How to Write Well



Do you want to know what happens next?  Do you love looking up from a book and realizing you’re one hundred pages in and haven’t blinked?  Holy shit, is it tomorrow already?

Here is the fifth and final post of a five part series on simple (but maybe not so obvious) tips to make our stories better.

Today’s topic is Fast Flowing Writing.

I don’t think this will come as a shock to you, but I read books because I love stories. 

I love words and good writing too, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t love them when they stand between me and the next part of the story.  I think that oftentimes authors get so carried away with crafting beautiful prose that they forget why readers are there in the first place.

To get the right balance of fast flowing words and enough description is like walking a fine line stretched between two buildings (a tight rope…get it?).  All the classic advice is important to listen to: make every word count, revision = first draft minus 10%, watch your use of adjectives and adverbs (if you find yourself using them too much you probably need a stronger verb/noun/comparison – think run fast vs. sprint, he was a really big guy vs. he was a bear).  But there’s a difference between bare bones prose and a fast read.  They’re both the same length, but one is missing something.

I’m not a huge fan of the descriptions ‘tight prose’ or ‘tight writing.’  The meaning behind the phrase is true, but the word ‘tight’ to describe writing just doesn’t work. 

Good writing is writing that is fast flowing.  Like a river (I just came up with that on my own).  Some writing can be like a creek, or like a lake.  Some can be like a waterfall.  Creeks and lakes are beautiful, but slow – more fit for a leisurely float than a joyride.  And waterfalls are more fun than creeks or lakes, but they move pretty damn fast and you’re going to miss a lot on your way down. 

Rivers are great, though.  They have rapids that will make your heart race, beautiful scenes on either side, every once in a while a tributary will speed them up (side plot or converging characters, maybe?), and no matter what, even while you’re admiring the view, you’re still being swept forward.  So take out the extra words and sentences and make sure you’re moving.  If there are 9 sentences in your paragraph you can probably improve it by taking one out and making it 8.  Turn a creek into a river, but be careful you don’t take it too fast or you’ll drop over the edge and miss something while you fall.

And that’s why you should write well, but not necessarily tightly.  To me ‘tightly’ implies a lack of beauty, and just because your writing flows fast doesn’t mean it can’t be beautiful.

So write like a river.  And remember: I just made that analogy up on my own, nobody else has ever said it before, and you heard it here first.

Disclaimer: Some people prefer long, meandering prose, and it definitely has a place in certain books.  Just make sure you understand both sides of the story.

How do you prefer to write?  Fast-paced?  Long descriptions?  Somewhere in between?  A word at a time during commercial breaks?

47 comments on “How to Write Well”

  1. Action packed, limit the dialogue unless it is absolutely essential, make the characters carry things along. When my ideas turn into a quagmire it is usually because I have let things stay in dialogue too long. Take me back to the action!

  2. I tend to be a bit wordy at times, depending on what a piece calls for. I’m not a huge fan of removing too much detail which may seem inconsequential to the *story* at first glance, I rather like the view along the way. I adore odd and unique words and descriptions when they are well woven into the fabric of a story as well, something many editors are saying should be discarded due to the comprehension levels of today’s readers . . . Yep, that was said.

    I can’t bring myself to, dumb it down, as it has been put. I do however see the merit in removing unnecessary words. One of my first pieces of advice and instruction to those who send me pieces to critique is remove the word *that* anywhere and everywhere possible and send it back to me.

    Finding a perfect flow, as you’ve described is an art . . .

  3. “I love words and good writing too, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t love them when they stand between me and the next part of the story. I think that oftentimes authors get so carried away with crafting beautiful prose that they forget why readers are there in the first place.”

    So true. I often forget this when writing, and only remember it when reading.

  4. I like to relax into a read, and if there is too much prose, I often lose what the author was trying to get across. I’m definitely a character-driven, story-focused fan 🙂

  5. This is something that comes up a lot in my critique group. One of my critique partners is way into long, detailed descriptions of everything mentioned, and I’m way more into a fast-paced story. It’s been a good thing for us to learn to understand each other. 🙂

  6. “If there are 9 sentences in your paragraph” – I shuddered at the thought of a nine sentence paragraph.

    For me, tight prose has a physical connotation to it. I always think of tight muscles, like well-kept and practiced, as opposed to ‘loose’, which makes me think of inexperienced or even lazy.

