Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Does Your Novel Suffer From Flat Writing?

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by C. Patrick Schulze

Listen to a PODCAST of this article.

One bane of the writer's existence is flat writing that comes off to your reader as dull or lacking impact. It slips into writers' work with little notice and will destroy a wonderful novel in no time at all.

How do you determine if your writing is flat? Allow people you don't know to read your work. They'll inform you in a hurry. However, the best way is to keep your eye open for how you respond to your reading. If it doesn't "wow" you, it's flat.

Here are some tips to overcome flat writing.

     1. Cut, Cut, Cut
     2. Choose Your Nouns and Verbs with Care
     3. Eliminate Passive Voice
     4. Play with Your Words
     5. Trust Your Muse

Let's now look at each of these in more detail.

Cut, Cut, Cut: If your writing sounds flat, it's often due to excessive words that don't add to the plot or even the meaning of your scene. To overcome this, review each word as to its necessity in your novel. Let's consider the following example.

     "Jason went to the store to pick up his weekly groceries."

If we review this sentence, we see much of it is unimportant. Right away, we can drop the phrase, "went to the store," as this action is obvious by the word, "groceries." We might also be able to cut "weekly," unless this time period is needed for the plot. Your final sentence might be:

     "Jason picked up his groceries."

Better, but still pretty dull, don't you think?

Choose Your Nouns and Verbs with Care: Let's consider the corrected sentence above for this example. If we just read the words, there's little interest even in our corrected sentence. After all, grocery shopping is about as mundane as life gets. So, let's pay attention to the NOUNS AND VERBS to see if we can't spice this puppy up. What if we rewrote that sentence as follows:

     "Jason raced to grab his groceries."

You can see by choosing more specific verbs, this sentence came alive. With the word, "raced," all of a sudden we've instilled the sense of speed or pace, and thus, more interest. The secret, of course, is to choose the correct verbs and nouns to fit the scene.

Eliminate Passive Voice: We've all heard about the inherent weakness of Passive Voice in fiction. It's sin is the way it makes it more difficult for a reader to tell who's doing what. And a slow read, is a boring read. There's more on PASSIVE VOICE here.

Play with Your Words: Sometimes writers get so caught up in the minutia of the craft of writing, we forget to write out of the box, so to speak. Go ahead and try something new and unusual. Write that simile the way it popped out of your head. Go on and use that odd description or that risky scene.

After you do this, set it aside for a while then review it to see if it still works for you. If it does, leave it in. If it doesn't, well, reread suggestion number one of this article.

Trust Your Muse: As with recommendation number four, set things aside then go back and reread your work. This allows you to forget the subtle nuisances of your thought process when you first wrote out whatever comes off as flat.

As you return to your work, if you're not sure if the words you've chosen enhance your novel, listen to that nagging voice from deep within you. That's your Muse and she's rarely wrong. Don't try to outthink her or rationalize away your rejection of her coaxing. Just trust the woman. She's your best friend in life, let alone in your writing.

If your writing is flat, disinteresting, dull, lifeless or any of those other synonyms, readers will put your book down. Worse than that, they'll create a negative buzz about your novel. Focus on the most compelling writing you can produce and things will fall in line for you.

Has your work ever suffered from flat writing? What did you do to overcome it?

Until we meet again, know I wish for you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, "Born to be Brothers"


  1. Great advice. My writing tends to be flat when I'm drafting because I'm more concerned with getting the story down than I am with making it stand out. Now I'm revising and this post was exactly the reminder I needed. Thanks.