How To Improve Your Prose Writing

How to improve your prose writing - Workshop LinkFiction is written in prose, which is a way of writing in ordinary everyday speech. It sounds simple, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. It’s essential to learn how to improve your prose writing if you want to become an author and write novels that readers enjoy.

It’s a given that a reader must want turn those pages and part of the author’s craft is to ensure that his written language facilitates that – if the reader doesn’t turn the page, your goose is cooked! The story must be told in a direct, straightforward way.

This means that any part of your prose writing that distracts from the story should be removed, or revised. This post gives many prose writing tips that will catapult your writing into another gear. They are easy to understand and simple to implement.

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How To Write Better Prose – Unnecessary and Fancy Words

I’ll be talking about unnecessary, overused and overly fancy words because these words can largely be erased from your manuscript while improving its readability. It’s quite surprising how many words are unnecessary and can simply be removed without having the slightest effect on sentence meaning.

In fact it often makes the prose much clearer. It makes it more direct and more easily understood. Let’s take a look at some of these word types together with some examples.

‘Down’ and ‘up’ are two of the most common words we can delete. For example, if we sit ‘down’ on a chair, normally we lower our body to sit anyway, so the word down is not needed. We can simply erase it.

If someone stands ‘up’ the same thing applies. When we stand we generally move upwards, so the word up is not required. We can simply say he stood to greet them.

how to improve your writing proseIn this sentence I’ve added four words separated by an oblique dash:

‘I found it rather/quite/somewhat/somehow easy to understand.’

Now you can see that the words add absolutely nothing to the meaning or the style of the sentence. It seems to the reader that they are used just for the sake of using them, perhaps to increase the word count and sound literary.

The words ‘start’, ‘begin’, ‘began’ and ‘begun’ can often be removed, but of course it depends on the context. In the sentence ‘He began to fall asleep.’ we can simply write ‘He fell asleep’.

It’s direct, it’s dynamic and it’s punchy. Another common group of words that are generally not used include words like ‘completely’, ‘absolutely’ and ‘literally’.

In the sentence ‘He’s completely insane’ the writer wants to impress upon the reader that the subject really is insane. He wants to accentuate the word ‘insane’.

It may be better just to write ‘He’s insane’ but if we want to make sure that the reader understands that he’s very, very insane we could write:

‘He’s barking mad.’

In general, the words ‘completely’, ‘absolutely’, ‘literally’ and ‘actually’ add nothing to the sentence so we can delete them. The meaning will be the same. Take note though – an exception could be in dialogue, when someone is speaking.

If a character has a habit of saying a certain word as part of his normal speech and repeats it very often; then this will be called characterization.

In general, take care with these words:

  • Definitely
  • certainly
  • Probably
  • actually
  • basically
  • virtually

how to improve your writing proseTake a careful look at your prose. Do your sentences make sense without these words? If they do, then remove them. The word ‘then’ is often used to show a sequence of events. It is used too often and attracts attention as an overused word, particularly if used twice in one sentence.

It can often be replaced with ‘and’ in the sentence ‘He picked me up then brushed me off.’ If we replace ‘that’ with an ‘and’, the sentence still makes sense. It’s quite obvious that he was picked up before being brushed off, so the use of ‘then’ to show a sequence of events just isn’t necessary.

Check your sentences. Can ‘then’ be replaced with another word like ‘and’? If a sentence still has the same meaning without it, then erase it.

Often we include the word that’s in a sentence because it’s part of our everyday speech.’This is the best Chinese car that I’ve ever seen’could easily read ‘For me, this is the best Chinese car. Either sentence has exactly the same meaning.

The word ‘just’ is used very often in prose and particularly in dialogue. It’s mostly not needed, but it depends on the context.

how to write better proseThe last two words ‘very’ and ‘really’ are the biggest culprits, in my opinion. You can mostly delete them wherever you find them but be careful that the sentence still makes sense.

The trick is to find a stronger verb or adjective to convey the same meaning. We can say the child is ‘very tired’ or say the child ‘is exhausted’. It is a better verb and conveys the meaning.

In exactly the same way, let’s change the following sentence:

‘He went to a really boring movie.’

We could write “He went to a mind-numbing movie.’ It’s more dynamic and it makes the point.

