Book Review: The Influential Author

cover-review-the influential authorTitle: The Influential Author: How and Why to Write, Publish, and Sell Nonfiction Books that Matter

Author: Gregory V. Diehl

Genre: Non-Fiction, Writing, Self-Help

Rating: 1 Star

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Description/Synopsis:

Do you have something important to say? Are your knowledge and experience unique, valuable, and in demand? Do you want to write a book that changes the way people think and live?

By combining his experience as an educator and entrepreneur, author Gregory V. Diehl teaches passionate thinkers how to turn unique messages into profitable books—without sacrificing royalties or creative control to a publisher.

With in-depth advice about all stages of book creation, publication, and marketing, The Influential Author takes a uniquely grounded and intellectual approach to nonfiction self-publishing. Unlike self-publishing guides that promise to teach you how to write a bestselling book quickly and easily, Diehl’s book actually walks you through the complex details of planning, writing, editing, and promoting your work at the standards of traditional publishing.

Whether you are an experienced writer or have just started thinking about how to write a nonfiction book, The Influential Author will teach you about:

• Combining your passions and experience with reader demand to decide what book to write.
• Organizing your knowledge into sections and chapters for maximum comprehension and flow.
• Refining your book with feedback from editors, proofreaders, beta readers, and market testing.
• Choosing a title, subtitle, description, and cover design that capture your message and create sales.
• Pricing and promoting each format of your book (digital, print, and audio) for maximum readership and revenue.
• Enjoying lifelong passive income, influence, and meaning from your book’s success.

Publishing a book could be one of the most important things you ever do. Read The Influential Author to begin your path to writing nonfiction books that matter.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

It took me a long time to decide how I was going to rate and review The Influential Author by Gregory Diehl. On the one hand, there are some tips and advice held within this book that are solid… but that’s about all I can say about the book that’s positive. This book missed its mark. 90% of the book is not useful information – it’s self-aggrandizing philosophizing and “fluff”. The book is incredibly dense, dry, and hard to get through. I started skimming very early on because I got tired of wading through the thesaurus of words being spewed out to get to a useful piece of advice. It completely missed the mark of what a self-help book is meant to be…something easy to read through and grasp for its audience – something attention-grabbing.

There was nothing in this book that made me want to keep reading. I was bored. I skimmed. I didn’t learn anything that wasn’t the bare basics of writing – and what the author tried to teach his readers about writing influential non-fiction –the entire namesake of the book itself – was lost, because he didn’t apply the very basics of writing to your audience to his own work. Who is meant to read this? Your everyday person who scraped by learning the very basics in high school? That’s all the information is useful for, and they aren’t going to make it through the incredibly dense text. So, I gave this 1 star – because I stopped reading. If you’re looking for a good book on writing, there are better more accessible ones out there.

Book Review: Outlining Your Novel

review-cover-outlining your novelTitle: Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success

Author: K.M. Weiland

Genre: Non-Fiction, Writing & Publishing, How-To

Rating: 3 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

Writers often look upon outlines with fear and trembling. But when properly understood and correctly wielded, the outline is one of the most powerful weapons in a writer’s arsenal. Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success will help you choose the right type of outline for you, guide you in brainstorming plot ideas, aid you in discovering your characters, show you how to structure your scenes, explain how to format your finished outline, instruct you in how to use your outline when writing the first draft, reveal the benefits of outlining, and dispel the misconceptions.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

I have to be honest… this book wasn’t what I expected it to be. Based on the description, I went into this book thinking this was going to help me outline, figure out how to fill in said outline, structure my scenes and plot, etc.—but that isn’t exactly what this book is. 90% of this book was a switch between author interviews where basically every author had the same response (which is fine, they all talked about outlining and why it was useful), and the actual author of the book encouraging the reader to outline. That’s fine… but you aren’t really going to pick up this book unless you’re already planning to outline… so why are you trying so hard to convince the reader that outlining is the way to go?

I expected the book to be more helpful, to help me fill out an outline and spark questions about where to go next in my outline. I was hoping for page after page of outlining advice on how to actually figure out an outline and turn it into a workable story… but there was very little of that in this. Don’t get me wrong—it was in there… sort of, but it felt more like the book was one big advertisement pushing the reader to try outlining and feel really good about that decision… and like I said, no one’s going to pick up this book if they aren’t already going to be outlining.

