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Writing is challenging. We want to create extraordinary articles and books, but sometimes the words don’t flow as smoothly as we’d like. Or, the words do flow, but there’s something missing. Here are five writing strategies to help tackle the writing doldrums when they arrive on your doorstep.
Start with an outline. Pantsters[i] may argue that outlining is too rigid and limits their creativity, but an outline can help focus your thoughts and make it easier to put words to paper. An outline is not carved in stone. It is a plan, but a flexible one. Nobody is going to shoot you if you don’t follow the outline to the letter. Use a simple outline to organize your thoughts and let your creativity flow from there.
Make the first sentence stand out. Think of the best books you’ve ever read. They all started with an outstanding opening sentence. One of my favorites is from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity… So begins the adventure. The first sentence sucks the reader right into the story. As writers, we need to grab the reader’s attention and hold it to the end. The first sentence sets the stage for the action to come.
Introduce your characters. Main characters must be introduced by name early in the story. From time to time, generally in mysteries and thrillers, you can hold some characters’ names back for a while, but names help the reader keep track of what’s going on and who the action is happening to. Names help the readers care about the characters and keep them involved in the story. Introduction of the characters does not involve only the names. Characters also are introduced to readers through distinct speech patterns and actions. Give your characters distinct enough characteristics, mannerisms, and speech patterns that they are memorable and interesting to the reader.
Manage the action. Action doesn’t necessarily mean high-speed chases and car crashes. In every genre there is action that moves the story forward. The action swings higher and higher to a natural crescendo and then shifts the reader toward the ending. Every scene must move the action forward. Scenes that do not naturally lead to the high point of the manuscript are distracting and jarring to the reader. Keep the action moving from the first page until the last word to keep your audience interested and wanting more.
Wrap it up well. The end of the story has to meet even higher standards now than in the past. The opening sentence grabs the readers’ attention, yet the ending keeps them looking for more. Your ending has to wrap the story up in a satisfying way that manages to make the reader wish there was more to the story, whether there is a sequel or not. Keep the reader wanting more by keeping the action going to the bitter end.
Following these five writing strategies will improve your manuscript and keep writers coming back for more.