The word ‘suddenly’ is meant to surprise the reader but it does the opposite. It slows down the action. It warns the reader that something is about to happen, so there’s no surprise at all.

Write the event without adding the word ‘suddenly’. The reader can feel the suddenness as the explosion happens. However, it can be used in other situations, where expressing of emotions. For example: ‘Suddenly, I find you interesting.’

The phrase ‘IN ORDER TO’ is never necessary:

‘I’m showing you this ‘in order to’ explain how I acted the other day.’

It’s exactly the same as saying:

‘I’m showing you this to explain the way I acted the other day’.

In some oft-used phrases we can see that each pair of words actually means much the same thing:

  • Past memories – memories are in the past, so past can be erased.
  • True Facts – facts are true by definition, so the word true is not necessary.

It’s always a good idea to keep your prose simple, so that it’s to the point and it moves the reader through the story. In this way we should choose simple words over fancy words. Fancy words interfere with understanding and slows everything down.

The readers might even skip a complicated word because they don’t know what it means.

How To Write Good Prose – Writing in the active or passive voice

Remember: As a writer, your goal is to tell your story in a direct way, that engages the reader, using prose that is easy to read and doesn’t distract from that story.

Many writers enthusiastically start to get the words down on paper and slide into a way of expressing action that is drab and not dynamic. This is often the case when we use the passive voice and not the active.

So what is the difference?

An active sentence has a subject doing something to something else. That ‘something else’ is called the object and, of course, what is done is the verb.

In this simple sentence:

‘Jason hit the ball’.

Jason is the subject, hit is the verb, and the ball is the object.

In fact, there doesn’t even have to be an object in an active sentence. In this sentence:

‘The rain falls.’

The ‘rain’ is the subject and ‘falls’ is the verb.

In a passive sentence the subject is not doing something. It is having something done to it For example, in this sentence:

‘The book was written by Jason.’

In an active form it would read:

‘Jason wrote the book.’

how to write good proseWe can identify a sentence as a passive action because the participle of the verb ‘to be’ is used in conjunction with another verb in the past tense. In the sentence used as an example, ‘was written’ tells you that this is a passive sentence.

Write it with other variations of the verb ‘to be’ and this is still a passive sentence, because something is being done to the subject, which is the book.

‘The book will be written by Jason’ is also a passive sentence, even though in this sentence the book will be written by Jason in the future. It is still a passive sentence.

So when do we use the active voice? The active voice should be used whenever you can. It’s direct and it’s generally clear who’s doing what. The energy and directness of the active voice keep your readers turning the pages.

Improve My Prose – Special Punctuation – Colons, emi-Colons, En-dash, Em-dash and Ellipsis

In this post I’m going to talk about punctuation marks. Not all punctuation marks, because it’s a very broad subject. There are some punctuation that we use again and again, and very often the new writer doesn’t use them in the correct way.

Most people understand the basic use of full stops (periods) and commas in a basic sentence but some usage of colons, semi-colons and similar punctuation marks are not fully understood.

In this post you will learn how to use these punctuation marks in the correct way, which will aid the reader’s understanding and improve the flow of your prose.

The punctuation mark you’re going to learn about are the colon, the semi-colon, the en-dash, the em-dash and the ellipsis. Don’t worry if you don’t fully understand these terms at the moment, it will become clear later.

elements of prose

Let’s begin with the colon, which is very useful if used in the right way. It’s commonly used to connect a sentence together with a list.

In this example after I’m packing my suitcase. I found a lot of items I didn’t need and then the list begins, so we add a colon.

‘When packing, I found a lot of things I didn’t need: socks, suntan-oil, an umbrella and a dictionary.’

In this example after unpacking my suitcase I found a lot of unwanted items, which I listed. Now we use a colon to separate the sentence from the list of items.

It makes it easier for the reader to sort things out in his mind, particularly if there are many items, and it helps the prose to flow.

The colon can also be used to accentuate a noun and to emphasize how important it is.

‘The lights went out and he faced his greatest fear: darkness.’

In this sentence the noun at the end of the sentence ‘darkness’ is very important. It’s a great fear, so it has a colon at the end of the sentence before the noun to make the reader understand how important it is. The colon helps to emphasize it.

