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I’ve heard this question floating around again recently. It’s good to see most people know the answer now, but a mix of “long enough”, “depends on the scene you’re writing” and “depends on your style” is not really all-encompassing or detailed enough to really identify the deciding factor. That’s what I’m here for.

So what does sentence length achieve? In a word: pace. There are only two tools a writer has to manipulate pace, and they are sentence structure (of which length is a major part) and diction. I’ve done a post on both pace and diction before in my 5 Tips to Improve Your Fiction Writing.

Advocates of long, elaborate sentences are often misguided by the misconception that good writing requires sophisticated language, which in turn requires length and adjectives. These people often make an appeal to authority fallacy and bring up Hemmingway or Tolkien (I mention these two because I hear them brought up the most often). I want to point out two problems with using these authors as examples. First, language has evolved over time. We no longer use Elizabethan English, for example, so it would be inappropriate to write a story with such language. In general, older books will feature much more elaborate sentence structures. This is just a reflection of the language paradigm of their time. Second, Hemmingway and Tolkien actually do use short sentences to create impact and pace. They may not use it as often but if you go flick through one of their books and specifically look for them, you’ll find the sentences I’m talking about.

Thus, we are now at a position where we must agree that sentence length is used to control pace. There is no argument in this. How you use it and how often you use it is entirely up to your own style, but the bottom line is that your decision should be based on what sort of pace you’re trying to achieve in a particular scene.

So, I mentioned that comments like “long enough” weren’t specific enough (though true). What answer would I give? Everything I’ve said so far, but the crux of the argument is that short sentences create more impact and give an impression of action and pace. Further, you can enhance the sense of action and adrenaline by putting more emphasis on action words (verbs – things the characters are actually doing). On the other side of the spectrum, an emotional scene is less likely to have short, action sentences than a fight scene. It would focus less on action words and more on inner thoughts, and emotional tells. Introspective and emotional sentences would be more appropriate than short, sharp sentences. Just an afterword, remember to use all techniques with an even hand. Don’t go lathering on the short sentences. Or. You’ll. Be. Narrating. Like. This.

In short, the length of your sentences should be dependent on the scene you are writing. I’ve identified the two ends of the spectrum: short sentences for fight/action scenes and long sentences for emotional/slow scenes. I’ve also identified certain types of words you should (or should not) focus on, such as action words and introspective words (words relating to inner thoughts and emotions). Now it’s up to you guys to fill in the blanks and add your own flavour to it.

P.S. I debated adding examples to this post to show you but I didn’t feel like it in the end. There’s an example in my 5 Tips to Improve Your Fiction Writing. Otherwise, just read any good book and you should be able to identify what I’m saying.

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A friend of mine (Nav) requested that I write about this topic so I decided that I might as well. Anyone who’s tried before knows that I’m a very difficult person to argue with. As far as credentials go, no girl friend has ever won an argument with me (gasp!). I am a little hesitant about giving away some of my “secrets” but heck, I can always tell if someone tries to use these on me so I guess I don’t have that much to lose.

This is actually quite a deep and complex field. You’ve been warned: this will be a long read. But then again, could you take me seriously if I said the secret to an unbeatable argument was only 300 words?

I’m going to go through the gritty truth – not an idealised version of arguments where whoever’s being logical wins. Of course, logical fallacies will come into play, but not quite in the way you might expect. I tried to limit it to 9 tips but in reality it’s not so clear cut. Everything relates to everything else and it depends on the scenario of the argument too. So before we get to the 9 official tips, let’s take a look at some scenarios you’ll have arguments in. In general, I think there are three:

  1. Academic discourse: Including but not limited to debates organised by academic institutions. This can just be an online discussion about an intellectual topic.
  2. Argument with peers: This can also include online discussions, but also with colleagues (both from work or school). The difference here is that there is some sort of recognition here – you know them, though not necessarily well.
  3. Arguments with close friends: This scenario is the tender one because you have some sort of emotional attachment to the person. An extreme scenario of this category would be arguing with a partner. Otherwise it could just be arguments with friends (sometimes in good spirit and sometimes not).

