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How to Write Good

by Neal Wooten

Yes, we all want to write good. OK, most of us know the correct word is "well." But knowing the right word, where the commas go, the proper usages of colons and semicolons, where new paragraphs begin, and the difference in there, their, and they're is old school. Proper writing might make you a great letter writer, reporter, or blogger, but it won't necessarily make you a great author.

What does, you ask? If I knew that I wouldn't be writing these articles. I'd be sitting behind a table at Barnes & Noble, shaking off writer's cramp, and staring at the super long line of fans waiting for my autograph.

But we've all experienced it. We've all picked up a book to read and somehow found ourselves unable to put it down. It wasn't the words themselves or even the order in which they were written. It was something behind the words, something that resonated with our own thoughts, memories, or desires. In short - it touched us.

I recently read The Alchemist. Halfway through the book, I kept thinking it was written for kids. The narrative was simple, the dialog common, and the plot predictable. Then something happened. I realized this book was not about the boy, this shepherd from Andalusia, searching for his dreams; it was about me not searching for mine. All of the seemingly simple writing came together to form an incredibly deep story.

I think that's where a lot of us writers come up short. We craft an ingenious story with great characters and an intriguing plot, and think it will make a great book. But interesting books are a dime-a-dozen. What we fail to ask is this: "What will it mean to the reader?" Do we want readers to read it and think, That was interesting? Or do we want readers to read it and think, Holy Moly?

I think it's similar to the difference in a paint-by-numbers work of art and a da Vinci painting. Both have the right hues of paint, the correct features, and the image is clearly recognizable in both. But there's something behind the paint of the da Vinci painting that moves us and makes us not be able to stop staring at it.

We can't all be da Vinci-level artists and I guess we can't all be Tolstoy-level writers. But keep in mind, neither were they in the beginning. One kept throwing paint at the canvas and one kept throwing words at the paper until they figured out how to do it right.

So keep plugging away. And here are 20 tips I put together for you to help you write good.

One word sentences? Eliminate.

Be more or less specific.

Avoid clichés like the plague.

Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.

Parenthesis (however important) are not necessary.

One should never generalize.

No damn profanity.

Comparisons are as bad as clichés.

Avoid alliteration. Always.

Don't be redundant, or repetitive, or say the same thing over and over.

Exaggeration is a million times worse that understatement.

No quotes. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "I hate quotations."

No ampersands & abbreviations, etc.

Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.

Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.

The passive voice is to be avoided.

Go to the moon and back to avoid colloquialisms.

Even if a mixed metaphor shines, it should be trampled underfoot.

Contractions aren't necessary.

Who needs rhetorical questions?
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