If you have two sentences and the second one explains or elaborates on the first one, then you can also join them with a colon.

‘Jeremy found the man hideous: folds of excess flesh gave him the appearance of a monster.’

The first sentence makes a statement this person finds the man hideous. The second sentence explains why he is hideous.

Now the semicolon is slightly different. It can be used to link closely related sentences.

‘John was uncomfortable; he had eaten too much for dinner.’

how to write perfect proseUse a semicolon here because the sentences are related but not only that. The second sentence gives the reason for the first. he couldn’t get comfortable because his stomach was too full. He had eaten too much for dinner.

As with with the colon, the second sentence should begin with a lowercase letter.

Normally a comma is used to separate items in a list but sometimes if a list is complicated, it’s better to use a semicolon so that the reader understands it easier.

In this example we have three items in a list but it’s not simply three items. There are added explanations about the items, so it’s a little bit more complicated than a simple list:

‘Anne checked off each item. Sandwhiches, in case she got hungry; extra socks, in case it got cold; a raincoat, if the weather turned bad; and some stout shoes.’

In this particular case I would use a semicolon to separate the items and their descriptions.

We can use a semicolon to link sentences with a conjunctive adverb. What is a conjunctive adverb? These are some examples:

  • however
  • besides
  • finally
  • therefore

‘It isn’t usually my kind of place to eat; however, I though it prudent, given the circumstances.’

So before that ‘however‘, which is a conjunctive adverb we at the semi-colon. They are also used with transitional phrases to move fluidly from one sentence to the next. Some examples of transitional phrases are the words:

  • moreover
  • in addition
  • in this way

‘You will do detention; in addition, you will have no spring break this year.’

improve my proseHow to use hyphens, the en-dash and em-dash.

In this section we look at three common dashes used in prose – the hyphen, the en dash and the em dash. Hyphens are the most familiar and are used to join the words in a compound adjective.

‘Eric submitted a five-page document.’

The two words ‘five pages’ is a compound adjective describing the document, so we use a hyphen.

They can also be used to join the words in a compound noun.

‘A paper-clip is used to hold two or more pieces of paper together.’

In the compound noun example above, we use a hyphen between paper and clip to ensure that the reader understands that it is not a clip made of paper!

A compound adjective is simply one that uses two words instead of one and a compound noun just uses two words instead of one. They need to be joined it forms one particular item.

The hyphen can also be used to join a prefix to words as in the example:

‘Pre-school’

The main purpose of the hyphen is to show that the join words belong together. They’re treated as a single adjective or a single noun.

Hyphens also help to avoid ambiguity. For example, it makes it clear that if we write paperclip, it is the clip used to join sheets of paper.

If you’re not sure whether to use a hyphen between two words, write it out both ways and read it. does it make sense? If in doubt, use a hyphen.

Using the phrase ‘small business grant’, if we use a hyphen between small and business, it’s obviously a grant for small business.

Although the grant could be quite large, if you don’t use hyphen ‘small-business grant’ it isn’t clear if it is the business or the grant that is small. The hyphen makes it much clearer.

improve prose styleThen en-dash and the em-dash are probably the two most popular dashes used in prose. How to use them and what is the difference?

Create the end that by holding down the Alt key and typing 0150. For the em-dash, you’ll hold down the Alt key and type 0151. Note that this must be the numeric keypad on your computer keyboard not on the numbered keys that are above the letters.

The en-dash is so called because the dash is as wide as a letter n and the m dash is wider. Normally the en-dash has a space either side and the em-dash does not.

An em-dash can be used in place of a comma or parenthesis, to make phrases—or perhpas a word—withinin a sentence stand out.

Examples where an em-dash is employed:

  • Politics has three rules—don’t lie,don’t lie and don’t lie
  • Before you know it, Alex—the ugliest man in town—won a date with Miss America.

An en-dash may be employed toconnect values in a range, like 1945 to 1956.

Examples of en-dash use:

  • 1940–1945
  • pages 31–34
  • England beat Germany 4-2

When you write a wordy quotation, it’s useful to cut it short, as you want readers to focus on just one part of it. For this type of thing we remove some of the tex and use the ellipsis.

It can also be used when someone is speaking and they lose their train of thought because something distracts them.