What you need to understand is that you have to treat these three scenarios a bit differently. I won’t go into it too much but it should be common sense. For scenario 3, you should call it quits earlier than you would for scenario 1. At times it’s more important to avoid hurting someone you care about or creating long-lasting dissent than being correct. This might sound funny coming from me because I love being always right.

By contrast, in an academic discourse you can continue arguing a matter until you run out of proper evidence (or if there’s a time limit that expires).

With peers it really depends – you don’t want to offend your boss, for example, but most of the time you can probably push things a little farther (because you won’t know each other well enough to get personal). This is how I have so many religious friends even though I often argue about it – I just try not to take it too far.

My point here? Just be careful. With great knowledge comes great responsibility – don’t go ruining your relationships by being unarguable against.

Now to the main body: 9 Ways to Create an Unbeatable Argument. In reality, each technique is used in combination with others to create a statement/argument. Because of this it’s hard to list them one by one and give examples. After you’re done reading all 9 you can go back and check if you can identify each tip and emboldened word. Also, my apologies if you feel a religious context seeping in – the two things I argue about most are science and religion. This is simply because there are more debates about those two things than anything else that I’m interested in; I mean no offence. Also, for the sake of a control group, I assume all arguments have an objective third party (a two person argument is pointless, it can always just get stuck with both parties disagreeing). The only time a third party isn’t needed to judge the “winner” is when your goal is to convince your opponent (in which case success is determined by your opponent).

1. Call your opponent out on everything. And I mean everything. It takes a lot less effort to attack a position than it does to defend one. Why? Because a scientific/logical method is that you must provide proof of your position before you can formally consider it to be a position at all. A scientist can’t just come out and say “here’s my new theory”. He/she must provide a peer-reviewed academic publication with mathematical and empirical proof. This is where the difference between a hypothesis and a theory comes in: the hypothesis is the idea. After it is proven it becomes a theory. Incidentally, this is also why many science-orientated minds disapprove of the validity of religion. A scientist presents a theory by saying “here’s my proof” whereas a theist presents a theory and says “well, you can’t prove it’s wrong”. Although technically you can prove it’s wrong to a pretty good degree. Oops, I brought up religion already. Sorry guys, it was just for example’s sake.

Anyway, if you don’t get it by now, the gist of it is that if your opponent says something to support his/her argument, by calling it out they are forced to defend their position by providing proof. Proving something is a lot harder than asking someone to prove something. In a way, this can even be used as a red herring. Example time:

Opponent: “We know gravity exists and we know quantum mechanics works, so there must be a way to discover quantum gravity”.

You: “But how do you know gravity exists? It hasn’t ever been observed as either a wave or particle”.

The above is an intentionally ambiguous example. The existence of gravity has been questioned before. Don’t get me wrong, something with gravity-like effects definitely exists, it’s just our understanding of it that’s being questioned. However, this is a problem that has never been solved so by calling them out on it they’re forced to give evidence of gravity. If you put them on the defensive, they can’t continue their argument until they’re done defending. It takes me only two short sentences to call them out on something that most people would consider to be a solid fact, but I guarantee it will take my opponent more than two sentences to provide evidence of gravity.

But wait, there’s more. This is the number 1 tip because it incorporates the most into it. Calling them out on stuff goes beyond red herrings. If they legitimately say something wrong, you call them out on it too. Even if it appears obvious to an onlooker, call them out on it. Do it sarcastically, mockingly or offensively, just do it appropriately (don’t go insulting your boss) and do it with impact.

Opponent: “There is no scientific consensus that climate change is real”.

You: “No consensus? Maybe my opponent here should actually read some scientific publications before we continue this debate.”

Short and sweet. Call them out on it, it makes them look bad. If they use a logical fallacy, call them out on it. Name the fallacy (see: tip number 6), say they used it and mock them (appropriately) for it. Never leave anything unspoken. In one minute you can call someone out on at least 6 things (10 seconds each). That’s at least minus 6 points in the eyes of the onlooker.

