien life forms or disabilities, our characters are experiencing the world with their whole body. Bring your stage to life by having your character remark on their surroundings via their five senses.

For example: a heroine could note that the roses her lover sent smell rich and heavy, like springtime. This gives the reader a chance to experience the gift vicariously. On the other hand, bringing in the senses could allow a detective to see his suspect’s eyes twitch to the left, signaling to the reader that our suspect is lying, without the dialogue.

Checkpoint: Watch the Details

5. Note the mundane

What time of year is it? In writing a scene, it is important to remember to relay seemingly mundane information to the reader. Not only does give a fuller picture of your scene, knowing that it is the middle of winter shows that it really must be love if our hero runs outside in a t-shirt to beg forgiveness from our heroine.

6. Does anyone want a drink?

This is another reminder that characters are people too. They’re going to eat, drink, and excuse themselves to go to the bathroom. Now, we don’t necessarily need to see the characters eat three square meals a day – but we can use food, wine, and the call of nature to build our story.

For example: describing Thanksgiving dinner by saying you ate turkey and pie is underwhelming. Try to include details, like how the pumpkin pie had a dollop of fluffy whipped cream on top. Make the audience’s mouth water – it will make the readers feel as though they are in the scene.

Food and drink can be used for purposes beyond tantalizing taste buds. Taking a sip of wine in the middle of a conversation is a good way to express that character is stalling for time and having a character go to the bathroom in the middle of a road trip gives the sense that a long time has passed. Common necessity is a great way to build your stage as well as give information without having to explicitly state it.

7. WWXD

“What Would X Do?” The key to telling a good story is to stay true to your characters. It would be nice if the Editor of the High School Newspaper was able to deduce who cheated on the test with fingerprint analysis, computer hacking skills, or telepathy. But unless your character is at a special magnet school for criminology, a tech geek, or has paranormal abilities – they have to solve the crime the old fashioned way: gossip and maybe the assistance of a teacher or two.

It’s tempting to aide our characters when we want them to succeed or to kill them off when we start to dislike them. Still, the truth is, good storytelling happens when your character lives within the personality, and the world you’ve created.

Finally: Major Elements to Note

8. Cause = Effect

Bear with me here…this one is tough. Cause happens and then we see an effect. If we forget to set a kitchen timer for our cookies, they’ll come out of the oven burnt. I know, this seems simple enough, but we often forget to proceed in this orderly fashion. Sometimes our protagonist has burnt cookies and we’ve forgotten to tell the audience why.

An example: “Sam pulled the charred cookies out of the oven, thinking Susie would never want to go to prom with him now.” While we’ve gotten our point across (the state of Sam’s prom-posal is in jeopardy!), our readers are thinking… “Wait, how did the cookies get burnt?” Small (or large) slips like this pull the audience out of the story and hurt the flow of your tale.

9. Tension is your driving force

Readers keep reading because of unmet desires. Good storytelling instills in the reader an intention to keep reading; to find out what happens next. As an author you need to keep building tension to maintain that desire.

10. Just Trust Me

The keystone of storytelling is trust. You get to build your world using storytelling techniques. In the act of reading your story, the audience gives you their trust – it’s your job not to break it. So no matter if it’s a big plot twist or a small detail, it needs to belong in the world you’ve created.

An example: let’s use vampires. One of the tenets of world building with vampires is addressing the issue of sunlight. Are your vampires sparkly, sunlight safe vampires? Or are your vampires going to disintegrate into a pile of ashes with the first rays of the dawn?

Either instance is believable to readers, but if you say that your vampires are allergic to the sun, you can’t negate that – even if the vampire really, really wants to have brunch outside with the heroine. Breaking the rules of your world will not only pull readers out of your storytelling spell – you’re going to kill the world of the book for them too.

10 Essential Things You Will Learn From Writing

how to write a research paper

Writing is an act of sharing and teaching others about your perspective. But there are also many things that writers learn in the process. No matter what type of writing you do- content writing, blogging, journalism, poetry, novels, etc – all writing teaches us some valuable lessons.