We also use ellipses when someone can’t finish the sentence or is lost for words. For example, the person is so angry he can’t speak, he just has to stop.

If we’re writing a well-known saying that absolutely everybody in the world knows and has heard then we don’t really need to write the whole thing. These examples show what I mean:

  • ‘Speak of the Devil…’
  • ‘When in Rome…’
  • ‘If you can’t beat ’em…’

We use three dots to denote that the full phrase is ‘When in Rome do as the Romans do.’ ‘It never rains but it pours’ – everybody knows the ending to this phrase, so we add the ellipsis to finish it off.

Improve Prose Style – How To Write Numbers In Prose

improve proseInevitably you will need to write numbers in various forms in your prose when you write fiction. Now using the actual numbers or spelling the words out in letters is a matter of preference.

The main thing is that you’re consistent throughout the manuscript. However it’s wise to adhere to some special basic and accepted rules. It will make your writing easier to follow. Numbers should be spelled out when they begin a sentence as in the example shown:

‘Thirty-three birds fell out of the tree.’

If we wrote 33 birds in numbers, it looks rather out of place.

As you can see hyphenate written fractions in this way:

  • ‘three-fifths’
  • ‘two-thirds’

When you’re writing the time it’s best to use numerals, that is write the numbers down. Look at this sentence:

‘You’ll miss the train. It leaves that 6a.m.’

You’ll notice that the A and the M have a dot or a period after them. This is also a matter of preference. Some people write ‘am’ without the periods.

If you like to use the ‘o’clock’ form of writing time, always spell it out:

‘Hurry up! It’s past four o’clock.’

You should always write mixed fractions like ‘one and a half’ ‘three and three quarters’ and fractions in this form:

  • 1 1/2
  • 3 3/4

Write them in numbers, unless they start a sentence. Incidentally, when you’re writing percent always use a long form and not the symbol %.

Spell out large round numbers, like ‘million’.

When you’re writing the decimal in a sentence using numbers:

‘It only rains 0.67 percent of the time in the Sahara.’

Notice that we normally say ‘point six seven’, not ‘zero point six seven’, but when writing fiction it’s normal to add the zero to make it easier for the reader to understand.

When writing out numbers over 1000, don’t use commas. In the examples show, in the first sentence has a comma after the thousand and the second one shows the correct way to write it.

  • 1,150
  • 1150

improve prose writing

Ways To Improve Prose Writing – How To Use Interjections In Prose

So what is an interjection? These are words or short phrases that are not an integral part of the sentence and don’t really add any meaning.

They usually appear at the beginning of the sentence and are used various effects, like expressing emotion. The sentence shown expresses pain:

‘Ouch! That hurts!’

With an exclamation mark used to emphasize that it hurts. It expresses emotion and itt can be used to emphasize something.

‘Yes, I’d like to go to the party with you.’

It’s precise, it’s affirmative and it’s dynamic. An interjection can denote thoughtfulness when used in this way:

‘Mmmm. I was afraid you’d say that.’

And a very common use is as a filler, or a precursor to a sentence:

‘Well, it might not be ideal but it works.’
‘Hey, it’s what I do that counts.’

perfect proseInterjections are very useful for making dialogue flow naturally but if used too often will reduce the overall flow and readability.

An interjection can also be a one word sentence. For example, an angry teenager might say ‘whatever’ or ‘shut up’. Sometimes interjections or more sounds than real words and can be used to express feelings or a person’s emotional state, like nervousness as in this sentence:

‘Mary, um, I wondered if you’d um, like to come to the dance with me.

It shows the boy he’s very nervous because he adds the interjection ‘um’ twice in the sentence. Interjections can also appear at the end of a sentence and in the middle of this sentence we have one at the beginning and at the end.

‘So, you like that, eh?’

In this sentence below it’s in the middle.

‘To be honest, wow, that’s the nicest music I’ve ever heard.’

In both these cases an exclamation mark is not required. So interjections help to establish a character, how they feel and speak. For example, different words will be used depending on the novel setting, the people speaking and the historical time.

A modern teen might say:

‘Blade, you’ve got that right.’

Or a medieval knight in olden days might say:

‘Gadzooks, Henry killed the dragon.’

