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A Writer's Cheat Sheet

To typo is human, to correct is divine, and to write in a stylish manner is priceless. A reader will thank you.
Typos and grammatical errors.

Use a writing aid with discretion. Clear the imperfections and do not eliminate your voice. Bells and whistles are abundant. Be judicious in the usage of echo words, repeats, changing wording for easier reading, because in the end a story should sound like you. Only you write like you do.

Pass on the passive as much as possible.

Stories written in a passive voice are like trying to down a shot of molasses without a chaser. A tidbit is permissible, but if a passive voice is littered throughout a piece, it can make for tedious reading and break momentum. Bring on the action.

Tell a fresh story.

Everybody uses tropes and wedges into genres, and a unique story is pleasing for the mental palate. Ask yourself what makes the story come to life. Memoirs are stories. They’re just about real people. A memoir that reads like fiction has flow. As Great Aunt Rose used to say, ‘it’s all in how you pronounce.’

Ditch the cliché.

You can whistle dixie, but not all that glitters is gold.

Choose a Point of View and follow through.

A view only goes as far as one’s periphery allows. Omniscient Narrator. First. Second. Third. Close/Deep (Researched this one to the nines, and in conclusion, they are the same.). POV can shift in a story or a book, but make a clear delineation with a new chapter or a separation so that the reader knows the tale teller is switching. Confusing a reader is not good. Even the characters will suffer embarrassment. Don’t humiliate your characters.

Describe in a way that engages the reader.

Show. Show. Show. A little tell goes a long way, but only if used sparingly. Keep description succinct. Too much will overwhelm, bore, and make the reader place the book face down on the table, go to the kitchen for something to eat, and upon return, find that the spine has frozen in this open position. Not good all around.

Prose is beautiful when done well.

Literary language is lovely when done with care and grace.

It’s all in the details.

If there are too many or they are superfluous, nix them.

Characters, pretend or real need a goal they to work towards, a source of motivation, and conflict.

Conflict is internal. Conflict is external. Often the conflicts collide. Then the story gets juicy. If there is no conflict, there is nothing worth reading. Make the characters suffer. Then rescue them.

Make characters interesting.

Give them mannerisms. Give them quirks. Make them come to life. Even in a memoir, the characters must lift off the page.

Plots must fit the characters.

Characters must fit the plots.

  • When you use too many words to make the same point, if can feel you are utilizing so many words that the writing is redundant and repetitive.

  • Stephen King says that writers must kill their darlings, and he means words. In a literal manner, if a character is redundantly unnecessary, kill him off. Well, hit the delete key. Unless it’s a murder mystery in which case, the decision is much more straightforward.

  • Wordy redundancy. Use the delete button, if you used the same word or phrase three to five times in a section of the story or memoir.

  • Understand the pace of the story by reading it to yourself, or having your computer read it to you.

  • Short, to the point sentences add an element of tension and speed. Long reveals slow the moments down and make the reader savor each step.

  • Is a quickstep the right move on the dance floor?

  • Or is a slow and methodical pace a better choice?

  • Pace and cadence need to fit the genre, the plot, the characters, the motivation, the scene. Pace affects every nuance of the story.

  • Dialog is what readers say to one another or out loud to themselves.

  • Dialog should not read like a literary passage. It has to sound like real people having a real conversation.

  • You read one part and let someone else read the opposing character.

  • Conversations sound like conversations. Conversations made up of written words, do not sound conversational.

    • Harry said, “He is going to the store, and he is going to purchase some eggs. He would like eggs for dinner.” VS Harry said, “He’s going to the store to get some eggs for dinner.”

  • He said. She said.

  • Some say that said or asked are the best words to use since they disappear into the page. A little creativity goes a long way.

  • Ask yourself what the character is doing while he is talking. Even if he’s in bed, half asleep, and talking. He is still doing something.

  • “I want a chocolate bar,” laughed Charlie. NO, and not about the chocolate bar. Charlie can laugh while he is getting the words out, but he is still speaking.

  • “I want a chocolate bar,” said Charlie between hearty laughs.

  • Laugh is an action word. Laughing is what he was doing as he stated he wanted a treat. Words must be said, stated, uttered, asked, or any other word that pertains to speaking.

  • A character can say something and then break out into a round of contiguous chuckling.

Write for an audience.

Picture who is going to read the story and write as if that imaginary person was reading over your shoulder. Can’t please everyone, so please the reader you dream of writing for.

Determining how long a story should be is detrimental to the outcome.

Some stories are short, others become novels. Short ones are much harder to write. Ask any writer of flash fiction. And if you have never taken a flash class, try one, it will make you an expert in brevity.

Know your scene. Know your setting. Know your time period.

Clothing, cars, haircuts, verbiage, technology must align with the time.

  • Everyone has a different approach.

  • Some edit as they go along.

  • Some do a dump and run.

  • Whatever your style is, review, revise, review, revise. Repeat.

  • Step away from the piece for a few weeks or more. You will scratch your head and wonder why you wrote certain lines, laugh at yourself, cut them, and begin the revision process.

  • It’s hard to be your own editor. Your voice is telling the story. Whatever you wrote is going to sound great to you.

  • Sign up for a workshop at your local writer’s studio or organize a critique group.

  • Hire a freelance editor or editorial service.

  • Let someone else read your work. And not a friend. A friend will tell you what a wonderful and moving story you wrote because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. They seldom will explain what’s wrong. And if you want to perform a constructive revision, you need to be told in a supportive way what’s working and what is in utter disrepair.


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