“Write tight!” We hear this all the time. So is tight writing our ultimate goal? Dwight Swain would say no. Brevity is a good thing, but not the main point. Okay then, what is the heart of the issue when it comes to writing a strong copy?
What is vivid writing?
Sharpness. Words that make a story come alive.
How do we create it?
There are lots of ways. Usually, with brevity (hence, where the “write tight” probably came from). But not always. Here are just a few tips from Dwight Swain:
Meticulous Word Choice: You set the mood with every word you choose. One word might elicit melancholy, while a different word might elicit excitement. Be very intentional about each word. Make each word work hard.
Use Pictorial Nouns: nouns that are specific, concrete, and definitive
The more specific, concrete, and definitive your nouns, the more vivid
Ford Mustang vs. car
bungalow vs. house
Boeing 777 vs. jet
Use Active Verbs: verbs that show something happening
As much as possible, nix the “to be” verbs.
The boy boy was tapping his pencil vs. The boy tapped his pencil.
As much as possible, nix past perfect tense.
A paragraph full of “hads” is a wide path toward distancing your reader and ruining the vividness you worked so hard to create.
Go easy on the Adverbs: a word that describes a verb
These -ly words are proof that vividness outranks brevity
Excitedly, Nala stood. vs. Nala sprang from her chair like a tightly wound Jack-in-the Box.
Which sentence is shorter? Which sentence is more vivid? Which sentence is better writing? Notice, the second sentence actually has an -ly word. But I felt it was justified since tightly adds vividness to the sentence. Just goes to show, these aren’t hard and fast rules.
Always, always, always strive for vividness when you are writing.
Question to Ponder: Don’t agree? Why not? What else, besides vividness, pulls a reader into the story?
19 thoughts on “Vivid Writing”
Great post Katie! I completely agree and think you did an awesome job of breaking things down.
Now, to go put it into practice… LOL
of course i agree! i've been working on all those things. 🙂
Sherrinda, I'm glad it was helpful. I have quite a few more Mon/Wed posts coming from this book and I try to be as clear and concise as possible. 🙂
Anytime, Ralene. And so true about a scene soaring or falling flat.
Great point, Bonnie! Thanks for sharing!
Tara – SO true!! You and Bonnie both bring up great points. Emotional connection is a huge part of writing – at least, in my opinion it is. If I don't feel any emotional connection to the characters, then I won't care about the story. Usually, vivid imagery helps readers connect emotionally.
Erica "part of writing is using the precise word, but it has to be the right precise word." I love that quote! So true! And you and Krista both bring up such a good point. We have to use vivid language filtered through our character's POV.
Careann, such a good point. And what a challenge! Man's POV is hard enough – but most especially in first person! Best wishes on that!
Staying true to character is an added challenge for me because my current w.i.p. is from a man's POV and is in first person. There are a lot of words I'm tempted to use (or did use in the early drafts) that just don't sound right coming from his mouth.
This morning I was reading a book by Robert Parker (an effort to learn to craft dialogue and showing vs telling – for Robert B. Parker is a master at it.)
Illustrating the need to use the precise word, Parker has a character flex his muscles (he's a bodybuilder, thick as a plank rent-a-thug) and think about how his muscles make him feel impregnable.
The word impregnable caused me to pause becuase I wondered if it was a word that Jo Jo the rent-a-thug would use that word to describe himself.
Part of writing tight is using a precise word, but it has to be the right precise word.
Something I'm continually working on.
Great post. Investing emotions (which can be done by picking the right words) and staying true to character also count when you write.
Great information. Another method is to write something the reader can immediately identify with. In Deborah Raney's Insight, a woman who just lost her husband hugs a cushion to her chest, hoping to smell her husband's scent, then curls up in a corner of the love seat. The scene doesn't use any vivid verbs and may be a bit wordy, but the reader is right there with her emotions.
