Beware: 28 Pitfalls Ahead! (Part 7)

Here are pitfalls 25-28. This concludes my blogs, detailing the 28 pitfalls you should be aware of and should try to avoid. Hopefully these tips will help you improve your writing.

25. Watch for Missing Punctuation
Make sure that your commas are in the right places and that none have been left out. Do you have a period or other punctuation at the end of each sentence? A good reference for proper punctuation is Strunk and White’s Elements of Style.

26. Watch for Cumbersome Punctuation
Be careful not to over punctuate with commas. Today we use fewer commas than in the past. Also avoid the overuse of dashes, exclamation points, semi-colons, and colons.

27. Watch for Poor Transitions
Your paragraphs must flow into each other. If the transition seems rough, add an introductory clause or phrase to smooth it out. “After several hours of traveling, we arrived,” or “When we reached Phoenix, we were greeted by our host.”

28. Watch for Telling
Show, don’t tell. On first rough drafts, writers often tell the story in narrative either from an observer’s viewpoint or from the main character’s mind. Both of these locations are boring. Readers want to participate in the action. They want to join in the excitement and experience the events as they are happening.

Be concrete, specific, and definite. Use dialogue, anecdotes, and fictional techniques whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction. When we avoid these twenty-eight pitfalls, we make our writing come alive. This is how we can truly reach our readers and touch their lives.

Beware: 28 Pitfalls Ahead! (Part 6)

Here are pitfalls 21-24. Next week you will be given the final pitfalls 25-28 that you will want to watch for. Hopefully these will help you improve your writing so your work can become published.

21. Watch for Adverbs
Instead of using a weak verb and an adverb, use a dynamic verb in the past tense. Instead of “walked slowly,” use “ambled.” By using strong verbs, you can eliminate most adverbs.

22. Watch for Tags
“He said” is a perfectly good tag and can be used often. It is usually better than “he uttered,” “he articulated,” or “he expressed.” What matters is what he said, i.e. the words within the quotation marks. You can use an occasional word like whispered, shouted, or asked, but try to keep your tags in dialogue simple. Sometimes you can eliminate them altogether if it is obvious who is speaking.

23. Watch for Noncommittal Language
Avoid tame, colorless, hesitant, noncommittal language. Try not to use words such as “little,” “so,” “very,” “just,” and most “thats.” Keep your readers interested in what you are saying by the way you say it.

24. Watch for Preachy Words
“Would,” “should,” “could,” “may,” “might,” and “can” should be used sparingly. If you preach to your audience, you will lose them. Jesus didn’t tell people what to do, nor did He use abstract concepts. He spoke in parables. He used anecdotal stories to get His points across to His audience. Try using that same technique.

Beware: 28 Pitfalls Ahead! (Part 5)

Here are pitfalls 17-20. Next week you will be given pitfalls 21-24 to avoid. Watch for these pitfalls to help you improve your writing.

17. Watch for “To Be” Verbs
Eliminate weak verbs such as “was,” “were,” “is,” “had,” “have,” “become,” and any form of “to be.” Instead of writing “He is happy,” use “He skipped down the road humming his favorite tune.” Often when you eliminate a “to be” verb, you also get rid of an “ing.” Example: Instead of saying, “The man was ambling down the road,” use “The man ambled down the road.”

18. Watch for Negatives
Write in a positive form. Leaving out negative words makes your writing clearer and more upbeat. Also, negatives are often confusing. Example: Instead of saying, “He was not very often on time,” use “He usually came late.”

19. Watch for Abstract Nouns
Use descriptive nouns. Nouns that are concrete, specific, and definite are best. Instead of “tree,” name a type that describes what you want the reader to see: eucalyptus, magnolia, or aspen.

20. Watch for Adjectives
Adjectives are necessary, but use them as sparingly as possible. An overdone example is: “The thin, narrow black ribbon of highway wound through the velvety, emerald-green dense jungle that lurked on either side of the thin, narrow black ribbon of highway.” Instead say: “The narrow ribbon of highway wound through the dense jungle that lurked on either side.”

Beware: 28 Pitfalls Ahead! (Part 4)

Here are pitfalls 13-16. Next week you will be given pitfalls 17-20 to avoid. Watch for these pitfalls to help you improve your writing.

