From the blog
There are some words and sentence constructions that are fine to use occasionally, but become problematic when they are overused. They fall into five main categories:
1) Too Wishy-Washy
Words like “could”, “might” and “maybe” are indefinite in their meaning. “I could bring a salad to dinner” feels hesitant and unsure, whereas “I will bring a salad to dinner” feels resolute. If your writing is peppered with these non-specific words, it will feel unconvincing. Try to limit your use of these undefined words to times when they are really necessary and replace them with definite words when you are able.Read More »
Pacing refers to the speed at which a story is told and how quickly the reader is moved through events. Good writing contains faster-paced sections, such as dialogue and character action, as well as slower-paced sections, such as introspection and backstory.
A book that is entirely composed of car chases without taking the time to make you care about the character being chased just won’t be effective at bringing readers into the story. Likewise, a story that has four chapters in a row dedicated to your main character’s Zen contemplation may need a bit of action to keep readers interested. Differently paced sections should complement each other, allowing the reader to move with you through the narrative.Read More »
Repeating a word or phrase happens to the best of us, especially if you’re writing an article and using a specific vocabulary for your topic. You won’t even notice you’ve used the same word several times in the span of one paragraph because it’s foremost in your mind. But those repeats can set off an echo in the reader’s mind – that subconscious feeling of “Didn’t he just say that?” It can be irritating to read and, worse, it can detract from what you are trying to say. The more uncommon a word or phrase, the more likely it is to echo, even pages apart.Read More »
Varied sentence length is an important feature of good writing. To maintain your readers’ interest, use a variety of sentence lengths: some short and punchy, others long and ﬂowing.
The late Gary Provost illustrated it best. Click through to see how.Read More »
A sticky sentence is one that is full of glue words.
Glue words are the empty space that readers need to get through before they can get to your ideas. Generally, your sentences should contain less than 45% glue words. If they contain more, they should probably be re-written to increase clarity.Read More »
Passive voice occurs when you take the object of your sentence—the part that the action happens to—and make it the subject of your sentence.
Here are some examples:
Passive: The flag was raised by the troops.
Active: The troops raised the flag.
One thing that ProWritingAid is great at pointing out is the variety of sentence lengths you use in your writing. You know that varying the lengths creates a more lyrical bend to your writing. You don’t want all short sentences. Nor do you want all long sentences that complicate your reader’s understanding.
Simple, compound, and complex sentences are all ways of varying the length. Let’s see how they work.Read More »
Welcome to the ProWritingAid Grammar School. Grammar School posts will take technical writing terms, rules and concepts and make them simple and understandable. Expand your knowledge and make your writing stronger.
If you have a question that you would like answered by our Grammar School pros, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.Read More »
Plot is what happens to your main character (MC). Things happen and your MC has to deal with or resolve these issues: they receive a mysterious message, they come home to find their spouse in bed with someone else, their house burns down, etc. One thing happens, then another, then another, and each event leads your character further along your narrative arc toward the climax.
Plot is what gives us action. The narrative arc, working in tandem with the character arc, gives us the reaction.Read More »
The standard definition of a character arc is how your main character changes over the course of your story.
The most common form of character arc is the Hero’s Journey. An ordinary person receives a call to adventure and, at first, he or she refuses that call. There’s usually a mentor who helps the hero accept or learn how to attempt the adventure. Think of Yoda in Star Wars. But there’s more out there than just the good guy or gal who’s transformed by the end of the story. Not all characters undergo some major transformation. In some cases, they will grow, but not transform.Read More »
You’ve heard it before, most likely from a teacher, an editor, or your agent. But Anton Chekhov said it most eloquently:
Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.
It may seem apparent when Chekhov says it, but sometimes it’s hard to put that advice into practice. There are times when your reader needs to be “told” because brevity is called for. On the other hand, no one wants to read your brain dump on every little matter.Read More »
Our good friends over at Standoutbooks love helping writers succeed as much as we do and they've put together a publishing package giveaway worth $5222. To be in with a chance of winning, all you have to do is answer a simple question before May 1, 2016.Read More »
Many of you are probably familiar with the panic or dread that can accompany the act of having an essay topic dropped in front of you on your desk. Nothing’s been written, nothing’s even been thought of; all you have in front of you is a topic, a blank page, and the instructions to “write.” As a former high school English teacher, I’m convinced the anxiety of not knowing what to write is the reason why so many of my students wait until the last possible minute to write an essay. Under pressure, you have no choice but to get started. But by then, it’s too late to write the best essay you could.
The solution is to start as soon as possible. Check out this 5 step prep process that you can apply to any essay you write.Read More »
This practical guide contains 20 important writing tips and techniques from a wide range of professional writers. Some focus on the minutia of specific word selection; others focus on the more complex ideas like finding the right metaphor, policing your work for Purple Prose, or figuring out when it’s time to send it off to potential publishers.Read More »
Most forms of English instruction emphasise rules and memorisation; however, I recommend a more instinctual method of mastery. Rather than mapping out sentences or memorising confusing and often inconsistent rules, you can improve your communication skills by simply tapping into the logic of rhythm and structure.
Let’s take a look at five ways you can start tuning your ear:Read More »
When you paint a picture with your character’s actions instead of using an “ly” adverb to try to set the mood, you give your reader a much deeper understanding and pull him or her closer into the drama.
It all comes down to “He said, She said” eventually. Professional editors and authors agree that you want your dialogue tags to be invisible to the reader so that it doesn’t slow him or her down or bring notice to the writing itself.Read More »
Sometimes verbs get confusing, so here’s a little trick to help you figure out participles:
Participles, both past and present, are verb forms that can be used as an adjective or a noun.
Take a common verb like jump. It can be used as a noun as in:
- Jumping over the hedgerows is exhausting.
Infinitives are verbs preceded by the word “to” that function as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs in a sentence. An infinitive does not function as a verb. This means you can never add s, es, ed, or ing to the end.Read More »
We want our blog to be your first stop for any questions you have about writing. Our goal is to take complicated technical elements of writing and make them clear and easy to understand. We need your help coming up with topics. What have you always wondered? What do you find that people are always misunderstanding or getting wrong?Read More »
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