2. Know your shit. Sounds bleedingly obvious but I have to stress it. I will not try and argue about something I don’t have enough relevant material for. I’ll argue with a layman about science but I won’t argue with Hawking about black holes. I’ll argue with Christians using their own religion but against any other religion, I’ll argue using only logic and science. The more you know, the harder it is for you to appear wrong. Note, I say appear wrong. I’ve been in plenty of arguments where I realised half way that I was wrong but I always manage to salvage the arguments using tips 3, 4 and 7. A good opponent will call you out on anything wrong you say, so keep tip 4 in mind.

It’s also good to have an understanding of the more common arguments that are used (for example, absolute morality is almost always mentioned in atheist-religious debates) and familiarise yourself with ways to deal with these arguments: such as my Debunking the Absolute Morality Argument (which, by the way, you might realise features a lot of the techniques I mention in this post).

3. Use an evolving argument. What do I mean by this? A lot of things really, but essentially I just mean don’t be pig headed. Being stubborn is bad because it’s often very easy to be called out on. An onlooker can easily see when someone is being stubborn about something. This relates a bit to the next tip (tip 4) but if you feel like you’ve hit a wall with one approach, change approaches. Never dig yourself into a hole. If you get stuck, throw a red herring (tip 1 and tip 8) and change tacks.

This also applies for being on the offensive. First consider your goal: is it to convince somebody or something simply win the argument or just to assume an unassailable position (a logical position that cannot be dismantled, at least not easily). Let’s assume your goal is to convince somebody. Some people do not listen to reason or logic or science. If your goal is to convince someone, you have to play by their rules (this situation doesn’t really require a third party – winning the argument depends on whether or not they’re convinced).

Opponent: “The Earth is 6,000 years old. How do you know your science is right? I’ve heard there are problems with how they date things”.

You: “Ok, let’s forget all the scientific evidence for the age of the Earth and the universe for a second. Why do you think the Earth is only 6,000 years old? Because the bible says so, right? But how do you know the bible is right? Well that’s because a lot of scholars have analysed it and confirmed when it was written and that the dates in the bible match up with other texts and real events that happened. But wait, how do they know when the bible was written and whether or not the dates are correct? Using scientific methods to date them (tip 5). So you can’t say science is wrong when it comes to dating or you’ll be saying that you don’t believe the bible is true (tip 1).

That example is good for tip 5 but for now just take it at face value. You cannot convince them no matter how much science and evidence you present. Don’t get stubborn, change tacks. What’s something that will work? Something that their own beliefs are rooted in. A religious fundamentalist’s entire existence revolves around the bible. Therefore, instead of using science, use the bible against them.

4. Learn when to concede points. Sometimes you’re going to be wrong. It’s unavoidable. Sometimes an argument evolves to the point where you realise you were wrong about something. At times you can use semantics to avoid being called out for being wrong, but remember tip 3! Don’t get stubborn. If you’re obviously wrong and you keep denying it, it becomes even more apparent to everyone that you’re wrong. Cut your losses and make the first move: admit it yourself. But that doesn’t mean throw in the towel. Admit smaller mistakes to push bigger points.

You: “Actually, you were right about the homogeneity of the universe. It’s not actually perfectly even. But that’s not relevant to the purpose of this debate. The fact remains that there are no detectable anti-matter galaxies, and you still haven’t provided any evidence otherwise (tip 1).

In a way, this is also a red herring. You assume the position of “the bigger man” by admitting you’re wrong, but you also redirect the flow of the debate to something else which you have the upper hand in. By focusing on what you’re winning, you can easily be wrong about many things and still win the argument.

5. Predict where the argument is going. Although this is number 5, it’s probably the most advanced and powerful of the techniques. There are two parts to this: cutting your losses and guiding your opponent.

Cutting your losses is pretty straight forward. If you can foresee in the near future that one of the points you were arguing is going to be turned around or proven wrong, steer the discussion away. If it’s unavoidable, correct yourself before your opponent has a chance to call you out on it (tip 4). Cutting your losses also relates to tip 7, which I will go into more later.

