Writer’s Toolbox

June 14, 2009 at 11:08 pm | Posted in Tool Box | Leave a comment
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Writers rely on the tools of their trade, just as an electrician or plumber will rely on theirs.  A writer’s tool box contains imagination, language and style, each applied at various times. 

Writers hone their tools through experience.  You can’t learn to write simply by reading how to articles, rather you must apply the techniques to your writing. 


Every muscle can be built and strengthened through repetition application.  You can build your imagination by exploring various genres and mediums and practicing creative writing exercises.

Freewriting is the practice of writing without censure.  Silence your inner critic and allow the words to flow.  If you don’t know where to begin write nonsense. The objective isn’t to write usable material, but rather to discover your voice and to unleash your imagination. 

Clustering is a creative writing activity that generates ideas, images and feelings around a stimulus word. Write a word or phrase, such as “elephant,” the brainstorm all words related to elephant, such as “gray” and “memory,” then work outwards from “memory” to “brain” to “surgery,” and so on.   


Great writers make writing seem effortless. Don’t be fooled by appearances: great writing requires a thorough knowledge of vocabulary, punctuation and grammar.   The rules of language can be learned.  However, within the rules a writer can arrange words in many ways:

The loose sentence begins with the main point (an independent clause), followed by one or more subordinate clauses.
The periodic sentence places the main point in the middle or at the end of the sentence.
The balanced sentence is characterized by parallel structure: two or more parts of the sentence have the same form, emphasizing similarities or differences. (1)


The application of language requires artistic finesse.  Choose a paragraph from something you consider well written and emulate the writing style in your own story. Writing style reveals the writer’s personality and is the result of the choices made in structures, diction, and expression.   

Style is subjective, though some styles are more readily accepted than others.  Passive voice or active voice; wordy or simplistic; formal or casual; these are all decisions a writer makes and no choice is right or wrong. 

Once you recognize the choices you make, you will have more control in your writing. 

When you hide the actor by putting it somewhere after the action (not in the usual subject part of the sentence) and add a “to be” verb, you are using passive voice. If you typically write in a passive voice, change to an active voice and judge the results. Locate passive voice by circling every “to be” verb (am, is, are, was, were, be, been, being). If the “to be” verb is sitting next to another verb, especially one that ends in “ed,” (“was lost”, “was wrecked”) then you may be using passive voice. (2)

If your writing tends to be wordy, with filler words and phrases that delay delivery of your message, scale back for lean writing

Wordy constructions such as cliches, qualifiers, and redundant pairs are easy to fix once you recognize your tendency to use them. (2) 

Clichés stand in for more precise descriptions of something. Slow down and write exactly, precisely what you mean. If you get stuck, ask yourself “why? or “how?”

Some qualifiers are necessary, but you should use them carefully and thoughtfully.  Eliminate most of the qualifiers (very, often, hopefully, practically, basically, really, mostly) and you will have a stronger, more direct point.

Overuse of prepositional phrases (prepositions are little words such as in, over, of, for, at, etc.) Locate this problem by circling all of the prepositional phrases in your paper. A few are okay, but several in a sentence obscure your point.  (2)

Like other fine craftsmen, you must strive to improve constantly:  everything you’ve written or will write, could be better.  You must learn to write it better.     

1. Writing Style: Wikipedia, June 14, 2009

2. Style: University of North Carolina, June 14, 2009


Shifting Your Viewpoint

March 26, 2008 at 12:16 am | Posted in Tool Box | Leave a comment
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I have two teenage daughters and I find myself playing referee whenever there is an argument. No matter what the dispute, I hear two sides of the same story and they’re usually wildly different. 


“She took my CD.”

“No I didn’t, she let me borrow it.”

 “And now it’s scratched.”

“I never even took it out of the case.”

“She owes me a new one.”

“No I don’t because you’re lying.”

“You’re the liar.”


I use my mighty mom senses to discern the truth, finding it somewhere in the middle.

Every situation has many truths, each told from a different viewpoint.  Shifting your perspective can shed a whole new light onto a situation. The same is true with your story.  Most stories are told from the point of view of the main character, the protagonist who moves the action along.  That’s perfectly acceptable, but don’t choose it without considering your options.


The Sidekick – Dear Dr. Watson comes to mind: the sidekick who chronicled the amazing powers of observation demonstrated by Sherlock Holmes.  Sherlock wouldn’t be nearly as engaging if he bragged about his great detecting to anyone willing to listen.  Instead, Sherlock enthralled us, but never acknowledged he had an audience, other than Dr Watson that is.


The Antagonist – Hey everyone needs a little love. Why not turn a story on its head and tell it from the opposing point of view.  Wicked:  The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire is a brilliant example.  It is the story of Oz, told from the Wicked Witch’s perspective. Bad guys are usually more fun to write because they are bold, outrageous and a bit demented. Telling the story from this viewpoint would be a challenge, but it would be considered bold, outrageous and perhaps, a bit demented too. 


The Pet – Tell the story from an animal’s perspective and you’ve got a whole new view of the world.  You book doesn’t need to include singing chipmunks or dancing hippos to incorporate an animal’s point of view.  Trixie Koontz (Dean’s beloved Golden Retriever) gave us Life is Good; Lessons in Joyful Living and George Orwell offered a darker version in Animal Farm.


Just remember that every perspective is a valid one. The story will change according to who is telling it.  If you haven’t considered using an alternative perspective, write a scene to see how it plays out. You might just find a better view.    

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