Every story consists of tiny, pixel-like decisions that either make the big picture clear and vivid or fuzzy and muted. Whether you’re placing punctuation or determining which character’s voice should narrate a scene, each judgment call will affect readers’ enjoyment. Oftentimes, the difference between clunky and compelling text is a pair of scissors, and the acronym P.R.O.S.E. can help you recognize what to trim.
Everyone enjoys turning red in the face and struggling to breathe for a few seconds after a hilarious experience. Laughter lightens your mood, reduces stress, and even improves your immune system. On a relational level, humor helps you connect with others whether you’re swapping anecdotes in the same room together or reading a character’s wisecracks from a printed page. Humor makes stories more engaging overall, as well as balances out tenser scenes.
Over a period of one year, famous artist Claud Monet dedicated himself to painting a set of haystacks during various seasons, weather conditions, and times of day. Sounds monotonous, right? On the contrary, the results were stunning, because Monet discovered a technique that can revolutionize any scene—whether it’s typed in a word processor or splashed onto a canvas.
If you’ve ever gone hunting for advice on finding your writing voice, your brain is undoubtedly tuckered out. Many tips are vague at best and confusing or contradictory at worst. Some claim that voice develops over time. But that leaves you wondering when it will appear to you in a poof of smoke. Others treat it like a supernatural gift that some writers have and others don’t. So helpful, right?
Action scenes strap readers in for a thrilling ride—or at least that’s what they’re supposed to do. Every millisecond must be engaging and accurately portray what’s happening. If the action crawls, it loses its impact or, worse, readers’ interest. And if the action hits light speed, readers crave more details, similar to the dissatisfaction of eating a fun-size piece of chocolate instead of a whole candy bar.
Have you ever stopped reading, not because the story itself was bad, but because the author’s phrasing was awkward? Few annoyances push me back into the real world faster than unwieldy prose. In the right combinations, words are beautiful and engaging. But in the wrong combinations, they grate on the ear and hinder an otherwise enjoyable experience.
The sky’s the limit to the number of clichés that can infiltrate writing. In fact, I intend to dump a truckload into this article to illustrate why writers should avoid them like the plague. However, I also believe we ought to tip our hats to clichés. Because the phrases were crafted well, people repeated them until overuse rubbed off the gilding. Now they’re commonplace. But I still appreciate their origins, and I’m going to show you how to dig out the creative potential buried beneath them.
Editing is easy to overdo. You open your latest draft to restructure a scene, but as you reread your work to get your bearings, you can’t resist tinkering with a clunky paragraph in the previous chapter. Then you remember a worldbuilding element you need to research so you can use it to set the mood when your protagonist meets her love interest. And soon you’ve spent an hour brainstorming the perfect analogy for his blue eyes.
One of the biggest challenges we face as writers is the process of translating our ideas into chunks of text that seem much more bland than the characters, settings, and themes did in our imaginations. Once we’ve filled the page, our next hurdle is to make our words both understandable and inviting to readers.
After you’ve written a paragraph, have you ever stopped to squint at the words, wondering if you’ve chosen the right ones to convey the mood you intended? Did you manage to craft a distinct voice for your viewpoint character, or does the narrative sound too much like you? Are your commas placed correctly?