Guiding your opponent is the tough one and it’s something you need to do subtly. Remember the example in tip 3? This passage in particular is guiding your opponent:

Why do you think the Earth is only 6,000 years old? Because the bible says so, right? But how do you know the bible is right? Well that’s because a lot of scholars have analysed it and confirmed when it was written and that the dates in the bible match up with other texts and real events that happened. But wait, how do they know when the bible was written and whether or not the dates are correct? Using scientific methods to date them.

You pose a question then answer it for your opponent. By doing so, you can create an apparently flawless chain of causality. However, keep in mind subtlety. If your opponent knows what you’re doing, they’ll reject it. In the example above, I answer each question with a reasonable answer. For example “a lot of scholars have analysed it and confirmed when it was written …” is not aggressive or disparaging in any way. It almost sounds like I’m complimenting or aiding my opponent’s position.

You can go even subtler still by picking points to discuss that will lead into some of your stronger points. Assuming an academic discourse, if they push 5 points, but one of them leads into a field that you have limited knowledge of, respond to only 4 of their points and guide the argument away. If you use tip 1, most of the time they won’t even realise you haven’t responded to something because they’ll be put on the defensive.

If done correctly, you can create a “logical trap” in which you confine your opponent to a few possible responses and have strong rebuttals to each one.

6. Know your buzz words. Here’s where the logical fallacies come in. To clarify this also includes tip 2; know some good, prepared arguments that you can whip out and adapt to any situation. Logic and science are universal, so any argument based on these can be used in a large variety of situations (though keep in mind science branches off into a lot of things so make sure you know enough of it to argue a point).

For a list of common logical fallacies, you can refer to a post I made earlier with their names and examples: Logical Fallacies. I wanted to shorten that list to ones commonly used in debates but I just ended up re-listing them all, plus some (which I will now add to that post). Just learn a few – some are so obvious you’ll remember them easily. What do you do with your buzz words? Tip 1. Whenever you see one used, call them out on it. Tip 1 combined with buzz words creates the biggest impact because you can use an officially documented fallacy to show your opponent is wrong.

Other buzz words include (just to name a few): logical/illogical, causal relationship, unscientific, academic/intellectual, proof/evidence, and any other relevant terminology to whatever field you are discussing.

Remember, you can out-verbalise your opponent and even win by doing so. People often ask me why proper English is so important. Here’s one of the reasons. I can argue with terrible English until the cows come home but I’ll still look like an idiot who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

UniVerz can Haz no crEAtEr cuz sciEnce sAy beginNIngs lyke biG BanG is sinGularety and SmaLL lyke PartiLcLE so QuAtum mekanikz alloW smaLL thing aPpeaRZ soMethIng fRom NothInG.

Despite being correct, if you ever saw that quote I wrote up there you would instantly think the guy is an idiot and brush aside anything he has to say as the ramblings of an undereducated simpleton. This is just an extreme end of the spectrum. The point is that with good English and buzz words you can out-verbalise your opponent and create more impact, as well as appear more correct (even if you’re not).

7. Cover all your bases. This relates a bit to tip 5. If you predict that some of your arguments have flaws that will be exploited, prepare your course of action. Hesitation and stumbling will reveal guilt. This is something I’m particularly good at because I always know exactly what’s wrong with what I’m saying.

Think of it this way – it’s much easier to poke holes in an argument than prepare one yourself right? So just think about what you’re saying and poke holes in it yourself. If you find a hole, get ready to patch it up. Just don’t get stuck on the defensive – defend it quickly and concisely with no hesitation and go back on the offensive.

You: “Global warming will cause global increases in temperature that will cause sea levels to rise and food sources to suffer”.

Opponent: “But how do you explain the lower temperatures we’ve been seeing? That’s proof that global warming is a hoax”.

You: “I use the term global warming in it’s original context. Were you unaware they changed the official term to climate change? Because it doesn’t just make hot weather hotter, it makes cold weather colder. You pretty much just proved what I’ve been saying all along, the climate is changing – hence climate change.”

