Keeping it Simple -- Jen Doktorski

In the spirit of the authors, writers, and mentors whose writing advice I’m most grateful for, I’m going to keep this short and simple.

1. Start with what you love. If you get bored, so will your reader.

2. Squeeze out the water words. The clutter. (Thank you, William Zinsser.)

3. Use “say” or “said” for dialogue tags. No “whispers,” “uttereds,” or “shouteds,” and don’t modify the tag with an adverb. That brings me to my next three bits of advice. (Thank you, Elmore Leonard.)

4. Use active verbs.

5.  Don’t use adverbs. Anywhere. Pick a better verb. (See No. 4). If you find yourself needing to modify a verb, you picked the wrong one. Or you’re being lazy.

6. Dialogue is more than two people talking. It should convey emotion, backstory, or foreshadowing, and reveal something about the character speaking. The reader should know who’s talking even without a tag, which is why “said” or “say” has got you covered. Let the dialogue speak for itself. (Thank you, Jane Austen and Aaron Sorkin.)

7. Search your manuscript for the word “feel” or “felt” and then describe the way your character is feeling or felt. It’s more powerful than having them say “I feel….” (Thank you, Judy Blume.)

8. Butt in chair. Don’t wait for the muse to strike you. If you show up in said chair every day at the same time ready to write, the muse will know where to find you. (Thank you, Anne Lamott and Stephen King.

9. Good writing is hard work. Don’t give up. (Thank you, just about everyone who’s ever tried this gig.)



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