In the end it felt like the small percentage of the book that was actually useful was so small that it could have easily been a single blog post. The rest was just filler to bolster pages and make the reader feel good about their decision to outline… rather than being of any actual help. I gave this book three stars because it was fine. I learned a few small tidbits that will be helpful, but I also feel like I wasted my money on something I could have just Googled, and probably would have gotten more out of in the process. I’m a bit disappointed.

Inkitt Publishing–Novel Writing Contest!

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Banner1Hey guys! Just a quick note! I’ve just heard from Inkitt Publishing that they’re running a new, FREE writing contest where the winner will win a publishing deal!

Entries must be a fiction work of at least 20k words, and the author can’t have previous works already on Inkitt. Entry must be in English, no Fanfiction, no short-story collections. All genres welcome.

I’ve had some interactions with Inkitt in the past, and I’ve got nothing but nice things to say about them. Everyone I’ve talked to from Inkitt has been so welcoming and genuinely lovely to talk to. They’ve gone out of their way to thank their reviewers (they even sent me a bag of Skittles in the mail on a whim!) So I encourage you to check them out.

I know a lot of budding authors pass by my blog, so if you’re interested, check it out by clicking the banner to the left!

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Book Review: Story Prompts That Work

review-cover-story prompts that workTitle: Story Prompts That Work

Author: Carly Berg

Genre: Non-Fiction, Writing

Rating: 4 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

There’s nothing like a well-crafted, guided story starter to put a stop to that dreaded empty computer screen!

Story Prompts That Work includes enough detailed prompts to write a story a week for an entire year (and then go back and use the prompts again the next year). Each prompt has enough options and examples that they’ll work well for just about anyone.

Carly Berg is a freelance writer who’s also been both an editor and a teacher, so she’s got you covered on this one.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

Though this wasn’t my usual read, I love getting books on writing, and I love reviewing them just as much… because it’s always easy to tell if the author has written something genuinely helpful, or if they’ve jumped on the bandwagon of regurgitating information for profit. This, I’m pleased to report, was the real deal.

The prompts were diverse and offered up a variety of ideas and suggestions for multiple lengths and genres of writing. Though I’d like to point out, the author did tend to lean more readily towards odd, even humorous flash fiction. There were enough prompts, I felt, to provide multiple ideas for just about any author, often with examples of story starters.

The book was well edited, clean, and casual in tone, and I found it an easy read. For those looking for story prompts or ideas without being handed specific, hand-crafted topics, I’d definitely suggest this book as a place to start. The prompts are written in such a way as to make you think and imagine your own stories, often giving inspiration or advice on ways to think up your own topics. I found it very useful.

Book Review: Ideas & Inspiration for Fantasy & Science Fiction Writers

review-cover-ideas and inspirationsTitle: Ideas and Inspiration for Fantasy and Science Fiction Writers

Author: James Hutchings

Genre: Non-Fiction, Inspiration, Writing

Rating: 1 Star (DNF)

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Description/Synopsis:

If you want to spark new ideas for worlds, plots or characters, you want Ideas and Inspiration for Fantasy and Science Fiction Writers. Medicinal corpses, the jargons of thieves and carnies, Nazi UFOs, the colonization of space and green children from nowhere are only a few of the topics covered. This sourcebook is for all writers of fantasy or science fiction–whether novels, short stories, games, or any other form of storytelling.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

No. Just no. This book was a DNF for me after the very first page—though to be fair, I did read through 68% of the book before I settled down on a solid DNF rating. Rather than Ideas and Inspirations for Fantasy and Science Fiction Writers, this book would have been better-titled Facts and Folklore, because that’s basically what this book was.

I was perhaps mistakenly under the impression that this book would be filled with inspirational writing advice, writing prompts, writing advice, or at the very least, a list of Science Fiction and Fantasy ideas… but that isn’t what I got. The book was basically a list of random facts and bits and pieces of folklore. gathered en-masse and regurgitated. There was no sense of the author’s individual voice, nor introduction to the various bits of information. It felt as if the author had spent some time roaming around Wikipedia researching and then copy and pasted that research into this book as–is, and called it done. As a writing resource for authors looking for some kind of inspiration for writing… it’s rather subpar.

