So today I thought I’d share with you a few of the writing tips I have picked up over the years, both as a fiction writer and a journalist. In this blog, I’m trying to preach about brevity, so lets just get on with it.
1. When you are writing a novel, think of KISS. That’s right—keep it simple, stupid! Thanks to the technological age, most people have an attention span just shy of that of a cocaine-sniffing hummingbird. Flowery prose and long-winded descriptions of a single sun-dappled leaf may have been de rigueur in days of yore, but frankly the people of yore had more time and less Apple devices to distract them. So try to say it as simply as possible.
2. Keep the majority of your sentences short, consisting of no more than 25 words. Of course, you will occasionally have a longer sentence in there, maybe one per paragraph, and that’s ok. But avoid, at all costs, the long-winded sentence that just bangs on and on and on about one thing or worse totally changes tack in the middle for no reason and goes off onto some random tangent until the reader gets bored, turns on the television or surfs the net and then completely loses track of what you were say—oh look, a kitten!
3. Another great way to keep the readers interested is to vary the length and style of sentences. So some sentences may be brief. And some sentences, such as this one, may be a little longer and include some kind of feature or qualifier. And then you might want to think about adding another brief one. Change it up.
4. Try and stick to around three paragraphs per page, at least. There is nothing worse than one long paragraph that never ends. I loved the Millennium Trilogy, but fuck Larsson waffles on about some nonsense in there. I skipped pages and pages of never-ending paragraphs and still kept up with the story—as far as I’m concerned, his editor should be dragged naked over gravel by his earlobe. Along that vein, each paragraph should deal with a single idea, and each paragraph should include no more than about three to six sentences.
5. Get to the freaking point. Lee Child’s books are an excellent example of this. He leads the reader straight into the story from the first line. He rarely uses sentences of more than 20 words. He keeps descriptions to a minimum. His main character, Jack Reacher, never stops to admire how the sunlight reflects off a dew drop perched indolently on a blade of grass and shatters into a myriad of rainbow-like colors. Reacher doesn’t give a shit and neither do your readers. No—Reacher crushes that blade of grass under his boot as he trudges along because, frankly, he has places to go and people to fuck up. As a result there are no boring spots, which is why I am still up reading about Reacher at 3am.
6. Of course, you will need have the odd description in there. But, like an all-nude strip club, peel back your descriptions to their most interesting elements. I don’t care how amazing it is, no single thing needs more than 100 words to describe it. A neat trick: whenever I feel like a description is overly long or complicated, I try and fit each single sentence on to Twitter. This helps me narrow it down to the most important words.
Well, this list is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a start and it includes stuff I didn’t know until editors started telling me in a not very kind fashion. Hope it helps!