Use an Authentic Writing Voice

Write the way you speak, only with more polish.

You may need to unlearn a lot that you learned in college about writing. Teachers teach academic writing, which tends to be dry, fact-focused, and concerned more with making a point than crafting elegant sentences.

The narrative voice draws the reader into the text.

The author’s voice and approach are fresh.

To develop an authorial voice that is engaging and fresh, imagine you are writing a letter to your reader. Continue reading

Beware the nonrules

Last time I noted that there are lots of misconceptions about what constitutes “grammar.” There are also lots of misconceptions about what constitutes “rules” of writing.

Adverbs modify verbs is a rule. Don’t use adverbs is a nonrule. You may use adverbs, as long as you do so judiciously.

split infinitives

Black Chalkboard illustration by jaylopez • freeimages.com

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When is it OK to open your novel with “telling?”

Over on Facebook, I got some pushback to last week’s article “The difference between Storytelling and Dramatization.”

One Facebook commenter noted that the “before” examples given in show vs. tell articles like mine are “often deliberately and obviously poor by any standards.” She’s talking about examples like the one I gave:

I did not want to drive to work that day. The storm was fierce, and the preschool was closed, and all I really wanted to do was stay home…

But seriously, I see writing like that all the time in novice writers’ manuscripts. I’m not exaggerating. I just can’t give you an actual example from an actual unpublished manuscript because that would violate the writer’s privacy. Continue reading

Nonrule: Don’t Use ‘Start’ or ‘Begin’

Fiction writers often tell this lie to one another: “Don’t use words like started or began.” I’ve even heard it referred to as “the start rule.”

They don’t realize they’re lying, of course. But this not a rule. It’s advice, and poorly expressed. The more accurate way to express it would be, “If something ‘starts,’ make sure it will continue awhile.” Here’s an excerpt from my current work in progress: Continue reading

When passive voice is permissible

Writers and editors often pass on things they’ve learned — usually at the knee of some mentor they highly respect — in the form of seemingly inviolable rules: As it was said to me, I say to you, Thou shalt not use the passive voice.

break editor's pencil

magdaloubser • istockpho.to/XoW5Oi

I am not saying “you have to know the rules before you can break them.” I’m heartily sick of that old bromide. I am saying you have to know the difference between a real rule and a non-rule. Continue reading