At one point, I skimmed past a 20-page essay of sorts on a historical event. I was half convinced that this book was a scam at first, but I think it was honestly just poorly put together. I can’t in good conscience recommend any aspiring authors out there pick this up as a source of inspiration. It isn’t going to be helpful to you.

Book Review: The Busy Woman’s Guide to Writing and Finishing a Novel

review-cover-woman'sguidetowritingandfinishinganovelTitle: The Busy Woman’s Guide to Writing and Finishing a Novel: Stop Procrastinating and Get It Done

Author: Anita Evensen

Genre: Non-Fiction, How-To, Writing, Time Management

Rating: 4 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

Do you want to write a book? What is keeping you from getting it done? Whether you’re busy at work, with the kids, or doing household chores, there is still enough time to write.

“The Busy Woman’s Guide to Writing and Finishing a Novel” provides you with many different suggestions. It includes real-life strategies you can implement to stop procrastinating and get that novel done.

WHY SHOULD YOU READ THIS BOOK?

Learn how to reduce the time you spend doing household chores
Find time to write even with a baby or preschooler at home
Get that novel written despite of your busy job
Try any of the 24 strategies to keep you writing
Adhere to the one tip that will change your life

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

This book would have been more aptly named: The Busy Mother’s Guide to Writing and Finishing a Novel. For what it was, the book was pretty on-point. There were tons of useful tips, motivational speeches, and advice valuable to any writer—not just women. The book was written in a very conversationalist tone—though at times it did come across as almost a little preachy. You could definitely tell the author’s views on specific subjects, and while it wasn’t too obtrusive, in the back of my head I cringed a little.

The thing that did stick out for me overall was that this book wasn’t geared so much towards women, as it was mothers specifically. There were entire chapters, and multiple references to writing while also taking care of children—and while that isn’t bad… I mean this is a book geared towards women… at the same time, I felt a little off-put by it. It felt as if the book lacked an impartial author, and even though I have a child of my own, I felt the need to skip the sections that pertained to mothering. I don’t need someone to tell me how to effectively mother. That isn’t why I picked up this book. Not every woman has children, and the amount of time spent on writing vs mothering seemed disproportionate.

That aside, the book was great. It was helpful, I felt motivated to write afterwards, and really, what more could I ask for out of a guide all about stopping procrastination?

10 Surprising Facts About Romance Novels | Laurie Kahn

1. Romance fiction is a billion-dollar industry

Romance novel sales total more than a billion dollars a year. They sell as much as sci-fi, mystery, and fantasy combined.

2. The romance readership is HUGE and global

More than 70 million people in the USA alone read at least one romance novel per year, and most of them read many more. The work of popular American romance writer Nora Roberts is translated into 33 languages and distributed on 6 continents.

3. There is a surprisingly wide range of romance novels

Like romance blogger Sarah Wendell says, “Whatever your cup of tea is, someone’s pouring it.”

Romance novels are often equated with “bodice-rippers,” but the steamy historicals with Fabio on the cover were published back in the 1970s and 1980s. Since that time, the spectrum of romance novels has exploded. On one end of that spectrum, there are chaste evangelical romances. On the other end, there are BDSM romances (yes, like that one).

via 10 Surprising Facts About Romance Novels | Laurie Kahn. <- Click the link to read the whole article.

A Character Portrait: Safiya

A Character Portrait: A brief peek into the lives of the characters of my fantasy novel, “Khet”, and what makes my characters tick.


Safiya

It may seem a bit counter productive to first do a character portrait article of my main male lead, Leander, and then move on to a relatively minor character, Safiya, but Safiya’s story is one that needs to be told.

When “Khet” is finished and published and posted all over the internet, I have no doubt in my mind that Safiya will be one of the most hated characters in my series. After all, she’s the first villain Khet encounters in my novel.