The above example also features a bit of tip 5. You can intentionally leave a “hole” in your argument to lure your opponent into bringing it up. But let’s assume I was actually genuinely mistaken for using the term “global warming” instead of “climate change”. I don’t need to admit it (tip 4) because I can just use semantics to cover it up. My response quickly corrects my mistake, attacks the opponent subtly (almost an ad hominem) and redirects the flow of the argument to the main point.

8. Don’t be afraid to break the rules. “It’s not cheating unless you get caught”. Logical fallacies are wrong to use as a basis for your argument, but you can use them to deliver your argument. Reductio ad absurdum, strawman fallacies, red herrings, ad homniem and appeal to emotion are the ones I commonly use, but I do them subtly in a matter-of-factly way so that they can’t be easily called out. For example, if I ever get called out on a red herring I’ll just say brush it off by implying that I thought the result was obvious but if my opponent needs me to specifically spell it out for them, then I’d be happy to do so. Or the little ad hominem in tip 7 where I say “Were you unaware they changed the official term to climate change?” I can simply pretend to be a genuine question rather than an insult to undermine my opponent’s credibility. It appears to be more like a genuine question because I go on to show a causal relationship, thus explaining it to my opponent as if I genuinely believe he doesn’t know (the climate is changing – hence climate change).

But if any of your core points are based on logical fallacies, you’re going to have a bad time. Only use them to create impact, the foundation of your knowledge should always be solid.

9. Quit while you’re ahead. It’s always better to end with a bang than drawing it out and dying off slowly. If you feel like you’re coming close to running out of points, or that the flow of the argument is going to shift away from you, quit while you’re ahead. But don’t quit quietly. Quit with impact.

You: “Well I’ve provided countless pieces of evidence as well as demonstrated the logical causality (tip 6) for each. My opponent seems hung up on this [one] particular point even though I’ve shown it to be false with [these] arguments (tip 1). I don’t feel any need to indulge his stubbornness (tip 3) any further as I’ve already made it pretty clear that [this] is true. If he still wishes to argue then I’m sure no amount of reason will ever reach him.

End it on your terms. You already have the upper ground so there’s no need for you to continue. Plus, by ending it with the suggestion that any continuance of the argument is indicative of some character or reasoning flaw in your opponent, if they choose to respond with a continuation of the argument, they’ve pretty much just proved your point.

Purple and Beige Prose:

“Brevity is the soul of wit”

– William Shakespeare.

I’ve made a post before that overlaps with this but in the interests of keeping things tidy, I thought I’d make a more extensive post specifically on this topic.

These are the two extremes of a spectrum of broad stylistic writing styles. That’s not to say your writing style is encompassed entirely as either “purple” or “beige”, but your style will definitely lean towards one of these in some aspects.

Purple prose is the most commonly known one out of the two as it is often used as a derogatory comment on the writing style (whereas not many people write with beige prose, and even if you do, it’s not entirely a bad thing). Here’s a bit of history first; the term “purple prose” originates from a quote by the Roman poet Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus, 65-8 BC) where he likened writing in purple prose to one sewing purple patches on to one’s clothing. The implication is that purple prose is too flowery and dazzling to fit smoothly into a narration of a story. It’s just overkill, like cutting your bread with a chainsaw. My favourite description of purple prose is “it’s as if the author made babies with a thesaurus”, but the easiest way to demonstrate what purple prose is would be an example. I’m very bad at writing purple prose because my brain rejects it, so I took an example off the internet and spruced it up.

The disembowelled mercenary crumpled lifeless from this leather saddle ornamented with brilliant red rubies, and sank to the clouded sward, sprinkling the parched ochre dust with crimson droplets of his precious escaping life fluid.

If you can’t see the problem yet, I worry for you. Let’s assume this needs explanation, for the sake of analysis. First of all, there are enough words in that sentence to make three sentences. Second of all, there are too many unnecessary adjectives and it just feels like you’re trying too hard (life fluid is hilarious). The true artist makes the difficult look easy – if you’re struggling to depict a man falling off his horse, you’re struggling as a writer. Finally, this sentence takes too long to read, destroying all sense of pace in the story. When you have a scene of someone dying so dramatically, you want as much impact and pace as possible, not a ridiculous essay about his death.

