Give the Reader a Little Credit

“Assume they are wearing pants.”

pants

I’m not certain which famous author wrote that in an article I read in which rich and well-known writers were asked for their best piece of writing advice.

I’m also not certain how many times I’ve quoted it to creative writing students. It used to hang on a little sticky note on my computer monitor, but it’s probably lost amongst the dust bunnies behind my desk now, the sticky long since dried up.

I’m a wordy writer. If it weren’t for the countless editors who forced me to bend to their word count will, I probably never would have been published. I tend to over-tell you what’s happening, repeat myself, as it were.

When you’re writing a clever personal essay where voice is the most engaging feature, you can get away with extra words. But in fiction, readers have no patience for the writer who explains every turn of the doorknob and unfolding of a napkin.

‘Assume they are wearing pants’ means that there is much you can trust the reader to figure out on his or her own.

You don’t need to write that your character brushed his teeth or pulled on his pants or went to the potty or drove to work. You can trust your reader to figure out by the time your character ‘stepped out of the elevator on the sixth floor of the Bronson building ready to conquer the world or at least the part of the world that dealt with Fifteen-millimeter straws ’ that all of that has happened.

But maybe your character was late? You might need a few of those steps. ‘Fred brushed his teeth, as he drove, weaving in and out of his lane frustrated by the slowpoke in front of him mentally rehearsing his presentation which should have started ten minutes ago. In the elevator, he noticed his socks didn’t match and he had toothpaste on his tie.’

I still didn’t tell you that he put his pants on, but I’m pretty sure you know he’s wearing pants. Otherwise, everyone in the elevator would be staring at him, right?

Details are important, but the only details you need to include are the important ones.

Hey, thanks for reading. I know you’ve got lots of options, so thanks for sharing a few of your minutes with me.

Honored,

Cara

If you’d like to know more about me, my books, and where you might run into me, check out my website, CaraWrites.com.

If you’d like to subscribe to my (sometimes) monthly e-newsletter, click here.

If you’re a dog lover, check out my other blog, Another Good Dog.

I’d love to connect with you on Facebook, twitter, or Instagram, and I’m thrilled to get email from readers (and writers), you can reach me at carasueachterberg@gmail.com.

COMING AUGUST 7 2018 FROM Pegasus Books (available for preorder now:

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Tighten up: Nine words that weaken you writing

Some words are weak. Plain and simple. These words not only water-down your writing but mark you as a lazy writer.

lazy writer 2

In the frenzy of a first draft, we toss in these words because there isn’t time to create the perfect metaphor. The story is flying fast and furious and you just need to get the words on the page, darn it. You’ll come up with the right simile or example or label or description later. When you have time. (But who has time?)

Before you know it these words have crept in and claimed their spot like the extra pounds you put on every winter. The rest of the story is so stellar, what’s an occasional weak word?

Editing makes or breaks a piece of writing. Truth.

Search out these words and replace them with more powerful words—words that help the reader see, sense, taste, touch, smell, hear what you’re trying to say. Words that create a clear picture or definite emotion. Strong words.

So what are these words that clutter up your writing?

I’ve listed nine, but there are others. A few adverbs come to mind. Personally, I love adverbs, so I’m not taking shots at them here. The words I’m going after are worse than a clever adverb. These are words that undermine the structure of your prose. Fire up that find feature and I bet you’ll spot your personal favorites in minutes.

Thing. What is it? Animal, vegetable, mineral? Could be. Thing is the vaguest of words out there. Don’t be a lazy writer—name it.

Stuff. Another horribly weak word. What does it mean? Could be anything. Stuff leaves way too much to the imagination. Be specific.

Seem. This is one of my pet words. Seem lets you hedge your bets. It only seems that way, so don’t blame me, I could be wrong. Seem dilutes the power of the word it precedes, and powerful words are so much more interesting to the reader. Go for broke. Either it is or it isn’t, and if you’re convinced it’s somewhere in between, describe why instead of taking the cheater’s route.

That. This one is tough for most of us but read your sentence with the word and without it. If you can cut it, then do.

With: I knew that she would stop by at five.

Without: I knew she would stop by at five.

Felt.  Unless we’re talking about that fuzzy material you used for craft projects in elementary school, avoid this word. If you’re telling the reader how the character felt, you’re not showing them. Find another way.

