Art of Writing Part II: How To Write Well

Gary Bridgman,

Gary Bridgman,

Last week we covered why it is important for us to write. We discussed how writing gives us the time to think our words through before saying them, it helps us learn more about ourselves, and it gives us the ability to more clearly see our thoughts. However, this week we will be discussing various ways to improve our writing.

Becoming A Good Writer - How To Write - W. Somerset MaughamSo, how does one become a proficient writer? The answer, I believe, is not an easy one. Good writers’ works have rhythms, they make transitions smoothly, they use the words that best convey their meaning,  they paint pictures with their words, they think, they read, and they live. Good  writing, of course, takes practice and patience, and my advice will not magically turn you into a master writer, but it is, I believe, a good place to start.

Whenever you read a truly great book, the book will have some sort of natural flow, and reading the book will almost feel like a journey. For example, when I read  Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, the sequence of events seemed to flow naturally from the preceding events. There were no jerks or uncomfortable twist; instead, the book had a natural rhythm that put the reader in the exact mood, with the knowledge and emotions that that the reader needed to be feeling, to get the maximum effect.

As a young and aspiring writer, it can seem very daunting to get this desired effect. However, it is quite possible to get if you simply keep a few things in mind. The task, though challenging, is possible through practice, patience, and alertness while writing.

Remember to keep parallels parallel. If you say, “cats and dogs,” you should always refer to them in that order. Never mix the order up, it feels awkward and may pull the reader out of the story and cause them to realize that it is simply a book. You want the reader to be inside the story, not staring at a bunch of words on a sheet of paper.

Likewise, emotional changes keep the reader engaged and engrossed. If you are writing fiction, the character needs to undergo an emotional evolution throughout the story, e.g. Bilbo (from The Hobbit) is timid and easily frightened at the start of the book, but he is confident and experienced at the closing.

Becoming A Good Writer - How To Write - Margaret AtwoodAlso, the story should have various ups and downs. In The Red Badge Of Courage, the story begins peacefully, though somewhat excitedly, in a military encampment that has not seen battle in quite some time. The soldiers scoff at the rumors of an upcoming battle. However, the army is soon called into action and there is a period of anticipation. The anticipation then fades into disappointment as the main character flees from battle in fear. Eventually the story comes to a high when the main character leads a charge, is complimented by several officers, and when victory is finally achieved. The story then ends with the same sort of peaceful, though somewhat more melancholy, military base life.

If you have ever studied music, you know that if you begin a song with one particular note or chord, you should also end that song with the same note or chord. This brings resolution, the song feels complete. Similarly, a story should end on a similar note to when it began. This brings resolution and a feeling of completeness.

Additionally, beginning sentences with prepositional phrases can help to de-monotonize your writing. Prepositional phrases are yet another great tool in our arsenal for reaching the desired rhythm. Through the use of prepositional phrases, a certain level of curiosity is created. (See what I did there?) In the pursuit of varied and well-rounded writing, beginning your sentences with prepositional phrases may just be the thing you need. (See, I did it again.)

Although those are some of the many ways to create a steady rhythm, transitions are also stellar at doing so. Transitional words and phrases work excellently at this task in both fiction and nonfiction. For example, I could say, “The dog bit the cat’s throat. The cat died.” Or I could say, “The dog bit the cat’s throat. Consequently, the cat died.”

Transitional words range from “additionally” to “however,” from “furthermore” to “on the other hand,” from “presently” to “thereafter.” These words give both rhythm and coherency to a work. These words also help ensure that the reader is not unintentionally jerked out of the piece.

Rene DescartesGreat writers also know how to find the exact word to describe their thoughts. Was the dog hungry, or was it ravenous? Was the child upset or distraught? When we write, we should be able to precisely describe what it is that we are thinking. Good writers have extensive working vocabularies. If you struggle to find the correct words to convey your ideas and you want to improve your vocabulary, I would encourage you to read this.

Similarly, great writers know how to use their words to paint a picture in the reader’s mind. When you read great fiction, you can see, feel, hear, smell, and taste what the authors depicts. Words suddenly spring to life within your mind. No longer are you staring at a bunch of letters on a white page; instead, you are sensing everything that is happening within the story.

To achieve this effect one must use vibrant language and reference things which the reader will know. Does the fictional fruit taste sweet and sour, or does it taste like an orange mixed with lemon? Do the clouds look grey, or are they boiling mad and ready to drench the first man who dares show himself? Use descriptive, vivacious language.

Of course, all writers must also think. No story, no essay, and no report is complete without thought. Analysis, plotline, thesis, and a magnanimous portion of writing is thought. You cannot write without also thinking. Although many authors may have numerous fallacies in their reasoning, they all do think, regardless of whether their conclusions are correct or not.

This, of course, makes effective reasoning an incredibly useful tool in the writers toolbox. I would encourage you to study logic and critical thinking if you are serious about becoming a writer. But studying effective reasoning is not enough, one must also implement it. If you really want to know that what you write is correct, scrutinize your works and eliminate any fallacies or errors that you uncover.

Charles KuraltMost good writers are also avid readers. Reading increases your vocabulary, it helps you become able to instinctually know how something should be said, and it also increases you knowledge base, which makes critical thinking much easier. Reading also opens up all sorts of literary allusions which you may use. (Achilles’ heel, Pandora’s box, etc.) Of course, being well read also gives you a wide base to prop your works upon.

Finally, great writers are people who have lived. They are people who travel, who experience hardship and drama, and who have the strength to do things. One of my favorite authors, Robert Luis Stevenson, travelled quite frequently, and his writing reflected this. Another great author, Edgar Allan Poe, experienced great hardships as a child and from that we get his dark and melancholy writings.

Although not every writer has really lived, many have done so through reading. J.R.R. Tolkien is an example of this. He did not travel as much as Stevenson, and he didn’t experience such tragic loss as Poe did, but he was an avid reader. Through his reading and studying, he wrote some of the greatest books of the 1900’s.

I hope that through this post you have seen that writing is not an ominous storm waiting for the right moment to swallow you up, and that it is indeed a wonderful, powerful, and achievable tool which you can use to your advantage. I hope that you will take my advice and apply it to your writing, and I hope that you find my advice satisfactory.

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