Most writers love what they write and love to read it again and again. But let’s face it, there are times when even your own words fall short and leave you feeling blah. If it’s not even worth your time to read, who else will want to?
A good writer grabs their readers and makes them hang on until the end – either gripping the edge of their seat or panting all the way. How do you do that?
12 Tips to Make Your Story Worth Reading
1 – Grammar, punctuation, and spelling are #1. This should go without saying. These elements are important in writing a good story. You are a writer. Prove it with good grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Don’t expect your editor to catch all your mistakes. Spellcheck will get ‘some’ typos, but not all. Grammarly.com is a helpful online tool to catch a good crop of grammar errors. There are many writing aids to choose from. ProWriterAide and MS Editor also work well. A flawless story will go much further to gain credibility.
2 – Use nouns that invoke an image. Can your readers envision your words? Choose nouns carefully. Show; don’t tell. Instead of telling about a wrestler’s battle – (The wrestler picked up his opponent and threw him to the floor). Use imagery. Think about what it would look like, and then describe it so the reader can see it. (His 142 pounds of sinew hurled his opponent’s large frame onto his back, and then with an inhuman roar, lunged him into mid-air). (Get the picture)?
3 – Avoid gerunds and passive verbs. Use action verbs instead. Let your computer do the work for you. Do a search and replace (Ctrl+F on a PC) for ‘ing.’ Find out how often you’ve used the words were, is, or was with verbs (was doing, is going, were thinking). Limit the use of passive words and opt for action verbs. Every verb should set off a sequence of actions. Often, simply changing the verb to present or past tense makes it active. Example: change she was dancing lightly to she flitted.
4 – Watch adverbs and adjectives. Do a find and replace for ‘ly’ words. An editor once said, “the use of adverbs is the lazy writer’s way.” Search for a descriptive verb. Instead of ‘quickly ran’ – used sprinted or jogged. Replace adjectives with nouns that paint a picture. Allow the reader to see the image in their mind. Example: Instead of telling about a wrinkly old man, try his face, aged like warm tanned leather, wrinkled along happy laugh lines when he smiled.
5 – OH-OH! Pleonasms! Pleonasms are extraneous words that one writer calls her ‘dust bunnies.’ They crop up everywhere if you’re not careful. Do a search and replace (Ctrl+H) for words such as that, just, and very. Most of the time, they are unnecessary to the meaning of your sentence. Look for verbs like came over, jumped up or sat down. The second word is a pleonasm and can be removed.
6 – Beware of pretentious words. Sometimes a simple word will do better than using a fancy word. It is advisable to write on a 4th-5th grade level. The use of ‘big words’ may be confusing and turn the reader away instead of impressing them.
7 – Use long and short sentences. This is the “heartbeat” of your story—the rhythm. Be careful of bogging the reader down with many long-involved sentences. Speed action and emotion with short and snappy sentences. Interspersing long and short sentences will make your story readable and interesting.
8 – Avoid data dumps. Instead, add dialog and thoughts. Dialog pulls the reader into the characters’ heads and makes your story interactive. Dialog always shows action. Lots of telling (narrative) can get boring fast. Adding description is also easier through dialog.
9 – Go easy on taglines. Many writers overuse the “he said, she said,” or embellish the tagline with a dramatic verb such as “she whined” or “he exploded.” Instead of the tagline, simply use the action. Dialog done well should make it apparent who is speaking. Example: Instead of “he exploded,” write, “It isn’t right. I deserved that job.” The papers flew as Frank pounded his fist hard upon the table. It produces a picture of his anger without telling it.
10 – Watch Point of View (POV). It’s best to keep only one point of view in each chapter or story. If you jump around in other characters’ heads (their points of view), then it becomes confusing to the reader. If your character cannot see it, feel it, do it, then don’t write it. (The exception is if there’s a narrator telling the story).
11 – Make your reader love the protagonist (main character). Readers want to relate to whom they’re reading about. Give them someone to adore. Your main character needs a few flaws to make them human and a couple of failures along the way. This allows the reader to root for them and fall in love.
12 – Add specifics. Pull your reader in with details and descriptions. Give them something they can relate to, but be careful of adding too many. Again, avoid the ‘data dump’ of information. Weave the details and descriptions into the story as you tell it.
With these twelve tips, you’re off to a great start in improving your writing, whether in a story, an article, or a novel. Write what you know, drip your passion through your fingertips (or pen), and watch your readership grow!
C.A. Simonson has served on the SWG Board for ten years and is currently the Vice-President. She has authored six novels, two children’s activity books, and four other nonfiction books (See more at casimonson.com). Her award-winning short stories have been published in seven anthologies and won prizes in writing contests. She has also written over 400 articles and content writing for magazines, blogs, and the internet.