5 Keys to Good Writing (and more)

Yoda Reads Poster
The Wise and Venerable Yoda

I discovered these 5 Keys while cleaning my desk. They came from a talk Shutta Crum gave on writing. I'm going to try flesh out what Shutta was talking about using the short story Light of Other Days. And I added a few suggestions of my own

5 Keys to Good Writing after the break.

Keep it as short as the story requires..

"The car's turbine was pulling smoothly and quietly in the damp air so that we seemed to be carried over the convolutions of the road in a kind of supernatural silence."

This is the only sentence in which Shaw describes the car the narrator drives. In this sentence, Shaw also give the reader a feeling of the road, the air and the sound (or lack therof) the characters experience.

2 Precision
Language should be more assertive than passive. You should know what is important about each sentence you write.

In Light of Other Days (see earlier post) the story doesn't involve much more than a drive into the English countryside, some time in the future. But the tension between all the characters, and the mystery surrounding the glass seller keep the reader interested, wondering what will happen next.

Its good to start with a hook, something to grab interest, and keep a punch waiting at the end. Here is the first sentence of Light of Other Days:

"Leaving the village behind, we followed the heady sweeps of the road up into a land of slow glass."

The hook for the reader is, "What the heck is Slow Glass?" Note the author doesn't bother to tell you what Slow Glass is until you are well into the story and have been introduced to all the characters. The reader is made to wait, in the meantime becoming interested in the lives, or at least the activities of the characters.

Read about narrative hooks.

The story should sound good when you read it out loud. This is expecially important for short stories. Use interesting words that form some kind of picture if your reader's mind.
Examples litter Light of Other Days, giving the story feeling and depth.

Shaw's characters have personality, and their prickly nature and relationships make them unique. Make sure your characters talk and act as they should: adults should speak and act like adults, little kids should sound and feel childish. Teens should.. I have no idea what teens should do, you as writers are on your own with that.

(6) Read what you want to write.
Telling you to write in your own voice is a little silly right now, because even I don't have a clue what my "voice" is. I try to write in a way that emulates my favorite writers, not of course copying them, but getting ideas about structure, and trying to figure out what makes their writing so good. Your story is your own, but the best way to improve your writing is not just to write, but to read.

(7) If it sucks the first time(or second, or third time), you aren't a failure.
Good writing doesn't magically appear in one draft. Looking at manuscripts of famous writers (I did this in college) you can see that they had to rewrite a lot, and sometimes their writing was terrible.

(8) Have someone you respect read your story before you send it in.
When you're writing, everything makes sense, but sometimes what's in your mind and what's on paper do not match. I hate having my stories reviewed, but it can be very helpful. Adults can be kind of chicken about telling you what they really think, so find someone with a spine.


Good advice, but what happened to 5 keys?

"Faulheit ist eine Tugend"

Librarian Edith
Edith, courtesy of Amber

I'm pretty good at writing, but I'm bad at math...

I really left it at 5 because the last three are my own additions, not original to the handout.