There are many young creative writers in Nigeria today. Most of these young writers churn out story after story, posting them on their social media pages or one of the many blogs floating around in cyberspace. The upshot of this is that a Nigerian creative writer who wants his work to stand out has to write exceptionally.
It is not enough to post micro fiction on social media and get likes and comments from friends and family. You should write well enough that strangers like your work too, maybe even enough to pay for it. Moreover, with writing, as with other creative crafts, talent can only take you so far, before skill has to step in. Even if you are just an amateur writer who writes to express yourself, even if you do not intend to turn writing into your cash cow, even if writing is just a hobby, not even a side gig, there is a satisfaction to be gotten from doing things well. Today on Kurating, we will share our favourite practical tips for skilful, creative writing.
1. Do not be afraid to mix dialogue and action.
Don’t make your writing repetitive by using the word ‘said’ in your said tag at the end of every sentence of dialogue, and don’t use synonyms for ‘said’ either, they are no better.
“I am talking now”, she said.
“But I cannot hear you”, he roared.
“You know that is how my voice is”, she stated. Said, stated, roared. See how boring and repetitive that was?
“Is this better?” she asked, leaning forward in her seat.
He nodded his head, “I wondered if I was going deaf”.
‘Said’ tags should always be in small caps. Once you have established who’s speaking, you do not have to use the said tag every time. In dialogue, it soon becomes evident which character is speaking at any one time, so there’s no need to tell the reader.
2. The three-act structure is the principle at the heart of storytelling.
You get your protagonist into trouble; then the trouble gets worse, then it gets resolved. Three parts.
Note that this structure does not demand a happy ending. Your character’s trouble could be resolved in an unpleasant a manner as you like; what this structure requires is plot progression followed by resolution, as well as tying you into a storyline that, at heart, can be summarised in a couple of sentences. Which event constitutes putting the character in trouble? Are you just letting him hang around there, or are you keeping the tension going by making the trouble worse? Do you just leave him sweating there, or have you been sure to resolve his troubles?
3. In real life, you get to know the people you meet gradually, so think of introducing your characters in the same way.
No character, not even the lead character, benefits from a huge introduction on page one. It will leave your readers’ heads whirling, and they will forget most of the details. It is best to resist the temptation to open like a Biblical book with a multi-chapter genealogy and family history of all of your characters, and similarly to resist the temptation to come to a logical ending to your story and then end it three more times. However, if you cannot resist that temptation in your first draft, get it all out of your system and then simply delete those sections from draft two onwards.
4. Try not to be too wordy.
Question every adverb and adjective. Do they enhance the sentence? Are you using complicated words when simple ones will do? Do you have a favourite word or phrase you repeat over and over again? Keep an eye on words you overuse, particularly if they are as weak as ‘very’, and delete them whenever they appear. Try not to overuse certain words. Your editor will help point these out.
5. Edit critically. It is a very rare writer who gets everything right the first time.
There are arguments to be had about when editing is appropriate. Should you write a first draft in full before you go back to tweak anything, or should you edit as you go along? This will depend on temperament and ability to cope with imperfections. What is crucial is that by the time you are ready to submit anything for publication, you must have written and rewritten it severally.
6. Write what you would like to read.
Write what interests you. If you cannot find the book you want to read, there is a solution. This is good advice for writers of fiction and nonfiction alike. If you are fed up with whatever the prevailing literary trend is, you can be the change you wish to see in the world. Aside from anything else, filling a gap in the market makes excellent business sense.
7. Watch out for subtle wordiness.
It takes constant vigilance to catch these wordy culprits that go beyond mere redundancy into pleonasm.
Pleonasm is the use of words unnecessary for clear expression. Here are some common offenders to watch for:
- Advanced warning
- Circulated around
- Close proximity
- Close scrutiny
- Constant nagging
- Downward descent
- Exact replica
- New discovery
- Top priority
Only use ‘started to’ or ‘began to’ if the action which follows is not going to reach its natural conclusion.
8. Don’t use a complicated word where a simple word will do.
James V. Smith, Jr., author of The Writer’s Little Helper says- “In 10 novels I studied, I found bestselling novelists consistently use shorter words than non-bestsellers. It is one of the reasons their writing reads at a faster pace. The samples from the bestsellers I studied averaged 4.21 characters a word. Other samples I analysed for comparison averaged about a full character more.”
9. Write more by setting a smaller daily goal.
Write every day so it becomes a habit. When not writing, read. Read from others better than you. Read and perceive.
10. Are you going to write in UK or American English?
Decide on one and be consistent
11. Are you going to write in past or present tense?
Pick one and be consistent.
12. If you are writing in the first person, beware of suddenly switching to the second person.
For example: “I was working in my shop, and it was really busy. You couldn’t stop for a second or the customers would complain that you were too slow”. It is a tad confusing.
13. We know you have heard this before, but it bears repeating. Show, don’t tell.
Don’t tell us the sun is hot, show us the sweaty bodies and the squinting eyes. Let your writing paint a picture that your readers lose themselves in. Don’t go insulting your readers by pushing every little detail in your readers’ faces, give them clues, like the way your character lingers at his cubicle on the way to hers, the way she ducks her head when speaking to him, fidgeting with any item close at hand. Don’t tell them she is falling for him. Let them figure it out for themselves.
There you have it, our favourite tips for creative writers. Do you have any you think we failed to mention? Please, enlighten us with your comments.