Creative Writing Do’s and Don’ts

{By Ellery Sadler}

dosanddontspicCliche. The death knell of a writer’s dream.

No one wants their story to be cliche. So after nine years of writing, hear are some things I’ve learned.

Some creative writing don’ts

1. Don’t say ‘flashing’ blue eyes. Or ‘flashing’ brown eyes. Or ‘flashing’ green eyes. Have you ever seen flashing eyes in real life? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Me either.

2. Don’t say that the girl is beautiful when she is mad or has tears rolling down her cheeks. Very few people, if any, are beautiful when they are mad or crying. If you don’t believe me, just look at a crying person the next time you happen to see one and let me know what you see. Not that beautiful? That’s what I thought.

3. Don’t over describe. Leave some things, most things I would say, to the imagination. Unless it is important don’t say it. Do we really need to know that the hero is ‘strong and muscular’? (My guess is, the reader has already added that in subconsciously.) Or that your main character has ‘long, flowing golden tresses of spun gold and sunshine’? That’s just tacky. Of course, there is a purpose to some description, so that  your reader’s can picture what you are telling them, but so often people only describe the obvious: the hair color or eye color of the character, the overall impression of a town, the generalized feelings of the moment. If you are going to be descriptive, try to describe the things that aren’t obvious. And as a rule, just don’t over-do it.

4. Don’t over dramatize or underestimate. Don’t be excessive with the amounts of chase scenes or creaking doors or hidden pasts. And if you are having your main character kill someone then show the emotional and psychological repercussions of that – it isn’t the same as stepping on a spider you know. So often writers over dramatize and underestimate the repercussions of that drama.

5. Romance. To all the girl writer’s out there young or old, can we just cut back on the cheesy romance a little? Please don’t tell me that the girl’s heart flutters and that when they accidentally reach for the same brownie and their fingers touch … it’s magic. Oh please. If there is one thing that needs to be better in fiction it is the romance. All too often the romance in fiction is beyond cliche.

Some creative writing dos 

1. Do READ. And I don’t mean the latest cheesy romance or The Hunger Games or Twilight or anything like that. I’m talking read some real books, with good writing. Examples: David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, Ben Hur, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, The Virginian, Jane Eyre etc. etc. (If you need a longer list, let me know.)

2. Do write consistently. Developing your writing style takes time and practice, like everything else. So don’t tell me you are deeply interested in writing if you haven’t written anything. Write that book you’ve been thinking about. Write that story. Write when it is raining. Write when it is sunny. Write when you are lonely. Write when you are crazy busy. The point is to practice writing.

3. Do write genuinely. If there is anything lacking in most written words it is honesty. Can we please stop making life so fantasied and each girl so emotionally unstable and each guy so perfect and adorable? Whatever your immediate thought is for the character/scene/problem – don’t use it. It is probably cliche. So go down a few rabbit trails and see where they lead you. Write what you truly believe, characters that live and breath, and then you will have something worth reading. Genuine writing is harder, but it is worth while.

4. Do write intentionally. For me this is kind of hard because I generally just sit down with a blank notebook and a character’s name and start writing and see where the story takes me. But it is important to pay attention to your sentence structure, the rhythm of your writing, and ways you can improve it.

5. Do have a happy ending. Oh wait … that is just my personal preference. But I really do think there is value in a happy ending, a satisfying ending. People crave happy endings because it is an echo of our inborn desire for there to be a happy ending to real life. So, in my opinion, happy endings, or at least satisfying ones, are very important.

These are some things I’ve learned through my writing life. What about you? Any suggestions?