Here are 10 things you can learn from writing:

Become a better observer

I once met someone at a party who asked me what I did for a living. When I replied that I was a writer, they said, “Well, that’s the end of our conversation. I don’t like writers. They always use the people in their lives as raw material.” Ouch. Unfortunately, it’s kind of true and kind of unavoidable. Often the people, places and experiences in a writer’s life find their way into their stories. That’s because the part of being a writer is being a good observer. The more attention you pay to the details of your environment (tastes, smells, words, accents, etc), the richer your writing will be.

Become more disciplined

Becoming a professional writer requires momentous amounts of self-discipline. Writing every day, whether inspiration is here or whether the words are coming out like molasses stuck in a jar, writers muscle through it. For anyone who’s ever tried to write a novel or longread before, you know how much work it takes to see it through to the end. Not just the first time you type the words “The End” but the thousandth time you think it’s finished while your editor disagrees. Sometimes writing is like coasting down a hill on a bicycle. Other times, it’s like trying to summit Mt. Everest. A disciplined writer writes no matter what kind of day it is.

Become a better reader

Reading is research for writers. Whether you’re a poet, a novelist, a journalist or blogger, you want to see how other people are doing it. What makes their writing successful? What do you think could be better? What tricks do they have that you want to learn? Every writing course I’ve ever taken has urged me to read more. The more you read, the better you’ll learn to read, the better you’ll learn to write.

Know thyself

You learn a lot about yourself by becoming a writer. Whether you’re writing advertising content or poetry, the words are yours and you’re the only one who can write them. A journalist wants to bring a story they think is important to the world’s attention. So does a novelist. The act of writing is the act of sharing who you are. The more you write, the more you’re able to define your values and the messages you want to put out there.

Learn how to shut out distractions

Writing is a task that requires concentration and silence. It’s hard enough without adding ringing phones, crying children and other things to the mix. Many writers go to great lengths in order to carve out that quiet time in order to write. Some get up early to ensure they’re distraction-free. Some shut off their phones and disable their internet connections. Others wear earplugs and the list goes on. Becoming a master at shutting out distractions comes with the job.

Get better at research

Most forms of writing require some type of research. Whether you’re writing a historical novel or an article on widgets, you need to find the most relevant and credible sources to make your writing reputable. A well-researched piece of writing stands out from those based on glances at Wikipedia.

Develop a style

Different genres require different writing skills. In web content writing, less is more and simplicity rules. In novels, it’s all about the angle you choose to tell a story from, character development and tone. Poets often use metaphor to capture the essence of a feeling or object they’re trying to describe. In all of these cases, the writer’s work is to cultivate a “voice”, a style that defines their work so that readers can recognize it as theirs. This is an important step in a writer’s development.

Get better at editing

Getting the words out is just part of the writing process. Getting the words right is another part of it – the editing part. Between grammar, spelling, word choice, clarity, tone and structure, almost all writing needs some editing after the first draft. Writers must learn to have the patience to wait a few hours, days, weeks or months to let the words “settle” before looking at their work again. They must also develop the ability to look at their work objectively to see how the piece can be improved.

Learn to handle criticism

Chances are some people won’t like the things you write. And because writing is such a personal form of expression, it can be really hurtful when someone criticizes yours. That’s why it’s particularly important to develop a thicker skin and learn not to take things personally. If every writer stopped writing the first time someone threw a stone at their work, there would be precious few writers left.

Some criticism can be useful – it can make you to rethink your angle, your words or your style in a way you hadn’t considered before. Some criticism is just downright insulting and them it’s best to lick your wounds and carry on writing. The sooner the better.

Be courageous

Many writers have had moments where they became paralyzed with fear and were unable to write. Maybe you want to write something but you’re afraid of other people’s judgment. Maybe you’re afraid you’ll offend someone or someone will offend you if you write it (see #9). Maybe you’ve just created something that was very successful and aren’t sure you can top it. There are lots of reasons that fear enters into the picture. And therefore, writing itself requires great courage. To overcome those fears takes a leap of faith. Not everyone is able to take that leap. But for those who do, often the act of overcoming their fear is reward in itself.