(Give Me Your) Writing Tips

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If you’re anything like me, you write compulsively. It’s not a choice; there’s some little imp in your brain forcing you to get your thoughts down onto paper or computer screen or your brother's forehead or any other scrap of blank space, no matter the time or place, whether it’s four in the morning or eleven at night. Additionally, if you’re anything like me (and let’s just conclude that you are because it makes it so much easier), it’s your lifelong goal to one day publish the #1 New York Times bestseller for teens.

Obviously I’m far from getting anywhere near the Times; my writing still needs a lot of work. A lot a lot. Consequently, I would love to get more writing suggestions and critique. I’m hoping that by offering my own writing tips, others will offer theirs. So here it is, folks: Keilah’s Writing Tips. Hopefully there’ll soon be a rash of “______’s Writing Tips” posts sprawled across Stage of Life, and I’ll read every one. :)

Overall, I tend to lean towards dark, sarcastic humor. My mom says this is because I’m a negative person, i.e., a pessimist. I prefer the term realistic, but I’m the first to acknowledge that “realism” is just the pessimist’s euphemism for negativity. My dad just says I’m a cynic. Since “cynical” happens to be synonymous to “pessimistic,” I’m not sure what he’s implying. But it seems like satires sell well; just look at Jonathan Swift and his “modest proposal.”

Humor in itself appears to sell well, especially if you’re interested in young adult writing. Almost every bestselling young adult novel I’ve read so far contained some aspect of humor, ranging anywhere from pure absurdity to quick wit. The American cry is “ENTERTAIN ME.” I’ve proof-tested this on my brothers, and on average I’ve found I have about two sentences to either pull them in or lose them completely, sometimes less. The best snare I’ve stumbled so far across is humor. More specifically (for a ten-year-old boy), it’s crass humor. (My dad’s must have been training me for this my whole life.)

My favorite literary technique by far is the hyperbole. I love exaggerating things for the good of the story, and I think a little bit of embellishment brings a boring story a long way. On the down side, oftentimes my hyperboles find their way into real-life stories as well, stories that would be better with just the straight facts. My notorious exaggerations have caused my mother to mentally interpret something like “twenty-foot snake” to “baby earthworm” on multiple occasions. But all the same, the goal of creative writing is ultimately to keep the reader interested enough to read the next sentence . . . and the next and the next and the next, and personally I think a twenty-foot Anaconda is much more interesting than a common earthworm. :)

I have a love affair with personification, and although I haven’t quite mastered the art myself I love reading good personification. (If anyone hasn’t read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, you must. If you need an incentive, it’ll teach you how to swear really well in German.) I also always have a few similes or metaphors within easy reach. I think these three kiddos (personification, similes, and metaphors) can make a walk to the mailbox as interesting as an alien invasion, if you do it right.

I rarely focus on using hyperbole or personification, however. Usually my fingers are just slaves to my train of thought. On every blog I’ve posted so far on Stage of Life, there has been no intentional hook, thesis statement, intro, body or conclusion. I’ve just written whatever came to mind, and you’ve all had to suffer the dire effects of my splurges.

I prefer using computers when I write memoirs or creative non-fiction because I can randomly type out memories and ideas and then insert them wherever they fit. If I’m trying to write a well-thought out essay for school or a contest, on the other hand, it’s better if I write it out with pencil and paper. That way my hand can’t keep up with my thoughts and I’m forced to think slowly and create sentences and paragraphs and bodies and conclusions and all that lovely crap.

I always proof-read everything I write at least three or four times. I make a lot of stupid mistakes when I write, and oftentimes I’ll even miss these if I don’t read my work out loud. If it’s for school, I also have one of my parents check it (Well, technically they’re the ones grading most of my papers, so take your pick: check or grade.)

My mom’s big rule is “Never start a sentence with however.” However, I argued over this with her incessantly until we found the official “however” website, and it sided with me. One point to Keilah. You’ll see lots of sentences in my writing beginning with “however.” Her second big rule is to never end a sentence with a preposition. For example, “I don’t know who I should go to the Winter Dance with.” I argue with her about this too. How else are you supposed to say that sentence?

My dad’s big rule is “No is’s, was’s, or are’s.” He considers these passive and therefore equivalent to bo-o-o-o-oring. So if I’m writing a boring essay (for example) on “The Christian View of Economics” or “Acidosis v. Alkalosis,” then, yeah, I try to make the essay as interesting and attractive as possible (if there's possibly a way to make economics and alkalosis interesting). I substitute is, was, and are with verbs and I make my “voice” as active as possible.” However if I’m writing a memoir or a creative short story, I think it’s ridiculous to go through and pick out every is, was, and are.

And my word count is telling me that right now I’m at exactly 900 words, so I’d better wrap it up. My Achilles’ heel is my inability to keep anything short. I’m cursed with longwindedness. Every time Dad reads one of my essays he writes “COGENT” about fifty times in long rows down the margins. COGENT COGENT COGENT. So when I write, I try keep up a chant in the back of my mind: Succinct, interesting, funny. Succinct, interesting, funny. Succinct, interesting, funny.

Chop the fat, keep it short, pick an interesting topic, and make it funny.

So that’s Keilah’s Writing Tips. What are yours?





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