(by Roy Peter Clark)

Part One: Nuts and Bolts

Tool 1: Begin sentences with subjects and verbs. Make meaning early, then let weaker elements branch to the right.

Tool 2: Order words for emphasis. Place strong words at the beginning and at the end.

Tool 3: Activate your verbs. Strong verbs create action, save words, and reveal the players.

Tool 4: Be passive-aggressive. Use passive verbs to showcase the “victim” of action.

Tool 5: Watch those adverbs. Use them to change the meaning of the verb.

Tool 6: Take it easy on the -ings. Prefer the simple present or past.

Tool 7: Fear not the long sentence. Take the reader on a journey of language and meaning.

Tool 8: Establish a pattern, then give it a twist. Build parallel constructions, but cut across the grain.

Tool 9: Let punctuation control pace and space. Learn the rules, but realize you have more options than you think.

Tool 10: Cut big, then small. Prune the big limbs, then shake out the dead leaves.

Part Two: Special Effects

Tool 11: Prefer the simple over the technical. Use shorter words, sentences, and paragraphs at points of complexity.

Tool 12: Give key words their space. Do not repeat a distinctive word unless you intend a specific effect.

Tool 13: Play with words, even in serious stories. Choose words the average writer avoids but the average reader understands.

Tool 14: Get the name of the dog. Dig for the concrete and specific, details that appeal to the senses.

Tool 15: Pay attention to names. Interesting names attract the writer— and the reader.

Tool 16: Seek original images. Reject clichés and first-level creativity.

Tool 17: Riff on the creative language of others. Make word lists, free-associate, be surprised by language.

Tool 18: Set the pace with sentence length. Vary sentences to influence the reader's speed.

Tool 19: Vary the lengths of paragraphs. Go short or long— or make a turn— to match your intent.

Tool 20: Choose the number of elements with a purpose in mind. One, two, three, or four: each sends a secret message to the reader.

Tool 21: Know when to back off and when to show off. When the topic is most serious, understate; when least serious, exaggerate.

Tool 22: Climb up and down the ladder of abstraction. Learn when to show, when to tell, and when to do both.

Tool 23: Tune your voice. Read stories aloud.

Part Three: Blueprints

Tool 24: Work from a plan. Index the big parts of your work.

Tool 25: Learn the difference between reports and stories. Use one to render information, the other to render experience.

Tool 26: Use dialogue as a form of action. Dialogue advances narrative; quotes delay it.

Tool 27: Reveal traits of character. Show character-istics through scenes, details, and dialogue.

Tool 28: Put odd and interesting things next to each other. Help the reader learn from contrast.

Tool 29: Foreshadow dramatic events and powerful conclusions. Plant important clues early.

Tool 30: To generate suspense, use internal cliffhangers. To propel readers, make them wait.

Tool 31: Build your work around a key question. Stories need an engine, a question that the action answers for the reader.

Tool 32: Place gold coins along the path. Reward the reader with high points, especially in the middle.

Tool 33: Repeat, repeat, and repeat. Purposeful repetition links the parts.

Tool 34: Write from different cinematic angles. Turn your notebook into a camera.

Tool 35: Report and write for scenes. Then align them in a meaningful sequence.

Tool 36: Mix narrative modes. Combine story forms using the broken line.

Tool 37: In short works, don’t waste a syllable. Shape short writing with wit and polish.

Tool 38: Prefer archetypes to stereotypes. Use subtle symbols, not crashing cymbals.

Tool 39: Write toward an ending. Help readers close the circle of meaning.

Part Four: Useful Habits

Tool 40: Draft a mission statement for your work. To sharpen your learning, write about your writing.

Tool 41: Turn procrastination into rehearsal. Plan and write it first in your head.

Tool 42: Do your homework well in advance. Prepare yourself for the expected— and unexpected.

Tool 43: Read for both form and content. Examine the machinery beneath the text.

Tool 44: Save string. For big projects, save scraps others would toss.

Tool 45: Break long projects into parts. Then assemble the pieces into something whole.

Tool 46: Take an interest in all crafts that support your work. To do your best, help others do their best.

Tool 47: Recruit your own support group. Create a corps of helpers for feedback.

Tool 48: Limit self-criticism in early drafts. Turn it loose during revision.

Tool 49: Learn from your critics. Tolerate even unreasonable criticism.

Tool 50: Own the tools of your craft. Build a writing workbench to store your tools.

Tags: reading   writing  

Last modified 06 April 2022