What Makes Good Prose? Remove Clichés and Over-used Words

prose writing tipsCliches are by definition not original. Everyone knows them and readers will quickly become bored if they find too many in your prose.

People are looking for new ways of reading things and saying things, not to review well-known phrases and sayings that already exist and they know very well. Review your prose for such phrases and remove them.

Finding original ways to express the same thing. This approach also has the advantage of developing your own writing style and will help you stand out from the crowd.

Readers tend to skim over cliches and they may even abandon the book if they find too many. It’s a lazy way for writers to tell a story because you’re not using your own voice or your own words.

Once you find a cliche in your work, the sentence can be reworked and worded in another way by replacing it with another phrase or word. Let’s see what I mean.

There’s a cliche in this sentence:

‘At the end of the day, it’s you who must decide.’

We can rewrite this cliche ‘at the end of the day’ in another way. We can simply replace it with one word – ‘ultimately’. Alternatively is the phrase needed at all? Perhaps with a simple review you can delete it.

‘It’s so small, for all intents and purposes he’s hardly worth bothering with.’

Now this sentence contains the cliche ‘for all intents and purposes’. Do we really need this phrase? If we take it out does it keep its meaning?

‘It’s so small, it’s hardly worth bothering with.’

Yes it does, so we can erase the cliche. In this last example the writer has used the cliche ‘for all intents and purposes’ as a word filler to expand his word count.

It’s a lazy way to write and it doesn’t improve the quality of the prose. Actually, it’s a barrier to clear expression.

Overused words In Prose.

ways to improve prose

As writers, we develop our own styles and we tend to favor some words over others. This is natural. We create sentences that often contain the same words used in different ways.

If we’re not careful we can overuse these words even, though we’re not aware of this over-usage. Once the reader becomes aware that you use a word too often, he’ll begin to look for it and this will distract him from the prose and from your story.

So how do you find these overused words? I talked about common words such as like ‘very’ and ‘really’, but some of our word over-usage is more subtle than this.

One way to find them is to use a beta-reader, who will read your manuscript and point out which word appear too often. Similar to cliches, overuse would distract from the story.

You can also read through your work, or the end of every session or every week and see if any words jump out at you. Here’s an example from some of my fiction.

In the sentence:

‘He smiled to see Helaine walking down the stairs.’

I notice that “he smiled”. It’s is a good sentence but after reading a few pages I noticed that ‘smile’ appears quite often. I used the ‘Find’ feature in the word processor and, sure enough, it appears frequently.

Too frequently, so I have to replace it with another word.

Writing Good Prose – How To Use Adverbs and Adjectives

In this post you will learn how to identify verbs and adjectives in your writing and how to remove unnecessary usage. We need to know and understand how some words are used to modify verbs and nouns.

Such words are intended to expand the meaning of the words that we use but often they are just not necessary. Even worse, over use of adverbs and adjectives in prose looks amateurish and can get in the way of telling the story, which of course is our primary goal.

So before we move on, let’s define adjectives and adverbs. An adjective is a word used to modify a noun or qualify it. Examples are ‘an old tree’, ‘a White House’ or ‘a beautiful girl’. An adverb is that part of speech that modifies a verb.

An adjective can modify an adverb or an entire sentence. Good examples are ‘quickly’, ‘really’ and ‘very’. A common fault for new writers is to use too many adjectives and adverbs.

As with many of the rules apply to writing prose, it’s not always useful to apply them too rigidly. Adjectives definitely have their place and adverbs less so.

So often, the addition of such words indicates to the reader that the writer is new to the game of writing and simply writing in a way that they consider to be somehow literary.

Always remember that the object of the exercise is to move the story along with strong words simply arranged. For example, instead of writing this:

‘He ran hurriedly across the dangerous highway.’

We could write this:

‘He sprinted across the highway.’

Sprinted means the same as running quickly. It gives the impression, a better impression, that he was running quickly and hinting at a sudden burst of speed.

Highways are inherently dangerous, so the adjective is not needed. The writer intended to tell the reader how dangerous the situation was, but any reader with imagination will understand by reading the short term, stronger sentence.

The situation described before the action would provide the motivation for the act of running across the highway and also provide the tension required. Is the man being pursued by someone trying to hurt him, or is he running toward someone trying to keep them from danger?

Another example instead of this:

‘She ate the sandwich quickly.’