Cheating: She felt like he hated her.

Not that great, but better: His eyes grew dark as they met hers; it sent a shiver down her spine.

Think/Thought. When writing a character’s thoughts, you can almost always drop the intro. In general, most observations are attributed to your narrator. So unless you’re writing in third person omniscient (and you really shouldn’t), you don’t need to tell the reader the thoughts belong to the character, you can show them by the way you say it or by using italics. Either way, you take out the clunky he thought that slows down the story.

She thought it would take an elephant to move that box.

It would take an elephant to move that box.

The door opened and she thought she saw the woman from the night before sitting at the bar.

The door opened. The woman from the night before sat at the bar.

Walked. Sure it’s fine. We all walk, but how boring is that when a character can strut, stumble, amble, or stroll? Don’t miss an opportunity to say so much with just one word. You cheat yourself when your characters simply walk.

Geraldine walked up the sidewalk.

Geraldine marched up the sidewalk.

Kind of or Sort of. Once again, make a decision. Either it is or it isn’t. I’ve been guilty of using both these phrases, but when I’ve done it, it’s because that’s the way the character speaks. If you aren’t writing as a teenager or timid person than cut them out.

Then. Okay, maybe there’s a time and place for then, but it’s intrinsically weak. It sounds weak. It sounds like a second grader writing their first essay. The cat ran in, then the dog did. Then the mouse did. Then I did….You can do better. You can write better.

None of these nine words/phrases are inherently evil, but if your writing is littered with them, you may want to take a closer look. Weak words water down your writing. They make your prose vague and wishy-washy.  Mealy-mouthed, even. And you wouldn’t want to be mealy-mouthed now would you?

Then people might think that your stuff seems kind of amateur, and that sort of thing can make you feel like walking away from it all.

Hey, thanks for reading. I know you’ve got lots of options, so thanks for sharing a few of your minutes with me.

Honored,

Cara

If you’d like to know more about me, my books, and where you might run into me, check out my website, CaraWrites.com.

If you’d like to subscribe to my (sometimes) monthly e-newsletter, click here.

If you’re a dog lover, check out my other blog, Another Good Dog.

I’d love to connect with you on Facebook, twitter, or Instagram, and I’m thrilled to get email from readers (and writers), you can reach me at carasueachterberg@gmail.com.

COMING AUGUST 2018 FROM Pegasus Books (available for preorder now:

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Just Found My Suspenders

I am hard at work on yet another re-write of a manuscript that I have been working on now for almost eight years.

Enough already.

You would think, wouldn’t you?

And yet I can’t give up.

When my agent tossed the latest re-write back at me insisting it needed yet another overhaul, I was crushed. Continue reading “Just Found My Suspenders”

It’s Not Snake Oil, Really!

Promoting your writing can sometimes feel like you’re waving a flag in a crowd of deaf and blind people with better things to do.

crowded street

Really.

It feels like that.

It also feels like the physics homework I had back in eleventh grade where I regurgitated all the stuff the teacher told me but I never understood.

physics problem

I’m doing all the things I’m supposed to do and ever hopeful that this will bring about the desired result. And yet, Continue reading “It’s Not Snake Oil, Really!”

Blog On, My Friends, Blog On

I can while away entire mornings reading and commenting on other people’s blogs.

And when I consider the number of bloggers out there blogging away, it baffles my mind.

Some of them post every day, a few more than once a day.

I’m tempted to think that these are people who have too much time on their hands,

wasting time

but then I realized Continue reading “Blog On, My Friends, Blog On”

I’m kinda sick of me.

I’ve been working on my latest author newsletter. It’s two months late. (My last one went out in February.)

Here’s what the people-that-know say, “If you want to be a successful author you need to build an email list and communicate with them regularly.”

success

I get that – personal contact and all. Makes complete sense.

Until I sit down to write the newsletter and then I just feel silly.

It’s all Continue reading “I’m kinda sick of me.”

I Don’t Suck

On Wednesday I attended a local author event. I’d been invited to come speak and sell/sign books.

It was just me.

As in, the organizer wasn’t there, and the audience had better things to do.

I sat alone in the room for twenty minutes and then I went home and had a glass of wine with my husband and thought, “Maybe I suck.”

I’ve thought about it, and I’m pretty sure Continue reading “I Don’t Suck”