  7. I tend to be a fast-paced writer – snappy dialogue and action. My crit partners are usually telling me to slow it down a little and spend more time with description.

  8. A hundred pages without blinking pretty much covers how I like my fiction. The hard part is figuring out how to take your own writing there. I can get so absorbed in ‘my world’ I am creating that I forget there is supposed to be an audience to take along on the journey.

  9. I find I “write like a river” only when the subject contains a heavy hand of truth. The more personal, the longer and faster the river flows.
    Thank you for this great post.

  10. My sentiments exactly. Great post. And I believe in a mixture of all to fit the “flow” of the particular scene. Rocks and boulders sometimes shake it up 🙂

  11. I just want to learn to write well. However, when I blog I go for “brief” and “short.” Mainly because I personally shy away from the long winded posts simply because I follow so many I don’t have time to read them. So I want to learn about a person or their subject in as few of words as possible. Reading a novel, I love great descriptions that make me feel like I am right there inside the story, and stories that pull me in emotionally and keep my interest, sometimes, nail-biting interest.

  12. Writing to your objective is important, which is why I like the water similes. Novels can be like rivers, or like lakes, where the sense of movement is unguided and slower, but there is a massive, inescapable atmosphere. It’s about what you’re going for and playing to that type. A slower and wordier style (within reason) is good with that heavily atmospheric style, I’ve found.

  13. Lovely post, exactly what’s always going on in my head when reading through a very good book. Or especially when writing my own stuff. It always does my head in when I think about how well all authors out there write, how they describe the characters and the environment, nature, etc. so well that I see it in front of my own eyes, but whenever I sit down on my own stories, it’s almost killing myself that I am not able to write like that. And then again, most times I can’t stand even TRYNIG to write like that, because I just want to go on with my story, to get to the point. Writing well is a hard job, and it’s never easy, as you always state in your posts (at least for me), but it’s so so worth it.

    1. I absolutely agree. The disconnect between knowing good writing and being able to produce it is the most frustrating thing in the world. And thanks for stopping by so often!

  14. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this blog! I also love words and playing around with them. Ever since grade school (many, many, MANY) years ago, I have loved words. I’ve been told a number of times I have a way with words. Give me a notebook and pens, put me outside under a tree and leave me to my writing. My imagination is always on the go. I am in school now and the professors want us to write ‘tight’. I like to have description in my stories otherwise it’s pretty dull.
    Keep up the great work! 🙂

    Laurie Jackson

    1. Thanks so much! It means a lot to me that you like it.
      And I agree – stories without description are often pretty flat. The hard part is finding the right way to do it.

  15. Writing like a river — a capable metaphor, to be sure.

    To take it a step further, I wonder if an entire panorama could be gained by crafting specific scenes and chapters as one body of water or another: a choppy ride through the rapids, followed by a serene row through a placid lake, followed by a sudden waterfall. Yes, it comes down to pacing, and while some writers have found success adhering strictly to prose-heavy oceans or, conversely, nonstop cascades, I delight in navigating a variety of waterways while reading and writing.

    1. I absolutely agree – and I’m glad you jumped on board with the metaphor haha. I think writers that can use different kinds of waterways are the most fun to read

  16. Thanks for this, dibenami! I couldn’t agree more. I work very hard at writing and it means the world that you “liked” my story and where it’s going. Thanks.

  17. Like the river analogy. I think it’s true that varying the pace is a good thing generally – constantly going too fast or too slow can both lose the reader.

    Thanks for visiting my blog by the way.

  18. “And remember: I just made that analogy up on my own, nobody else has ever said it before, and you heard it here first.”

    I laughed out loud at this. Great post, great sense of humor.

  19. I really like your river analogy paragraph. Very good description of side plots being like tributaries. I think I am one of those tight writers. In that I am not using a lot of metaphors. But I really admire a good metaphor when I see one 🙂

  20. I love your picture that goes with the subject you’re talking about. And I like the idea of writing like a river. I’ll remember to think about it when I’m writing and ask myself – Is my writing flowing?

  21. Hey, I am new to blogging and I loved your blog. I am an avid reader and often get lost in books for hours… the analogy you used was great… I write poetry and but haven’t shared it with the world. your blog really inspired me to write and to share…

  22. This is some great advice! While I wish I was a little better with writing imagery, I do think a fast paced story is important. I’ve read books where it takes FOREVER to get through – so much so that it makes it impossible to enjoy. Thanks for visiting my blog, by the way!

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