We could write this:

‘She devoured the sandwich.’

It’s a much stronger verb and indicates that she is starving, or hasn’t eaten for a long time. If we wrote this:

‘She gobbled a sandwich.’

what makes good proseIt could indicate that she was simply in a hurry. She could also ‘wolf the sandwich down’. The use of any of these examples depends on the context, on the situation and the surrounding prose.

Trying to avoid extremes. Yoo many adjectives and adverbs will give your prose a purple tinge. Purple prose is very flowery ornate, and generally wordy. It’s prose that distracts from the story that you’re trying to tell.

It doesn’t move on. It tends to be written by beginners trying to seem more literary than they are. Possibly cut out the adjective or adverb and use a stronger noun or verb instead.

Instead of writing ‘a wealthy man’ we could write ‘a magnate’ or a ‘millionaire’. Instead of writing ‘walked slowly’ we could use the word ‘dawdled’ which means the same thing.

In fact it gives a better meaning of somebody walking along, maybe not caring where they’re walking. Maybe they’re absent minded or thinking of something else or maybe they’re just lazy.

Often you can simply cut out an adjective altogether and this was a strategy favored by great writers such as Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway. In this example instead of writing ‘leafy tree’ we could just write ‘tree’, unless it’s wintertime or the tree is dead, which you would indicate in another part of the Novel. Trees are leafy, so the word is redundant.

Here are some guidelines for avoiding adverbs:

Stay away from adverbs that state the obvious. An example may be: ‘Whispering softly’. To whisper means ‘to speak softly’. Whispering is soft, so using the word softly just repeats the obvious. It’s not necessary.

When you spot an adverb, rewrite the sentence without it. It will definitely be better. Only use an adverb if it’s strictly necessary and you can’t convey the same meaning without it.

And while passing, make it one of your goals to never use the words ‘very’ or ‘really’, unless in dialogue, to create an effect.

Carefully edit your prose and eliminate adjectives and adverbs, but be careful to keep the ones that convey exactly the precise meaning that you want to express. Applying these simple rules will improve your writing instantly.

How to improve your prose writing post Transcript PDF – Download this post as PDF here.

Brian Sanderson talks about writing perfect prose in the video below:

https://youtu.be/6sCzhuahZFc

Prose Writing Tips – Absolutes and Over-generalizations

In this lecture we don’t talk about absolutes which are sometimes referred to as blanket statements or over-generalizations. They leave your statements open to dispute.

For example, if you write ‘everyone loves Harry Potter’ and the reader knows people that don’t, then he knows for a fact that your statement is not true. If this happens too often then your credibility is in question, and your prose will suffer for it.

If absolutes appear now and again, particularly in dialogue it’s not too serious but you should be aware that they can creep in without realizing it. These are the kind of words that suggest absolutes:

  • everyone
  • all
  • nobody
  • never
  • every
  • always
  • everything
  • no one

As a starting point, search these words out in your manuscript and replace them with a qualifying word, such as those found in the list shown.

  • many
  • most
  • seldom
  • usually
  • occasionally
  • frequently
  • a lot of
  • tend to

Now let’s take a look at some of the absolute words we need to avoid and the words we can replace them with. The word ‘never’ could be replaced with:

  • uncommonly
  • rarely
  • infrequently
  • under few conditions
  • in rare circumstances

‘None’ can be replaced with:

  • a few
  • little
  • rare
  • a small number
  • hardly any

We often write ‘everyone’ or ‘everybody’ when we can replace this with the words:

  • most
  • a good amount
  • many people in general population
  • the majority

 

write better prose

 

‘Nobody’ and ‘no one’ could be replaced with ‘very few’ or ‘small number’.

‘Always’ could be replaced with ‘usually’, ‘frequently’, ‘consistently’, ‘with few exceptions’, ‘routinely’ or ‘most of the time’.

We often write ‘best’ or ‘worse’ in our prose and this is a matter of opinion, but you can use these with care. It really does depend on the context.

I leave the final word about absolutes in prose from a famous author JD Salinger:

“It’s partly true too but it isn’t all true. People always think that some things are all true.”


Wise words indeed. Beware of using absolutes when you find them. See if you can replace them with a better word.

