I never did very well in grammar, despite my love of words I always wanted to just tell the story without having to bother with the structure of things. Now that I’ve begun to write in earnest however, I’ve learnt that a little knowledge about the mechanics of writing can change a story’s pace from plodding to riveting. Below are two common errors that can spell the difference between life and death in your story.
#1 Past tense vrs. Present tense.
Please, as much as possible use present tense over past tense! Past tense removes the reader from the action while present tense makes it enthralling. Consider the following sentence:
He was sitting in silence when he was interrupted by a loud knock at the door.
“was sitting” and “was interrupted” are both past tense.This is a tedious sentence. Compare it with the one below.
A loud knock at the door interrupted his silent reverie.
The second sentence is much more engaging. I’m still learning about past tense, but I have found that words like “were, was, have been…” are all indicators of past tense. Watch out for them!
#2 Unnecessary Adverbs
Another way to bog down the pace of your story it to overuse adverbs. Many adverbs can be identified by the ‘ly’ tacked on the end (quickly, happily, etc…). Adverbs are especially damaging in dialogue. Your dialogue should be strong enough to stand on its own without having to constantly be explained by adverbs. Below is an example of poor dialogue propped up with too many adverbs:
Kneeling down, he pulled out a small purple box. “I want you to marry me,” he said nervously.
Rachel bit her lip and frowned. “Oh Don…” she replied uncertainly, “I’m not sure.”
He angrily grabbed her arm, twisting the fabric of her shirt in a white-knuckled grasp. “After all these years?” he said brokenly. “I thought you loved me!”
“I do,” she replied sadly. “But you’re not the only one.”
Hehe. Wow. That was really bad. It’s embarrassing how easy it was to write. Anyways, here’s the same scene again with the adverbs removed.
Kneeling down, he pulled out a small purple box. He gazed into her eyes, his cheeks flaring red. “I want you to marry me,” he said.
Rachel bit her lip. “Oh Don…” she replied. “I’m not sure.”
He grabbed her arm, twisting the fabric of her shirt in a white-knuckled grasp. “After all these years?” he said. “I thought you loved me!”
“I do.” Rachel pulled away, unable to meet his eyes. “But you’re not the only one.”
The difference in this bit of dialogue is the way I used action to convey the emotions of the characters rather than using adverbs to ‘tell’ you how they feel. This follows an old rule of thumb for snappy engaging writing: show don’t tell.
More on that later 🙂