13. Watch for Christian Clichés
Don’t use Christian jargon that pigeonholes you into one market. Examples are: “washed in the blood” or “born-again Christian.” Try to avoid any terms that are not found in the Bible. You will find “born again” in the Bible, but you won’t find “born-again Christian.”

Christianese keeps you from crossing over into denominations other than your own. More importantly, its use keeps you from being effective with non-Christians. Non-Christians will often pick up a Christian magazine or book, especially when they are dealing with a problem. Your writing may be able to reach out and touch these individuals and perhaps bring them to Christ. Write so they can understand your words.

14. Watch for any Clichés or Jargon
Avoid clichés like the plague, and don’t be caught dead using them. They are old hat and will bore your audience to tears. Likewise, don’t use shoptalk or jargon only understood by one segment of the population such as legalese and medical terms.

15. Watch for Humdrum Verbs
Use action verbs. The verb is the most important part of the sentence. It moves the reader along. For instance, look at the dynamic verbs for movement starting with S: Strut, skip, slink, smash, stomp, slither, stumble, stagger, sashay, swagger, step, stalk, straddle, slip, sneak, steal, slide, shadow, stamp, skid, and stride. Aren’t these more exciting than “walk”? Use dynamic, descriptive verbs.

Use onomatopoeia, words that imitate sounds. These are especially effective when writing for children. Young children love to say words that sound like what they are: Splish, splash, whirl, crash, crunch, smash, toot toot, whee whee, growl, and buzz are examples. Plus, they are all dynamic verbs.

16. Watch for Passive Voice
Keep your sentences in the active voice with the subject doing the acting rather than being acted upon. “The car slammed into the man” is more powerful than “The man was hit by the car.” This keeps the readers involved in what is happening.

Beware: 28 Pitfalls Ahead! (Part 3)

Here are pitfalls 9 to 12. Next week you will be given pitfalls 13-16 to avoid. Hopefully these will help you improve your writing.

9. Watch for Digression
Irrelevant material should be eliminated. Remove needless descriptions of people and places. Ask yourself if a scene is necessary? If not, delete it. Use judgment in deciding which characters should be described and in how much detail, what facts are relevant, and what can be left out.

10. Watch for Put-downs
You don’t want to offend any element of your audience. Flippant remarks stand out. Watch your own personal prejudices regarding race, sex, and age, and try not to let them creep into your writing. Keep your writing broad-based so it will appeal to a wide audience.

11. Watch for Flashbacks
Use flashbacks sparingly, and don’t flashback on flashbacks. They are tricky, and you don’t want to lose your readers. Carefully take the readers back to an exact time and place, then bring them forward with good transitions and perhaps some telescoping narrative (covering a long period of time in few words).

12. Watch for Abstract Words and Concepts
Use concrete words instead of abstract ones. Strangely, you may find it more difficult to write simply, in descriptive concrete terms, than to express complex thoughts. People tend to think in the abstract. Put as much detail and description in as is feasible.


Beware: 28 Pitfalls Ahead! (Part 2)

Here are pitfalls five through eight to avoid. Nine to 12 will be given next week. Hopefully these will help you polish your writing.

5. Watch for Monotonous Sentences
Have you ever gone to a boring lecture where the speaker droned on in a monotone? Perhaps it was the lecturer’s tone that put you to sleep. Since your readers can’t hear you, change your tone by varying the length of your sentences. Also vary the structure of your sentences.

6. Watch for Unclear Material
Sentences that don’t flow well can be detected by reading them aloud. Also, have someone else read your manuscript and edit it. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of belonging to a critique group. Form one with local writers in your area and meet regularly.

7. Watch for Incongruities
If you are writing a historical story set during World War II, don’t have the characters watch television. It wasn’t invented yet. Also, many words came into our vocabulary after World War II. Check to see when a word came into use if there is any doubt in your mind.

8. Watch for Loose Ends
Did you drop a character in your story? If you edit out a character or a piece of furniture, don’t let it pop up later. People who aren’t as close to your story as you are will be able to see loose ends better than you will.