Beige prose:

At the opposite of the spectrum we have beige prose, which is really defined by a minimalistic style of writing – often with sentence fragments. It delivers short sentences with high impact, but over-use can lead to fragmented and disjointed narrative.

Beige prose? Witty when effective. Otherwise, dull. Use carefully.

Consistently writing in purple prose will allow the reader to adjust – typically the reader will just skim over your sentences for the general gist of what’s happening. Trust me, not many people will belabour every individual word. With beige prose, it’s not as easy to adjust. An entire book written in disjointed sentences will be jarring to the reader. I only use short sentences during scenes that require pace, such as action scenes.

Preamble:

Writing fiction, whether it be fanfiction or original fiction, is a hobby that has experienced a recent resurgence in popularity. I might attribute this spike in popularity to the recent success of some mediocre and terrible books, but that’s a rant I’ll have to save for later. Another factor influencing this trend is the ability to self-publish. Unfortunately, self-publishing has no quality control, and is really just the dead-end for a deadbeat writer, like a basketball player resorting to coaching primary school kids. The ultimate goal has, and always will be, to be published by a real publishing house with the means to distribute your book and pay you royalties (as opposed to self-publishing where you pay to get your book published).

Anyway, I’m a regular on a number of writing forums and have given quite a few hopefuls some advice ranging from advanced writing concepts to simple techniques. Since it’s inevitable that there will be a large increase in self-proclaimed writers (or god-forbid, authors), I figured that it was in my best interests to compile a quick 5 tips so that the stuff I’m reading in the future will – hopefully – be a little less crappy. Keep in mind these tips apply for all fiction but not necessarily academic writing – so those of you who need to do short stories at school can also boost your marks with these tips.

Fiction Writing Tips:

1. Grammar: Surprised? You wouldn’t believe how many stories are plagued by basic errors. Well this actually includes all basic English syntax. Please, if you’re going to write, make sure you have a high level (if not perfect) of spelling, punctuation and grammar. It’s infuriating trying to read something that looks as if it belongs to a primary school student with an F in English. It’s worse when you call yourself a writer with that kind of English. Not only does poor syntax distract from the story, it is really just a sign that you don’t care or are not good enough to be writing.

2. Consistency: This one is more applicable for longer stories (like novels) but should be a logical aspect of any piece of writing. Keep it consistent. If you say your main character is a red-headed girl, don’t turn her into a blonde. That should be obvious. The hard bit comes when you have a world and landscape that you need to keep consistent. Directions, environment and physical features need to be the same throughout the text. For this, I like to keep a little document that quickly summarises these things (for example: City X, west of City Y, Forest of the Lost in between, mountains to the north, etc.). Even more difficult is your characterisation. You need to be firmly aware what kind of character you’re creating so you don’t end up with the melancholy introvert being the party animal – and so you don’t end up with an entire cast of characters that are exactly the same. This relates to the category below.

3. Characters: Some of you may have heard the term “Mary Sue” before. A Sue is basically a character that is unrealistic within the mechanics of your fictional world. The more things your character has that defies reality, the closer it is to a Sue. For example, in a medieval world, your character would be pushing it if he was a cyborg with laser weapons. If your character is a beautiful girl who is good at all sports and a professional in all fields of science and knows how to overpower trained hitmen whilst also being loved by every guy she meets, then yes, you have a Sue and you’re also probably projecting some of your insecurity on to your own character.

The key to characterisation is focusing on a few key personality traits and making that character unique. Your story will be more realistic and there’ll be more depth to the environment if there’s a wide range of characters with their own unique identity. This is very difficult to achieve and is something I’ve always had to struggle with, but your goal is to avoid having a cast of characters that are identical to each other. If you remove the names of your characters and judge them solely by how they act and talk, can you tell the difference? Mannerisms and key personality traits are an advanced set of writing techniques that you can incorporate into your characters to make them stand out from the others.

Remember, humans are unique, you need to demonstrate this through your characters.

“If everyone is Han Solo, then nobody is Han Solo” – Cleveland Brown Jr.

