If you’ve struggled with writing that seems dull, passive, or just plain lifeless and need to know how to breathe life into your story, this post covers techniques that will help you bring it alive.
How to Breathe Life Into Your Story
If you’ve ever read a passage that drew you with minimal fuss to its story’s heart, you may have longed to infuse your own writing with equal vibrancy. The happy news is that it can be done, and by you. It does require a little effort to learn, but bringing immediacy to your writing is well worth your time.
Distant Point of View: “Emily stopped” and “she listened” both cast this sentence in distant point of view. The reader is not inside Emily’s head but outside watching what she does. Distant point of view can creep into even the best manuscripts uninvited. To oust it, search for words like heard, listened, saw, looked, smelled, thought, wondered, and the like. One aside: using distant point of view isn’t “wrong” and can sometimes be just the thing that’s needed. Still, it usually should be removed to increase immediacy.
Use of Adverbs/Adjectives: As Chip MacGregor advises, it’s best to write with nouns and verbs. Not that you can never use adjectives or adverbs, but when you choose nouns and verbs well, they don’t need any helpers. Notice how the simple change from pastrami sandwich to pastrami-on-rye evokes a sharper mental image. “Emphatically giving” becomes “barked” in the second sentence. Finding an “ly” word in your manuscript signals the opportunity to find a stronger noun or verb.
Out of Cause-Effect Order: Placing events out of order of occurrence jerks the reader back-and-forth in time. The effect can be subtle. In sentence 1 Emily stops eating her pastrami sandwich as a response (effect) of overhearing her husband’s phone conversation (cause). Putting the effect before its cause makes the reader back up in time, slowing pacing and creating distance.
Out of order: Susan answered the phone when it rang.
Note: When two things happen at the same time, you can state either of them first. Both these sentences are correct:
Smiling, Judy dialed the phone.
Wordy: As I mentioned, Sentence 1 weighs in 13 words heavier than its lean, mean challenger. This may seem counter-intuitive, but when it comes to writing less is really more. Paring down to essentials only enhances the artistry of your writing. Ideas that can be grasped at once make your writing easier to follow. To find wordiness in your own writing, look for long phrases and lots of phrases within a sentence.
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