Monday, May 2, 2011

Stop To Cross The Street: Tips For Young Writers

by Jacqueline Jules

               As a teacher who regularly conferences with students during writing workshop, I find myself asking many of the same questions repeatedly:  
            Are you sure you want two lines of exclamation marks? Let’s count how many times you’ve used the word “then.” Do you think you could cut a few of them out?
            Having the same discussion over and over again has prompted me to make a list of tips for young writers, modeled after the esteemed Jane Yolen. Last winter, at the New York conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, I heard her engage an audience of over a thousand with a clever list of guidelines. She began with “Eschew the exclamation point” and “Go easy on adverbs,” ending with a charge to all in attendance to go home and WRITE. In this spirit, I offer my own list for my students and young writers everywhere. 

  • Tip Number One: Use Your Inside Voice. Limit your use of exclamation points and capitals. Ten exclamation points in a row and capital letters are like shouting at your reader.

  • Tip Number Two: Stop To Cross The Street. Watch out for the conjunction “and.” More than three “ands” in the same sentence can be a signal to stop and use a period. 

  • Tip Number Three: Dare to be Different. Beginning every sentence with “then” or “the” can be dull for the reader. Rearrange your words to vary the sentence structure.
  • Tip Number Four: Play With Words, Not Fonts. Spend your writing time choosing the perfect descriptive word, not the prettiest font type or size.

  • Tip Number Five: Be Active. Use action words to describe what happened and avoid using “was” unless it is necessary to your meaning. For example, say Rapunzel “walked” across the street instead of Rapunzel “was walking” across the street. Repeated use of the word “was” weakens the action. 

  • Tip Number Six: Break it Up. Divide your stories into paragraphs. Indent or skip a line at the beginning of each new topic. It can also be easier for a reader to follow dialogue when you begin a new paragraph for each speaker. 

  • Tip Number Seven: Switch Places. Check to make sure your sentences are in the best order. Switching sentences or words around can make writing flow in a more logical manner.

  • Tip Number Eight: Remember the Reader. Too many parenthetical asides and distracting details can confuse your reader. Make things as clear for your reader as possible.

  • Tip Number Nine: Be Smooth. Use transitions such as “After we went to the mall, we went home,” rather than Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3 to indicate a change of time or scene. Chapters divisions are for novels, not short stories.  

  • Tip Number Ten: Make a Pretty Picture. Your job as a writer is to make a picture in your reader’s mind. Make sure you have included enough color and detail for your reader to see the same story you see in your mind.
Jacqueline Jules

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