Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Kim’s Top Ten Writing Tips: How to Write Like a Pro

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Do you want your (fiction) writing to look polished and professional when you submit it to editors and agents for consideration? Of course you do. So make sure your words are correctly spelled and your sentences are graceful and grammatically correct, and avoid these signs of the amateur writer:

1) Too many adverbs. Whenever possible, choose strong verbs instead of a weak verb that needs to be modified by an adverb. Instead of: he walked quickly, write: he ran.

2) Too many adjectives. One is better than two. Instead of: the man was tall and lean, write: the man was rangy. A strong noun is better than string of adjectives. Instead of: he was a powerful old man, write: he was a patriarch. (better still: show the reader he's a patriarch by having him act and speak in a patriarchal style in a scene - see next point)

3) Telling instead of showing. Don't tell us your character is sloppy. Show us the character being sloppy in a scene. (And resist the urge to tell us what you've just shown us)

4) Announcement words and phrases like “finally”, “and then,” or “It was on the following day that.” This is a form of unnecessary telling where showing should do the job instead.

5) Sentences constructed with clauses that begin with the words “as” or “while”, or with present participles (-ing words.) These constructions sound awkward and often imply implausible strings of simultaneous action.

Instead of:
As Mom measured the flour, I stirred the batter,
write:
Mom measured the flour. I stirred the batter.

Instead of:
Opening the oven door, I felt a blast of hot air.
write:
I opened the oven door and felt a blast of hot air.

6) Cliches. The writer who relies on cliché gives the impression she couldn't think of anything more original to say. If you must, you can let maybe a single character in your cast speak in clichés, but watch out for stereotypes. At all costs (there's one!) avoid clichéed expressions in your narrative if you want respect as an author. No eggs frying on the sidewalk, no raining cats and dogs, no cornflower blue eyes. Avoid clichéed situations too, like starting chapters or stories with the hero waking up in the morning and thinking about the day ahead, or ending them with the heroine vowing to never be hungry again. When you feel a cliché coming on, twist it, change it, reinvent it.

7) Unintentional repetition. Try not to repeat words other than common ones like he, she, and, said, the. You're a writer — you're supposed to have a good vocabulary, not just use the same ten words over and over. If you're writing about a cake, don't refer to it every time as a cake. (But watch out for thesaurus-itis, too.) Example:

"Can I bring something when I come for dinner?"
"If you could manage a dessert, that would be lovely."
"How about a chocolate cake?"
"Oh, I adore chocolate. "
"I do a nice layered one, with fudge icing."
"Perfect."

8) Repetition of words or phrases that are your personal stylistic tics. Everyone has pet words and phrases they may unconsciously use too often. For example: even, just, of course, sort of/kind of, etc. One author I know of says he has a tendency to use the phrase “pretty much” way too much, and searches his manuscripts for them when he’s done a draft, finds hundreds of instances, and goes through the manuscript to change them. Also, many beginning writers have their characters ‘smile” and “look” too often. Don’t!

9) Repetition of story points, descriptions or character traits. Trust that your reader is intelligent and perceptive and understood you the first time. Let the reader discover your meaning, not be hit over the head with it.

10) Vary your rhythm. Don't the use the same sentence structure (for instance: subject-verb-object, or starting every sentence with "I" or "The") or paragraph construction every time. And beware of overusing the short pithy sentence fragment at the end of a paragraph, section or chapter. This kind.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Kim Moritsugu

Kim Moritsugu is the author of six novels to date, including Looks Perfect, nominated for the Toronto Book Award; The Glenwood Treasure, shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Best Crime Novel award; The Restoration of Emily, serialized on CBC Radio; and the just published comedy of suburban manners The Oakdale Dinner Club. She also leads a walking tour for Heritage Toronto and teaches creative writing through The Humber School for Writers.

Go to Kim Moritsugu’s Author Page