Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Writing Nuts & Bolts

The following are tips excerpted from the "Nuts and Bolts" presentation I'll be doing for the Lakeland American Christian Writers this week. If your writer's group would like a live or phone-conferenced workshop, contact me at

1. Beware lest rambling descriptions run away with you. Like this Wretched Writer Award winner: "The rising sun crawled over the ridge and slithered across the hot barren terrain into every nook and cranny like grease on a Denny's grill in the morning rush, but only until eleven o'clock when they switch to the lunch menu."

2. Drop the reader in the middle of a scene without throat-clearing (preamble or introduction). Skillfully craft your lead paragraph so that you're imparting lots of information without being obvious.

Here's a good example from one of my faves, Before the Dawn Wind Rises by Laurie B. Clifford. It's not breakneck action (not that kind of a story), but it's got teeth: "We had been married 11 years when I first noticed that Bobby used his fingers to push his food onto his fork. We were having breakfast on the greenhouse porch, autumn blazing like a fandango dancer around us. Janie and Susie were fighting over whose toast had the most cinnamon sugar."

This short passage tells us:
1. The story is written in first person (informal diary form) and the protagonist is a woman, married with two daughters.
2. The family is somewhat affluent (I don't have a greenhouse porch, do you?).
3. A hint of marital discord (forshadowing a major subplot).
4. The time of day and season of the year.
5. A light tone is set right away; indeed, subtle humor riddles the entire book.

3. Avoid too much dialect, which can become confusing, offensive, or out of vogue. Don't risk outdating your book or turning off your reader. The days of Brer Rabbit are no more.

4. Avoid eyeball walls at all costs. (Anything that stops the flow of words; that halts the movie playing inside the reader's head - may be an obscure word, confusing passage, or redundant phrase.) If the reader has to go back and re-read the sentence to understand it, you've just scored a D- in Writing 101.

5. Use concise, precise writing. Take the time to find the perfect word or phrase. Don't say in five words what you can say in two. Blaise Pascal said, "I have made this longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter."

Write tight!


Jack said...

Thanks for the sharing

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Grambee said...

thank you Debora. you are an inspiration to me.

looking forward to someday writing the book that God has placed in my heart !

Deborah Amaral