Safiya is one of Khet’s older sisters—in fact, she’s the closest in age to Khet—a mere 5 years older. It may seem odd that Khet’s older sister is a Villain in my story… until one takes a closer look at Safiya’s life. More than anything, Safiya is a tragic character. She was only five when she witnessed the birth of her younger sister, Khet—only five when she learned that Khet wasn’t like the rest of her family… only five when she witnessed her mother’s betrayal. Unlike so many of Khet’s rather large family, Safiya was present when her mother betrayed their father with a Felnatherin lord—and from that moment forward she both hated her mother, and more so, Khet.

From the moment Khet is born, their lives become a waiting game—waiting to be found out and killed by the Felnatherin who actively hunt down half-breeds. Safiya and her siblings are forced to lie to everyone they know and pretend that Khet is blind so that she will never have to reveal her eye color. Because of her false handicap, Safiya spends her early life babysitting Khet, keeping her out of trouble, leading her around, doing chores for her, and all the while keeping her secret. Most of these are minor irritations to Safiya. The real kicker comes when Safiya is 16 and finally old enough to pass through the village’s maturation ritual.

For one day, the young men and women of the villages surrounding the valley come together to become adults in the eyes of their people. They test their bravery, strength, and agility… and at the end of the ceremony, they pair off with the boy or girl they have chosen to bind themselves to for life. Unfortunately, not all goes as planned for Safiya.

At the end of her first ceremony, she is rejected. In the eyes of the valley people, her family is tainted. Already two members have been blind (Khet and her half-breed grandmother Sana), and so Safiya is passed over. For another five years, she is considered a child, and in those five years, Safiya’s resentment of her younger sister festers.

The tragedy of Safiya is that all she’s ever wanted in life was to start a family of her own. She loves children. For five years, she bides her time, and when Khet finally turns 16, she gets her last shot. Her people are only allowed to go through the maturation ceremony twice… if she hasn’t gained a husband by the end of it, then she never will. She will ultimately remain a child in the eyes of her people for the rest of her life. Unfortunately for Safiya, the life she wants just isn’t to be.

During the second ceremony, Safiya is chosen for a bride—the crowning moment for the hopeful girl. For a few short moments, she is relieved and ecstatic. She’ll finally be able to leave her family, and Khet behind—but her joy doesn’t last long.

Khet is discovered by Leander, and it comes to light that Khet’s family have been harboring a half-breed Felnatherin. Safiya’s hope and life are stripped away. Her family are destined to become attendants to Leander and will never be permitted to marry or have children—a ruling put in place to prevent further half-breeds from being born. Safiya is understandably, devastated. One moment she is set to become married and start her new life, the next, she becomes a slave to a Felnatherin lord, and her sister, Khet, is promoted to pretending to be a Felnatherin lady. Safiya, as you can imagine, is livid.

From this point on, Safiya’s life becomes one tainted with tragedy, madness, and murder. Unable to deal with the hand she’s been dealt in life, Safiya drowns her youngest sibling and attempts to do the same to another. In her mind, ending the children’s lives will save them from the tragedy of living a life like hers. She believes that she is being kind, rescuing them from a life spent in servitude. That isn’t how everyone sees it.

As punishment, Safiya’s face is mutilated, she is imprisoned, and she is kept captive for the remainder of her life. Every second she spends from that night forward she spends devising ways to make Khet’s life a living hell.

From the reader’s, and most of the character’s POVs, Safiya is a villain. She’s the selfish, mad sister who tries to murder her own family, and hates Khet for no reason other than she was born… but that isn’t how she appears to Khet, and that isn’t how she appears to me either. Like Khet, I see Safiya for what she is: a tragedy.

Khet is well aware that her existence has robbed Safiya of the life she’s always wanted. Like no other character in the book, Khet sympathizes with her older sister… to a point. Everything Safiya wants in life is taken away by her younger sister and the betrayal of their family perpetrated by their mother. Her life is a never-ending chain of misfortune and there comes a point when Safiya simply can no longer tolerate her own pain.

On the night that Safiya attempts to murder her younger siblings, Khet looks in Leander’s eyes and pleads for Safiya’s life to be spared. It may be one of the most telling moments of Safiya’s short life. As much as Safiya hates Khet, Khet in turn loves her. Khet is the only character in the book who truly sees Safiya for who she is and accepts her despite her flaws.

