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‘Must Have’ Tools for Every Writer

by Lily E. Wong

Every writer needs tools. These include pen, paper, a computer and, surprise – books. Reading is as essential as writing. Being well read will help you to write well.

For writers certain books catapult our work into the forefront. The following five books will help hone your craft. How can anyone claim to be a writer if his/her work is not easy to understand? The goal is for all writers to own, read and refer to these books multiple times throughout their career.

1. The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White

First published in 1979, this book covers use of the English language. There are many books on grammar but few have stood the test of time. In essence, the book is a great example of good writing. Clear and concise, it’s a quick reference on grammar.

2. On Writing Well by William Zinsser

The subtitle of this book is “The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction.” The book, divided into four parts, covers principles, methods, forms, and attitudes. Each section contains chapters that will enhance any writing. Zinsser provides examples from authors to teach and remind writers to keep their readers in mind.

3. On Writing by Stephen King

King calls it, “A Memoir of the Craft,” and delivers that and more. He tells a great story of a writer’s life, with himself as the focal point. Creativity and inspiration is his message.

4. A dictionary and thesaurus combination

This is invaluable to everyone because we all read and write. A dictionary enhances our vocabulary when we come across an unfamiliar word. On the other hand, a word repeatedly used can numb the reader. This is where the thesaurus comes in handy. The combination of both a dictionary and thesaurus is the ultimate necessity in a writer’s arsenal.

5. Your favorite book

This can be any book, fiction or nonfiction. Choose an anthology, a novel or any piece of literature. If you enjoyed reading this book, the writer did his job. Let this book be your inspiration, the goal you want to achieve.

As a writer, you want to do your best. You have talent but get some tools. Tools are a means to bring this talent forth for all to enjoy.

If these books aren’t yet in your library, borrow them, try them, buy them. But like all professional craftsmen, make sure any tool is worth its weight in gold before adding it to your collection.

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Redundant Writing

The Same Ol’ Thing

by Ariel Pakizer, Creative Writing Institute Volunteer

Writing is tricky, but one rule is clear…readers, editors, and publishers like clean writing that is free of redundancies. No one likes to plod through oceans of verbiage. Redundancies slow the narrative and clutter the plotline. Remove them and make your work shine.

Replace, “He looked down at his shoes,” with “He looked at his shoes” or “He looked down.” Unless you‘re writing about aliens that wear shoes on their hands, readers will understand the character must look down to see footwear. Respect your reader’s intelligence.

Every word should hold a purpose, reveal new information, and/or push the narrative forward. Redundancies such as “whole earth” or “entire world” are unnecessary since “world” summarizes everything on earth. Other examples of lame writing are:

  • closed fist
  • future plans
  • brief summary
  • final outcome
  • armed gunman
  • advance warning
  • end result
  • exact same

Look for redundancies in your phrases, too.

  • She is the girl who lives on my street is loaded with verbiage. “She lives on my

street,” says the same thing without clutter.

  • “Each” and “every” are both fine words, but use one or the other.
  • Instead of saying “in spite of the fact,” use “although.”

Don’t worry about redundancies in a first draft. Slice and dice them on your last edit. Test your skills on this 82-word paragraph. How many words can you save?

She looked up at the stars, and wondered if all the others were watching them as she did. The stars would be falling soon, and every living person would be cast into never ending darkness. It didn’t matter what people did now, the end result would be one and the same. Past history had tried to warn them in advance, urging people to make future plans to stop this horrible event. No one cared to listen, and now it couldn’t be stopped.

Every word is precious when you have to stay within a word count. Read this clean copy:

She wondered if others were watching the stars, too. Soon, they would fall and cast life into darkness. What happened now didn’t matter. History’s warnings were ignored and the future forgotten. It was too late.

Only 35 words, yet it reads easier and doesn’t change the meaning. Delete and rewrite entire paragraphs for practice. Remember, less is more, and conciseness is king.

Don’t forget to ‘like’ us before you leave. For more great tips, sign up for The Writer’s Choice Newsletter at http://cwinst.com/newslettersignup.php.

Denotation, Connotations, and Emotive Responses

What They are and How to Use Them

by Melissa Hathaway

A dictionary is an important resource for writers but it takes more than a definition to understand a word. This study is called semiotics. Semiotics suggests definitions have become associated with the word because of cultural and personal experience.

The terms denotation and connotation separate the accepted definition from other meanings. Denoted meanings can change over time, or vary between cultures. Understanding how different definitions interact to affect the reader enables writers to choose words more effectively.

Denotation

The denoted meaning is a literal definition, but you might think of it as an image associated with the word. The word “house”, for example, might make you think of a child’s drawing, or it could denote something different, depending on whether you live on a farm, in a Manhattan apartment, or in a ger on the Mongolian plain.

Connotation

The connoted meanings of words are additional meanings that we associate with them. Some connotations arise from shared cultural experience and can become widespread, while others are a result of personal experience. Synonymous words can vary dramatically. For instance, the word “house” is relatively neutral, but close synonyms such as home, mansion, and shack can produce strong connotations. The word mansion might arouse feelings of luxury or envy while shack might produce disgust or pity. You have power over your reader’s mind.

Choosing the Right Word

A combination of denotation and connotation can present new meaning. Sometimes, the reason for choosing one word over another will be a slight difference in the denoted meaning, but in other cases, you may want to elicit a particular response from the reader. Don’t try to use unusual synonyms. It’s more effective to use a word with connotative power instead of one that sounds impressive.

Creative Use of Connotations

The importance of connotation is apparent from the difficulty of creating a computer program that can recognize good writing. A computer that could understand the rules of grammar and spelling would not be able to recognize effective writing, even if it were capable of understanding each word’s denoted meaning. Descriptions depend on the response that occurs in the reader’s mind. If you want to explore the connotations associated with a particular word, type it into a search engine and read the associations the word might trigger in a reader. Copywriters use this knowledge to create effective web pages and write adverts that will emotionally impact their target audience. Listen to ads to determine manipulative keywords that hold connotative value. If you want to sell the house you were imagining earlier, describe it as a mansion instead of a shack, and that leads us to emotive language.

Emotive Language

Emotive language produces an emotional response, and often depends on connotations that imply a positive or negative judgment. For example, words that are associated with happiness or virtue produce a different emotional response than those associated with distress or evil.

Even the simplest phrases can convey emotional content when used in the right context. For example, Hemingway’s six-word story: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

In conclusion: the dictionary can tell you exactly what a word denotes, but it cannot tell you what feelings and associations the word might invoke when you use it. Learn to produce strong emotional responses and you will become an effective writer.

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