LESSON A Composition Workshop - How can I improve my writing?

Discussion in 'REFINING WRITING' started by Cammybatty, Nov 20, 2011.

  1. My favorite part of roleplaying, and writing in general, is the composition; putting together something that people enjoy reading and can identify with. Sometimes, though, the best of ideas can be stymied when we can't get it to sound right. Just like an artist, a writer needs to use the proper technique in order to create a work of art. Structure is just as important as the small details. So, how can I get that post to sound right?

    VOCABULARY - Improving and expanding your vocabulary is essential to improving your skills as a writer. A wide vocabulary affords you the ability to write with clarity and precision. Being able to pick from a greater stock of words keeps your writing interesting, rather than repetitious and dull. Knowing your vocabulary will also keep you from making embarrassing spelling errors when you have seen the word you're attempting to write, rather than it being a word you've heard being used.

    There are two ways one can improve their vocabulary. The first is to READ READ READ. Reading books from a wide range of topics, both fiction and nonfiction, is a great source of incidental learning. You unconsciously absorb the new words in context, and are able to use the word more naturally sooner. The con to incidental learning is that it takes longer to build up a wider vocabulary as you must sift through words that you already know.

    The second method is the direct approach. Using vocabulary building software, word-a-day apps or calendars, or even regularly looking up a dictionary or thesaurus for unfamiliar words is a way to more quickly increase your vocabulary knowledge. It is important with each word, however, to not only understand the meaning of a word, but to be able to use it in context. Using a good word in the wrong context will not make your writing sound more believable.

    GRAMMAR - I can hear you groaning. Go ahead. Grammar is often seen as bewildering and confusing, however one cannot become a good writer without knowing how to properly lay down a sentence. The knowledge of construction and mechanics in writing is similar to the knowledge of the skeletal and musculature composition of the body in art. Any good artist will tell you that you cannot draw consistent body structures without knowing AT LEAST the basics of the skeletal system. In the same way, how much you know and follow the rules of grammar will determine how successful your writing will be.

    As always, you need to know the rules so you know how to break them. Nobody likes a grammar nazi, but the best way to keep them at bay is to know (and use!) your grammar rules. They are your best weapon.

    VOICE AND TONE - Something that is unique to every writer is their style. However, style can be taught, it can be changed, and it can be manipulated. This gives the writing depth, feeling, and life. The writer's voice gives the reader the impression that they are listening to the writer in their head, and the sense that they can actually hear him. The tone of a piece gives it an emotion, and can almost dictate how a reader should feel. A good writer will know how to use language, sentence length, even punctuation to their advantage in order to achieve their goals.

    The use of language goes beyond simple vocabulary; it separates vocabulary (including phrases) into types of language such as formal, informal, colloquial, slang, metaphorical, satirical, and so forth. Each type of language has its own rules and vocabulary, and it's the knowledge of how to use language that gives the words their power.

    Taking the time to read and dissect a piece of writing, and imitating a style, can be one of the best ways to learn about tone and voice. A good style is distinctive. A good writer can make their unique style stand out from the others. A great writer's style is remembered.

    BALANCE - Not all writings are required to be a novel. There are times when a short, to the point approach is more effective than something more verbose. Knowing your audience and what you're attempting to convey will dictate how to approach your writing.

    Varying your approach, even within the same piece, keeps the reader engaged and interested. If all your sentences run on and on, covering too many ideas at once, readers will struggle to follow and comprehend it. If they are all short, they sound disjointed and disingenuous. A short sentence can bring a halt to a line of thinking in a surprising and amusing way. A longer sentence can carry an idea to hilarious absurdity. There is never one way to invoke an emotion.

    Balance is also needed in mood and vocabulary. If ones writing never seems to change mood or voice, it becomes monotonous and dry. A monotone voice can be useful, but to a point. Everything in writing is useful. To. A. Point. The mistake that many writers make is overuse of a writing device. Also, if I need a dictionary for every other word, you have lost two very important things: me as a reader, and your own credibility. Writing should communicate an idea clearly, and I should be able to glean the meaning of an unfamiliar word from the words that support it. Even a purposefully confounding sentence should have a previously conveyed reason for being so.

    RESEARCH - Yes, research. It's a basic part of all writing. Research gives your writing credibility, from facts to fantasy. Ninety percent of what you research will not show up in your actual writing, but it will drive your writing in a clear, understandable direction. Research helps you to narrow and focus a broad idea into a manageable thought process.

    Your most realistic characters are ones to which you have all the answers for. If you can clearly explain all of the how and why questions to a reader, you have a better chance of not only convincing them, but also spotting weaknesses and flaws in your own thought processes. Research helps to answer those questions in your own mind before you commit to your character's details. Giving your character a full history before it's even written gives it depth and believability. It makes your characters real, and keeps them from being generic or impossible.

    Research can be fun! Curiousity is one thing that drives creativity. Curiousity creates a problem to solve and creativity helps to solve it. In that curiosity lies the research. If I want to know something badly enough, the search and the discovery is just as satisfying as the sharing.

    If I wanted to make a new kind of gun, I would first need knowledge on how a gun works. Curiousity might drive me to take a gun and dismantle it. I would see how each piece fits and moves in order to create a working gun, but that won't tell me everything I need to know about how a gun works. Curiousity will send me to look at gunpowder, ballistics, physics. In the end, I will know all I need to know about guns in order to use my creativity to create a new kind of gun. Had I not done the research, all my creativity would have been thwarted by my lack of knowledge.

    FINALLY, FUN! - Enjoy the process of writing! Don't be afraid to experiment with using words or devices. Allow yourself to be imperfect and have a sense of humor. If you take yourself too seriously, every critique will seem like an attack and you will ultimately stifle your own progress. In the end, we write for the joy of writing. At the risk of being sappy, its a love affair with words, with your muse. The academic aspects should serve to make your writing easier, not harder. They should enhance your writing, not drive it. In the end, if you don't like your own work, what's the sense in writing, right?

    Here are some links I came across while putting this workshop together (SEE? RESEARCH!).

    Daily Writing Tips gives lots of tips, explanations and little quizzes in short, easy to understand articles covering all areas of writing, from vocabulary, to tone and style.

    LousyWriter.com has lots of definitions, lists and examples, focused mainly on grammar rules and parts of speech. This includes commonly confused words and grammar mistakes.

    Happy Writing!
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