I can’t hate Safiya. Despite being cast as a villain in my story, she’s one of my favorite characters. I know readers are going to loathe her—I set it up that way… but I can’t help but hold a soft spot in my heart for this tragic character. Most readers will miss the parts of Safiya that make her such an exceptional character. Because Khet’s story is told from various POV’s, most of which hate Safiya, the reader’s view of her will be tainted in a way that can’t be avoided, and perhaps, that is the larger tragedy… for even outside of her fictional universe, Safiya will forever stand in the shadow of her younger sister.

Other Tidbits

Safiya’s name is Arabic and means “Pure”–which is strangely fitting considering in my novel, Safiya is the one character who strongly wants to get married and have children, and is unable to. She remains a virgin throughout her life and had Khet never been born, would have been an outstanding person overall. She has a big heart and a genuine love of children. Sadly, this version of Safiya doesn’t last.

During the course of “Khet”, we see Safiya grow up between the ages of 5 to 21 in the first book of the series. She is 1/8th Felnatherin.

Writer’s Tip: Writing Effective Sentences

writing-1024x692Sentences—if the plot is the backbone of a story, then sentences are the muscles and tendons keeping it glued together. Unfortunately, writing solid sentences isn’t easy for everyone. As Human beings, we don’t speak the same way we write. Unless you do a lot of writing, you may have trouble putting together even the simplest of sentences. The last time you took a good look at a sentence and broke it down into it’s individual parts was probably around 3rd grade. Don’t worry—I’m here to help.

There’s More Than One Type of Sentence

There are (roughly) four different types of sentences, and we’re going to get into each of the different types (with examples!).

Simple Sentences – This is a sentence in it’s truest form. A simple sentence is the statement of a single idea in a direct, clear way. Most simple sentences contain less than 20 words, but it is best if you keep your word count average below 12 WPS (words per sentence). Longer sentences are possible, but the longer the sentence is, the harder it is to follow. Example: My coffee cup is blue.

Complex SentencesA complex sentence is a simple sentence with one or two dependent clauses added on to expand or clarify what is being said. The first half of the complex sentence is actually a simple sentence in disguise, where the second half of the sentence is the dependent clause. Complex sentences are still limited to a single idea. Be careful of these—it’s easy to go overboard and add in redundancies and needless explanations that will weaken your writing. Try not to exceed 20 words. Example: My coffee cup is blue, which is also my favorite color.

Compound Sentences – Compound sentences are sentences made out of more than one idea that could otherwise have been separate simple sentences.  Try not to let compound sentences exceed 25 words. Example: My coffee cup is blue, and my desk is black.

Convoluted Sentences – Convoluted sentences are sentences that ramble on far longer than they need to. They often consist of several simple sentences connected with excessive explanation and asides. For the most part, you want to avoid these at all costs. Example: My coffee cup is blue, which is also my favorite color, and sits atop my desk, which  is black, right next to an empty can of Ginger Ale, which I’ve been drinking all day because my allergies make me nauseous.

Parts of Speech are the Building Blocks of Sentences

As the section title says: Parts of speech are the building blocks of sentences. Every sentence we construct can be broken down into smaller bits and pieces that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. We’re going to take a look at the different parts of speech and how they fit together to form a complete sentence.

Adjectives – These are words that describe nouns and pronouns. They tell us things like color, height, weight, number, etc.

Adverbs – These describe verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. They tell us when, where, how, and to what extent.

Conjunctions – These are connector words that show how different things are related. Some conjunctions are: And, But, Yet, And, Because.

Interjections – These are words that show strong emotion such as Oh, Wow, Hey, etc.

Nouns – These are the names of people, places, or things.

Prepositions – These link nouns or the pronouns following them to other words in sentences. Example: To, By, Over, In, and From.

Pronouns – These are words used in place of a noun (or other pronoun) such as: I, You, We, They.

Verbs – These are words that represent actions or states of being. Some examples are: Jump, Run, Swim, Hire, Fly, To Be.

