Good Writing Habits By Judy Lowwer

The all-purpose guide to writing. SFW EDITION.

Written and published by Judy Lowwer.


Welcome reader, and soon to be an author. In this brief guide, we will be correcting some short prose. The purpose of this guide is to help transform your writing and help increase your use of descriptive language. A thesaurus, dictionary, and a high school grasp of English are all that is required.

We'll be going over a quick example piece that I've pre-written (While about half asleep so there's bound to be errors!) to start improving. Here's our raw text:



"His hackles raised as he sensed the presence of another. Not like it mattered, no less than a second after Markus was alerted did the needle fired from Terry's syringe-gun perforate his skin. As the chemical cocktail slowly branched out through his veins, the detective took a deep breath. He was fully aware that whatever toxic slurry now ran through his blood vessels, he was completely at the mercy of his assailant.

A scream caught in his throat, but as pain dug its roots into his being, all that came was a feeble whimper. He hardly noticed when his body hit the floor with a dull thud, his conscious was too pre-occupied with trying to fight off the invading mind-bending torture."



That's quite a chunk of words! There's a lot to sort through, so let's take it by the year.


"His hackles raised as he sensed the presence of another. Not like it mattered, no less than a second after Markus was alerted did the needle fired from Terry's syringe-gun perforate his skin."



It doesn't exactly roll off the tongue well, does it? The first thing we should try to do is "Cut the crud". By removing anything that isn't necessary for the reader to understand, we can make the passage shorter. Shorter is often better! We can also remove perforate in favor of something with a more negative connotation to better fit the situation.



"His hackles raised as he sensed another person enter the room. Markus hardly had the time to react before the needle pierced his skin."



Now, our next line.



"As the chemical cocktail slowly branched out through his veins, the detective took a deep breath. He was fully aware that whatever toxic slurry now ran through his veins, he was completely at the mercy of his assailant."



Once again, we can shorten this.

"As a twisted chemical cocktail bled into his veins, the detective slowly realized he was at the complete mercy of his assailant"



Proceeding on:



"A scream caught in his throat, but as pain dug its roots into his being, all that came was a feeble whimper. He hardly noticed when his body hit the floor with a dull thud, his conscious was too pre-occupied with trying to fight off the invading mind-bending torture."




This is too quickly introduced to us for readers to understand. Show, not tell. "Pain" is an inadequate way of describing something "mind-bending". Lets quickly add to this.

There's a couple of cliche ways of describing pain. A common one you might see is "nerves on fire".  What this fails to do is "squick" the reader. Few readers have actually felt what it feels like to be set on fire, and so for most, fire is just another way of saying "painful". We should go with a more familiar feeling, or at the very least, something that causes discomfort for the reader. Here's a quick example:




"The immediate sensation was strikingly similar to rusty nails being skewered through bone marrow."



If you've ever had the displeasure of experiencing agony, it's not something you can take straight up. A character in agony is not going to be talking, they're not going to be resisting, they're not going to be moving. When you're in agony, reason leaves you, as does language. Complex thoughts beyond "it hurts" become hard. In many ways, it's almost reducing to the mental state of an animal, run, hide, and retreat. Use this to your advantage whenever dialogue needs to be introduced or is forced out of someone. It's important to also realize the difference between this and near-death-delirium. Someone's whose body isn't capable of registering the damage dealt with it is going to be a bit more talkative and more nonsensical. Compare "nno... stop... ... ...no" with "It's cold, and, and, and the, well, t-the world's upside down, upside down
... Am I upside down? That's s-silly. ... am I dying? I dont want to die..."The last thing you can do to help the reader follow along is any visual changes a character might go over. Generally, for something on the level of "mind-numbing", we're going to assume that's pretty bad. A person might curl up in the fetal position to provide a sense of security. They might double over, clutch their stomach, or struggle for breath. Sometimes, pain is loud, through gasps for air because of a bruised lung, screams, or crashing as the body spasms and kicks, knocking over its surroundings. Other times its quiet, they only might whine, or try and shut away from the pain. A merit of the original text is that "whimper" is a very good word to use in the situation. When you think of a whimper, you might think of a dog, or something submissive. This makes it a perfect word to accompany any situations of powerlessness.

Using what we've learned, let's transform the text.




"The immediate sensation was strikingly similar to rusty nails being skewered through bone marrow. A scream caught in his throat, but as agony took hold, all that came was a whimper. His mind was too preoccupied with fighting off the mind-numbing pain to notice when his body hit the floor with a dull thud."



All that and we only used the word pain once! I'd say that's an accomplishment!



Our final text looks like this:



"His hackles raised as he sensed another person enter the room. Markus hardly had the time to react before the needle pierced his skin. As a twisted chemical cocktail bled into his veins, the detective slowly realized he was at the complete mercy of his assailant.
The immediate sensation was strikingly similar to rusty nails being skewered through bone marrow. A scream caught in his throat, but as agony took hold, all that came was a whimper. His mind was too preoccupied with fighting off the mind-numbing pain to notice when his body hit the floor with a dull thud."



Did much change? Well, it might not look like it, but we were able to clean up the text quite efficiently. Sometimes it's not worth packing too much meat into your text. Start with the skeletal structure and go from there. If you can't find any fault with your text, have the computer read it aloud to you. Let it out of your mind for a day or two before revisiting the text. Your first draft should never be your final draft! When all else fails, ask for a 2nd opinion.
Practice makes perfect!