Tuesday, September 2, 2014

a few writing tips


So a few thoughts have been solidifying in my mind lately related to writing...and improving your writing style. Of course, voice and style are going to be very unique for each writer, but if you're looking to get the wheels turning up in your style-evolver, here are a few tips that have influenced my fiction.
  1. Poetry.  I maintain that the best thing you can do for your prose is to write poetry.  I mean, think about it... As fiction writers, we can sometimes be big-picture conceptual folks.  We've got an image in our heads, an idea, and that's important.  But how that image is communicated is a wordsmithing thing.  It's all about the words.  Poetry--both reading and writing it--forces you to really focus on word choice, flow, and rhythm.  These are all the things that are going to make your prose enjoyable to read.  Poetry trains you in attention to detail.  
  2. Read writers who really have their wordcraft down.  I recommend some Vladimir Nabokov, as he has had a huge impact on my personal style.  Obviously, many of his works are on somewhat...sensitive subjects, but I can definitely recommend Pale Fire as a starting point.  One of the things I love about him is the way he really milks a word for all its worth.  He'll take a word that is normally a noun or a verb, perhaps, and use it as an adjective in a way that really gets his imagery across.  For this kind of unexpected detail in word choice, I also recommend reading Seamus Heaney's Beowulf translation.  Old English poetry is full of kennings, which is where the writer uses two words hyphenated to replace a boring word.  For example: "whale-path" instead of "ocean."  
  3. Read aloud.  Even if your audience is going to read in their heads, the best way to really get a feel for your narrating "voice" is to go ahead and read it yourself.  You'll catch flow issues faster with your ear than with your eye.  You'll notice times that your style becomes too sarcastic, too artsy, too inconsistent.  Consistency is key for a recognizable, "trademarkable" narrative voice.
What do you like to do to improve your writing?  Let me know your tips in the comments!