Now, I could go on for ages about how the different parts of speech are constructed into phrases—of which there are 8 different types. I could explain things like participles, appositives, and gerunds… but I’m not going to. You don’t want to spend the next week sitting here having simple sentence construction explained to you (Maybe I’ll get into that someday, but certainly not now). Instead, we’re going to move on to something more useful (and far less confusing). The main point I had in bringing up the parts of speech is this: You should know what these are. I’m going to mention them throughout this article, and I don’t want you to be confused. Use it as a cheat-sheet if you must.

Get To The Point

When you write, you want to get to the point of your sentence quickly. The longer you meander around the point of a sentence, the harder it becomes to understand that sentence. We call these meandering sentences wordy. Not all high word-count sentences are wordy, but all wordy sentences have a high word count. Sentences become wordy when they contain too much padding; this padding can consist of an abundance of adjectives and adverbs, but can also be convoluted. We want to avoid this. Let me give you a few examples:

When you write, you generally want to get to the point of your sentence as quickly as possible because the longer your sentence is, the harder it becomes to understand the meaning behind that sentence.

Obviously, this is a pretty convoluted and wordy sentence. Let’s trim it down:

When you write, you want to get to the point quickly. The longer your sentence is, the harder it is to understand.

The second set of sentences are much more concise, and easier to follow.

Wordy, or convoluted sentences make your writing weak and slow down the pace. Shorter, simple sentences not only increase the pace of your writing, but are more engaging. When writing a novel, concise, clear writing is always preferred over wordy, convoluted writing. Here are some things to look out for:

  • Cut out the filler words. Words like: seem, generally, basically, simply, quite, kind of, really, very, etc. are junk words. They rarely add any meaning to your sentences, but do serve to slow the pace.
  • Make sure your sentences get to the point in the most direct manner possible. You can always pad a sentence later if the sentence seems too abrupt and messes with the flow of your writing.
  • Try to keep your sentences below 20 words long. Most sentences average 15 words in length. That doesn’t mean you can’t have longer sentences, but keep it in mind that the longer your sentence goes on, the harder it is to understand.
  • Use proper punctuation (We’ll get to that in another article) to help separate sentences into single ideas, or to join two ideas together. Don’t link more than two ideas together. Ever.
  • Keep 90% of your sentences Active and not Passive. (we’ll get into that below). Passive sentences have their place, but most of your sentences should be active.
  • Don’t use fragments.

Let’s explore a little more.

Fragments

You should know the difference between a complete sentence and a fragment, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t. Complete sentences should have: A Subject (Noun/Pronoun), a Predicate (Verb/Verb Phrase), and should express a complete thought. Example:

My coffee mug is blue.

I think cats are adorable.

A fragment, on the other hand, is an incomplete sentence (usually because a word has been left out):

Coffee mug is blue.

I think are adorable.

Go ahead and laugh, it seems absurd, but a lot of authors try to pass off these fragments off as real sentences. Don’t do it. Fragment sentences don’t make sense.

Vary Your Sentences

Your sentences shouldn’t all be one length. If they are, you writing will feel monotonous. Please don’t do it if you can avoid it. Please, I’m begging you.  See what I did there?

Seriously though,  You should vary your sentences not only in length, but also construction. It helps to keep the flow of your writing fluid and interesting, rather than monotonous and boring. This doesn’t take a whole lot of thought if you do this one thing:  read your writing out loud. Let me explain:

As a writer, you’ve probably read over your own work a multitude of times. Not only that, but because you wrote it, your brain has built itself the ability to fill in the gaps in your writing. You can misspell things, forget punctuation, even forget words, and you may not notice it. Your brain will skim over these gaps as if they didn’t exist and move on—because it knows what you intended. Reading your writing out loud bypasses this built in knowledge of intent. As you read out loud, your brain has to route the information not only through your eyes to your brain, but then from your brain to your mouth. It makes it easier to find mistakes and I highly recommend that you read all of your writing out loud whenever you can. If you’re a brave person, read it out loud while someone’s in the room—hilarity may ensue, but your audience may be able to point out even more mistakes.

Keep in mind: Sentence length, whether short or long, can be used as a tool to change not only the pace of your writing, but can help draw attention to important points. Shorter sentences drive up the tension in a paragraph, whereas longer sentences tend to mellow things out.