What can I say that others haven't? Great post, Katie. You hit the nail on the head. Vivid writing also adds personality-both the writer's and the character's. It can be the difference between a soaring scene, or one that falls flat. Thanks for the reminder!
Great post Katie! And most helpful as I begin my rewrites! You made it very clear…and concise!
Tabith – I love that line "Use the word you mean, not it's second cousin" That's great. I'm going to write that one down. I'm glad the post was helpful!
I agree Jody – I think there is something to be said about learning to write a certain way so it becomes second nature. But in the same breath, I will also say that sometimes, if I focus too much on the exact right noun/verb while I'm writing a first draft, sometimes my creative juices can get stifled. But I'm noticing, the more I write, the more I'm learning to do it right the first time around. Practice. Practice. Practice – is really what it comes down to.
Krista – you bring up an EXCELLENT point in typical funny Krista style. We definitely have to be cautious about POV and word choice. Because a girl who knows nothing about jets most definitely should NOT say Boeing 777! 🙂
Elizabeth – great idea about naming things. That always gives our writing a big more flavor. Bo's Diner sends a much different message than Oak Tree Diner.
HA! Eileen, you noticed! Yes, I also noticed that I used an -ly when I wrote it. I felt tightly wound was justified though, since it added to the vivid imagery. Whereas in the first example, it didn't. Great point – writing is like grammar. For every rule there is, there is a valid reason to break the rule. 🙂 Maybe I should post about that ananlogy. Writing = English Grammar. 🙂
Wow, Wendy! 9 years! That's a good thing to know. Great writing takes time, most definitely. It's hard to fathom starting a book right now, but not finishing it until Brogan is ten years old!! Can you imagine?
Your welcome, Cindy! I'm glad they were helpful. 🙂
I completely agree. Especially with meticulous word choice and using active verbs. These are the two that I have to work the hardest for but I've been especially conscious of them lately as I write. It really does help make the prose more vivid and productive. Thanks for the good tips!
Ah the things I am learning…I completely agree, it does create a more vivid mental picture. And after all, isn't that what we are striving for?
Favorite line of this post, "Make each word work hard." This can seem daunting when we edit, but I'm reminded some authors take years on one book (i.e. Wally Lamb took 9 yrs. to write his latest book.)
I definitely like vivid writing better. I found it interesting that in that last example even the vivid option had an "ly" adverb in it. There are always exceptions to the rule!
Same idea as strong nouns, but my editor has had me name things in the past. So 'the diner' became 'Bo's Diner.' That kind of thing.
Good points on this post!
Mystery Writing is Murder
I agree too! As always, these rules are "suggestions" and aren't to say we NEVER use the word car, jet or was ___ing… but should be used with caution and limited.
Another note: in our quest to use great nouns I've seen writers frequently use things like… Boeing 777… when the POV character would have no idea that the plan was that kind. I can't imagine my very girly heroine saying, "Oh, yes, I have to board the Boeing 777 now." Or even in narrative, "She boarded the Boeing 777 and walked down the aisle. When she got to her seat, she blinked. Twice. Who was the gorgeous guy in her assigned seat?"
Okay, so I added the end for fun. You get the point.
I MAY just have to write a book now with the hero/heroine meeting on an airplane and fighting over a seat. Hrmmm…. *scribbles on idea pad…*
I totally agree. And I'm striving more and more to implement thses principals. I think if we want to improve as writers, then we have to become more conscious of these particular techniques as we're writing our first drafts. Why wait until the editing phase? Why not try to train ourselves to vivid writing as we write, so that it becomes second nature?
Thanks for the insights, Katie!
Yeah, totally agree. I read some where that you should ask each word and sentence, "Do you deserve to be here?"
Someone else once wrote, "Use the word you mean, not it's second cousin."
Good advise, I think.
I also think there is usually a good verb or noun just begging to murder the adjective or adverb that you chose to write with instead.
Great post, Katie. Very helpful.
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