4. Pace: There’s a term in writing known as “purple prose“. It basically means over-the-top flowery writing. I remember an amusing quote from a writing website that described purple prose as if the writer had made love to a thesaurus. The reason why purple prose is bad is because it kills all sense of pace in your story. You can’t capture the heat of a battle when you’re describing birds chirping and what not. Let me demonstrate:

“The soldiers formed up ranks and stared each other down across the no-man’s land. Two veritable walls of steel and flesh were about to collide in a bloody clash, but Hero couldn’t feel any fear as he only felt beauty. A swallow dipped across the divide and, as if sensing impending danger, pulled up quickly in a graceful arch. As they men charged, Hero could see the morning’s dew glistening on the grass, and the little shimmering lights that were flung through the air as the soldiers trampled past. The gentle kiss of the breeze was a direct contrast to the blood curling war cries and the sounds of death, and as he drew his elegant long sword, he could see deer bounding away in fear.”

Ok, so I’m not very good at purple prose because I instinctively shy away from it, but the point is – why is Hero noticing all this random crap when he’s about to enter a life-or-death situation? Wouldn’t it be more realistic and appropriate for him to be noticing his emotions and those of the terrified men around him? There’s no sense of urgency when you’re describing random things that are irrelevant to the matter at hand.

So, how do you create pace? Well, first avoid irrelevant details. If you’re writing a scene, focus on the purpose of that scene and write in a way that builds the scene and makes it stronger. If the purpose of this scene is for Hero to end up surrounded by the enemy and the corpses of his friends, then go for gritty and write the damn scene. No one cares that there was a gentle breeze kissing him, but they do care what kind of emotions were rushing through Hero, as well as the fighting itself. Second, play with sentence length. Length can play a huge role in creating pace, and even using sentence fragments is acceptable (though technically incorrect English, sentence fragments are a writing technique to generate pace). For example consider this: (By the way, “c.f.” means “compared to”)

“He could smell smoke and turned to see fire bursting through the windows to blossom out across the walls, consuming the manor in a blazing inferno.”

c.f.

“He could smell smoke and turned to see fire bursting through the windows. Flames blossomed across the walls and consumed the manor in a blazing inferno.”

c.f.

“He could smell smoke. Turning, he saw fire burst through the windows. It blossomed across the walls and consumed the manor in a blazing inferno.”

c.f.

“He smelled smoke. Turning, he saw fire burst through the windows. It blossomed across the walls and consumed the manor.”

Hopefully you can see the difference, if not between each example than between the first and last. Essentially, short sentences create impact and a sense of urgency. The first example feel as if the character is just standing there observing this fire whereas the last example has a sense of urgency. Sometimes this means going easy on the adjectives. Just remember, sometimes pace is more important than description.

5. Diction: In writing, diction is essentially your choice of words. You can make a huge difference by avoiding obscure, generic words. Examples of these words are: good, happy, take, read, walk, look, thing, and book. Now let me explain – first, these words are often unavoidable and are perfectly good words in the right context. However, when you’re trying to add that extra sheen to your writing, you should attempt to substitute these words where applicable. The reason is because these words lack detail and emotion. What kind of book? How does she take the book? Is there any emotion when she takes it? When she reads it?

Here’s an example from one of the forums: “She took the pieces of paper and read over them.” Now I’m going to transform this sentence, step by step, keeping in mind the main concepts in diction – focus on detail and emotion.

“She took the pieces of paper and read over them.”

c.f.

“She took the papers and read them.”

c.f.

“She snatched the papers and read them.”

c.f.

“She snatched the papers off his table and began to read them.”

c.f.

“She snatched the treatises off his table and began perusing.”

c.f.

“With keen anticipation, she snatched the treatises off his table and began perusing.”

As you should be to see, we’ve turned a generic sentence with no detail or emotion into one that conveys a sense of urgency and excitement. “Snatch” instead of “take” creates pace and anticipation. “Treatises” instead of “papers” tells us the nature of this anticipation is probably due to an academic discovery. “Peruse” instead of “read” tells us how absorbed the character is and heightens the sense of excitement, as well as conveying a bit of disbelief.

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