Passive vs. Active

Let’s start with some examples:

  • Slamming into every shoreline on Earth, the tsunami hit.
  • Most of the current population had been wiped out by the survivors or by the larger packs of dogs as they scuffled over territories.
  • I never knew when I’d be forced to hole up in the base for several days at a time, and it paid to be prepared.

These are passive sentences. Passive sentences follow a construction where the action is performed upon the subject.. Active sentences on the other hand, are the opposite. They follow a construction where the subject performs an action. Let’s make the above examples active.

  • The tsunami slammed into every shoreline on Earth.
  • Survivors and the larger packs of dogs scuffled over territory, and had wiped out most of the current population.
  • It paid to be prepared, and I often holed up in the base for several days at a time.

See the difference? Not only are passive sentences harder to follow, but they’re usually longer. Most of the time, it’s better to keep your writing active. This doesn’t mean, however, that passive sentences should never be used. Sometimes sentences have to be passive. They may sound better as passive, or sometimes you may want to use passive voice to help avoid placing blame. As long as you keep in mind that you should try to stay active as much as you can, and use passive as a tool—not a default setting—you should be okay.

Expletive Constructions and How They Make Your Sentences Flabby

Expletive Constructions are:

  • It is
  • It was
  • There is
  • There are
  • There were

…at the beginning of a sentence, before the subject. They are used to fill the hole left behind when an author tries to switch subject-verb word order. You don’t need them. Example:

  • It was then that I noticed the little bird.
  • I noticed the little bird.

Another example:

  • There were three children lined up in a row.
  • Three children stood in a row.

A little re-wording can help clear things up with minimal effort, and your writing will be stronger for it. The only purpose an expletive construction serves is to delay the point of your sentence.

Say Exactly What You Mean, Not The Next Best Thing

Another thing you can do to make sure your sentences are strong, is to make sure you pick the best words possible to convey what you mean—not the next best thing. Here’s some examples:

  • Green / Olive
  • Went / Drove
  • Walked / Paced
  • Looked / Stared

Words have slightly (and sometimes vastly) different meanings—a flavor if you will. Try to avoid bland words (such as went, walked, looked) and find words more specific to your meaning.

Now, for a bit of fun… let’s put this all into context

I’m throwing myself under the bus—yet again—for the sake of a writing tutorial/advice article. Below is a paragraph or two out of the first draft of one of my novels. Take a look, and then we’ll shred it… because all first drafts suck, and we need to see some edits in action.

I grit my teeth and lifted a foot to take a step forward. The raw flesh of my feet stuck to the floor as I lifted it, and blood smeared along the stone as I walked with slow steps towards the far side of the room, no longer attempting to hide the pain. I slid my feet along the floor in an uneven gait, holding my breath with each step.

Sweat trickled down the back of my neck, and I winced as I sat gingerly on the short rock-wall that enclosed the pool. My eyes stung with unshed tears as I lifted my legs over the rock wall, sinking them into the cool pool of water. The water turned black around my feet in the moonlight – clouded with blood and mud. It was freezing cold, but I welcomed the numbness. With trembling fingers I began to wash the grime from my body.

Note the redundancies, stiff sentence structure, and the unneeded word additions. Let’s clean it up:

I grit my teeth as I stepped forward; raw flesh sucked at the hard stone, smearing blood in my wake. I shuffled with an uneven gait, and drew in a pained breath with each burning slide forward.

Sweat trickled down the back of my neck, and I winced as I lowered myself onto the short rock-wall that enclosed the pool. With my siblings out of sight, I no longer had to act brave. I’d held it together for the last two days, and here—at last—there was no one left to witness my pain.

With a whimper, I lifted my legs over the rock-wall, relieved to sink them into the cool waters. The pool turned black around my feet, clouded with blood and dirt. I welcomed the numbness of the freezing water, and with trembling fingers, I began to wash the grime from my body. This nightmare wouldn’t be over until I was clean.

I snipped a little here, reworded things there… moved things around, and even added new bits in. It ended up being a little longer overall, but take note of the change in tension.

In Closing…

Though there’s a lot more than just this to writing well, and my opinion is by far not the only (nor most knowledgeable) opinion out there… I hope this article served to help clue you in on a few ways you can improve your writing and construct strong, clean sentences.