Beware: 28 Pitfalls Ahead! (Part 1)

When you critique the first draft of your manuscript, there are 28 pitfalls to avoid. Here are Pitfalls 1-4:

1. Watch for Impractical Vocabulary
Don’t talk down to your reader, and don’t talk above his or her head. Readers Digest and Guideposts are written on a sixth-grade level. Keep your writing on a parallel level with your reader. Use “ten cent” words rather than ones not commonly used in conversation. You can express profound thoughts and still write in a clear manner.

2. Watch for Unnecessary Words
Eliminate any words, sentences, or paragraphs that don’t further your story line. Go through your manuscript word-by-word and ask yourself, “What will happen if I leave that out? If the answer is “nothing” then cut it.

3. Watch for Unnatural Speech
Your words should flow in a conversational manner as if you were sitting at your dining room table having a cup of tea with a friend. Make your words sound natural. You will be able to do this with practice and lots of rewriting.

4. Watch for Long, Run-on Sentences
If the reader drowns in your sentences, he will feel lost. Keep your writing simple. That doesn’t mean the content is simple, but the style is. When a sentence is shorter, it usually becomes stronger. Try to keep your sentences under twenty-five words.


Where to Find Ideas (Part 7)

As well as finding ideas from friends, family, church members, and your community for articles and stories to write, you can look in many other places.

Your World

Anniversaries of historical events bring to mind past happenings and special people who are worth writing about today. Study historical figures and see which ones were Christians. Show how they demonstrated good ethics and values through the choices they made in life.

Landmarks provide another avenue for vicariously transporting the reader to a place he might not visit. Perhaps you can use a landmark as a metaphor in a story. I once wrote a devotional about walking to a lighthouse. I used its beacon as something I wanted to imitate in my own life, so that Christ’s love would shine brightly through me.

I keep a tablet and pen on the table where I do my morning devotionals. Often Scripture will trigger an idea for a devotional or a short anecdote. I jot down enough information so that I don’t forget the idea, and then I return to my devotions. I do the same thing when I am reading books, magazines, and newsletters. I’ve even been inspired by advertisements in the newspaper and on TV. Surfing the web can also provide ideas. Conferences and speeches are also good sources for triggering ideas in our minds.

Sometimes inspiration comes in the middle of the night. I think that happens because our subconscious works best when we are quiet. Plus, it’s been my experience that God doesn’t speak very loud, and if I’m talking or busy with activities, sometimes I don’t hear Him. Yet, in the middle of the night, He often speaks through my mind. I’ve learned to get up and jot down the essence of the thought. If I don’t, sadly it is gone by morning—never to be recovered again.

Anywhere you go and anything you do can provide ideas for writing. That is why I keep a small tablet and pen in my purse at all times. When an idea strikes, I can easily record the necessary information.


Where to Find Ideas (Part 6)

As well as drawing on your own experiences or those of friends, family, and church members for articles and stories to write, you can look around your community for interesting people and unique ministries.

Your Community

When you are reading your local newspaper, watch for interesting people to interview. A word of warning though: Don’t contact individuals too close to a tragedy. Allow time for their healing.

Keep an eye out for special events and current events as well as for interesting people. The newspaper and the Internet are wonderful sources for fictional stories, too. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

As well as searching through your newspaper, you can find ideas in magazines, from radio shows and news briefs, from television, and on the Internet. Documentaries provide a great deal of background for stories and articles, too.


Where to Find Ideas (Part 5)

As well as drawing on your own experiences or those of friends and family members for articles and stories to write, you can look around your church for interesting people and unique ministries.

Your Church

Does your church have anyone who has done something out of the ordinary? If so, write an interview article about that individual. What about special programs and activities? Perhaps your church sponsors a soup kitchen, a Special Olympic program, or concerts at the park. Church staffs are always looking for articles regarding new outreach programs.

Another place to glean ideas is from your pastor’s sermons. For years I was blessed to be pastored by Chuck Swindoll. I was careful not to take the essence of his sermon, for that would be plagiarism. Plus, his books are taken from his sermons. However, I would hear a sentence or phrase that would trigger an idea of my own, and I would jot down just enough words so I could write a devotional or article when I had some free time.