Variety in Prose

In general, human beings like variety. We get bored very easily and most entertainment, including writing, brings us surprises in one form or another.

If a reader becomes bored with your writing style, then he may abandon your book and the story will never get told. Prose should have variety and this takes different forms.

writing good proseThe structure of your prose is one way to ensure that the reader doesn’t find your fiction monotonous. Narrative and dialogue should be thoroughly mixed up and have elements of each on a page, instead of two or three pages of one and then a couple of pages of the other.

Reading too much narrative pulls the reader away from the action of the characters. Conversely, if we write too much dialogue your prose will seem more like a movie script than a novel.

If your book has chapters, they should be of various levels. Some will be short and some will be long, and all the others somewhere in between. Paragraphs should also be different lengths and not always the same. The reader will find it monotonous predictable and downright tedious.

One of the most important lenth rules concerning sentences. If all sentences were 10 words long, a book would be incredibly boring. Some can be longer but should be interspersed with shorter punchy sentences.

Such sentences tend to be dynamic and active, pushing the story forward. Mix up your sentences and often begin a paragraph with a short one or ending it with a short one.

This tends to emphasize an idea make a point or set a scene. Do your sentences tend to begin in the same way? Change the structure of the words used to add variety. For example, one way to change the structure of a sentence to make it different from the surrounding ones is to start it with a verb in this way:

‘Looking over his shoulder, he walked close to the wall.’

Previously, looked at the use of colons and semicolons. The use of these when appropriate, in a place of a comma will also serve to introduce variety into your sentence construction.

Writer's Workshop Link - teaching prose

Search your prose for the use of simple sentences, those which have no commas for example and see if the two can be joined with a semicolon or a colon.

Ideally, there would be a good mix of good and bad characters in your novel. Some characters should be happy. Some should be sad. Some will be mean and some kind. There will be beautiful people and ugly people, and your story should contain them all.

Scenes in your book should be of different lengths. Some will be filled with action, while others may be slow and thoughtful. Vary the pace in this way so that your novel has ups and downs, and moves along briskly.

Some scenes will focus on dialogue and others on description. Some will end happily but some will be downright disastrous for the hero, and your story needs from all.

Fiction needs the full range of moods. Sometimes the mood is light and sometimes it’s tense. It can be funny one minute and deadly serious the next.

Variety in your prose is part of the art of good fiction.

Towards Perfect Prose – Vague writing and initial coordinating conjunctions.

The reader is relying on you, the author, to tell the story in a way that is direct and dynamic. One thing that spoils this dynamic flow is writing in a vague way.

Be decisive when describing actions in your prose and it will improve your writing. Tell your reader what is, not what might be what, seems to be, or what almost was.

For example, in the sentence ‘He probably didn’t see it’ the word ‘probably’ really is not necessary. It’s tentative. It’s vague writing. We would simply write ‘he didn’t see it’.

Here is a list of some other words like ‘probably’ which are tentative or vague:

  • try
  • tried
  • trying
  • something
  • maybe
  • possibly
  • nearly
  • sometime

A writer should be bold and decisive to create strong stories. You do this by making your characters bold and decisive.

Look at this sentence:

‘Maybe I’d like to take you out to dinner sometime.’

Now this is vague. The characters in your novel should be bold and decisive. Try this sentence:

‘I want to take you out to dinner tonight.’

Improve Your Prose With Initial coordinating conjunctions.

These are words like ‘and’, ‘but’ and so on, and yet are capitalized and used to begin the sentence. These words are normally used to link two sentences together.

Now it may not be strictly grammatically correct to begin a sentence with a conjunction, but within reason it’s acceptable and it helps a story to flow.

If it’s not done too much in this sentence:

‘And he had the nerve to call me a bigot.’

It’s a matter of preference whether we use a comma or not. In this sentence:

‘So, you want to marry my daughter?’

The comma indicates that you need to pause a little and that gives a slightly different flavor. Without the comma it is simply:

‘So you want to marry my daughter.’

It’s a matter of choice but it changes the accent and the balance of the sentence. If you’re in doubt, speak the sentence out loud to see if the meaning is the same.

Bear in mind that the best selling books have around 10 percent of initial quarterly conjunctions in their sentences, so it’s very acceptable in small doses.

how to write prose in a story - course link