Fifty Writing Tools

From the excellent book Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer (2006) by Roy Peter Clark:

  1. Begin sentences with subjects and verbs.
    • Make meaning early, then let weaker elements branch to the right.
  2. Order words for emphasis.
    • Place strong words at the beginning and at the end.
  3. Activate your verbs.
    • Strong verbs create action, save words, and reveal the players.
  4. Be passive-aggressive.
    • Use passive verbs to showcase the "victim" of action.
  5. Watch those adverbs.
    • Use them to change the meaning of the verb.
  6. Take it easy on the -ings.
    • Prefer the simple present or past.
  7. Fear not the long sentence.
    • Take the reader on a journey of language and meaning.
  8. Establish a pattern, then give it a twist.
    • Build parallel constructions, but cut across the grain.
  9. Let punctuation control pace and space.
    • Learn the rules, but realize you have more options than you think.
  10. Cut big, then small.
    • Prune the big limbs, then shake out the dead leaves.
  11. Prefer the simple over the technical.
    • Use shorter words, sentences and paragraphs at points of complexity.
  12. Give key words their space.
    • Do not repeat a distinctive word unless you intend a specific effect.
  13. Play with words, even in serious stories.
    • Choose words the average writer avoids but the average reader understands.
  14. Get the name of the dog.
    • Dig for the concrete and specific, details that appeal to the senses.
  15. Pay attention to names.
    • Interesting names attract the writer — and the reader.
  16. Seek original images.
    • Reject clichés and first-level creativity.
  17. Riff on the creative language of others.
    • Make word lists, free-associate, be surprised by language.
  18. Set the pace with sentence length.
    • Vary sentences to influence the reader's speed.
  19. Vary the lengths of paragraphs.
    • Go short or long — or make a "turn" — to match your intent.
  20. Choose the number of elements with a purpose in mind.
    • One, two, three, or four: Each sends a secret message to the reader.
  21. Know when to back off and when to show off.
    • When the topic is most serious, understate; when least serious, exaggerate.
  22. Climb up and down the ladder of abstraction.
    • Learn when to show, when to tell, and when to do both.
  23. Tune your voice.
    • Read drafts aloud.
  24. Work from a plan.
    • Index the big parts of your work.
  25. Learn the difference between reports and stories.
    • Use one to render information, the other to render experience.
  26. Use dialogue as a form of action.
    • Dialogue advances narrative; quotes delay it.
  27. Reveal traits of character.
    • Show characteristics through scenes, details, and dialogue.
  28. Put odd and interesting things next to each other.
    • Help the reader learn from contrast.
  29. Foreshadow dramatic events or powerful conclusions.
    • Plant important clues early.
  30. To generate suspense, use internal cliffhangers.
    • To propel readers, make them wait.
  31. Build your work around a key question.
    • Good stories need an engine, a question the action answers for the reader.
  32. Place gold coins along the path.
    • Reward the reader with high points, especially in the middle.
  33. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
    • Purposeful repetition links the parts.
  34. Write from different cinematic angles.
    • Turn your notebook into a "camera."
  35. Report and write for scenes.
    • Then align them in a meaningful sequence.
  36. Mix narrative modes.
    • Combine story forms using the "broken line."
  37. In short pieces of writing, don't waste a syllable.
    • Shape shorter works with wit and polish.
  38. Prefer archetypes to stereotypes.
    • Use subtle symbols, not crashing cymbals.
  39. Write toward an ending.
    • Help readers close the circle of meaning.
  40. Draft a mission statement for your work.
    • To sharpen your learning, write about your writing.
  41. Turn procrastination into rehearsal.
    • Plan and write it first in your head.
  42. Do your homework well in advance.
    • Prepare for the expected — and unexpected.
  43. Read for both form and content.
    • Examine the machinery beneath the text.
  44. Save string.
    • For big projects, save scraps others would toss.
  45. Break long projects into parts.
    • Then assemble the pieces into something whole.
  46. Take interest in all crafts that support your work.
    • To do your best, help others do their best.
  47. Recruit your own support group.
    • Create a corps of helpers for feedback.
  48. Limit self-criticism in early drafts.
    • Turn it loose during revision.
  49. Learn from your critics.
    • Tolerate even unreasonable criticism.
  50. Own the tools of your craft.
    • Build a writing workbench to store your tools.

(cf Write Many Read Once (1999-11-25), How to Write (2000-11-28), Writing Rewards (2001-06-09), Smell of Good Prose (2006-07-03), Asimov on Writing (2008-02-02), Pulp Fiction Rules (2008-10-20), Rules for Writing (2010-03-07), Worth Writing Well (2016-08-17), Tips for Aspiring Op-Ed Writers (2017-11-18), Writing vs Good Writing (2018-01-21), ...) - ^z - 2019-12-29