Check Your Word Choices

Outtakes 382


Check Your Word Choices

By Cait Collins


There are times when I find myself using too many passive sentences and echoing words in my narration. Robert Ray author of The Weekend Novelist Writes the Novel, suggested this exercise during a workshop. You will need a pencil, paper, a timer, and highlighters.

You will be free-writing. Do not think. Do not lift the pencil from the paper. Do not cross out and correct. Just write. The opening sentence begins, “My first boyfriend (or girlfriend) sat across from me….”  Set the timer for five minutes and start writing.

When the timer goes off, put down your pencil.  Do not complete an unfinished sentence.  Read your work.  Using your highlighters, underline the nouns. Highlight your active verbs and circle the passive ones.  Highlight adverbs in a different color, and adjectives in a third color. Now count your strong nouns. How many strong, descriptive nouns are in the paragraphs? Do the adjectives enhance the noun choices?

Count your active verbs and your passive verbs. Do you have more active verbs or more passive verbs? If there are more passive verbs how can you correct this? Adverbs are not your friend, so can you eliminate some adverbs by choosing more active verbs?

Free-writing allows the subconscious mind to take over and pilot the narrative. It allows our instincts to lead us to choices we might not consciously make. Using exercise like this we can develop a better vocabulary, improve our word choices, and create better narration in our stories.


Outtakes 381

By Cait Collins

I love writing dialogue, but I’m not as enamored with writing narration.  You see, my background is in journalism. When writing the news, you’re limited by time.  Let’s face it; each story might get 15 seconds.  And unless it’s a major event, 30 seconds would be the maximum for a story. A good journalist learns to get the who, what, where, and why covered quickly and efficiently.  There’s just no time for excess words.

And that’s where I have problems.  I try to tightly edit my stories so that I’m not using too many words in a scene.  After all, is the sky color that important?  While I’m working hard to keep the novel or short story clean, I under write the piece. Believe me, editing out can be easier that adding in.  Adding in is a risk as the additional words could overpower the story.  And then you have to rewrite the scene.

I’ve come to realize that writing is a study in balance.  It takes time and practice to master the narration of a work and the verbal action.  I’m still working on it.





Lynnette Jalufka

My weakest part of writing is descriptions. I’ll rather write dialogue and get to the action. But meager images shortchange my readers by not putting them into the story. Several years ago, author Cecil Murphy gave me this advice. He told me to write down the descriptions I found in the books I read. By doing so, I will get a feel for how to do them.

This technique has improved my ability to describe, though it’s still a challenge for me. As an added bonus, I now have notebooks filled with these passages. I read a page before I write to get me into author mode. If you are having trouble with descriptions, give this method a try.

The Unreliable Narrator

The Unreliable Narrator

by Adam Huddleston

In literature, films, etc, an unreliable narrator is one which is not completely credible.  The story that they are telling you is either false or exaggerated.  What’s often interesting is that this may or may not be apparent to the narrator.  They could consciously be telling tall tales, or be affected by mental illness or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.  

Examples of an unreliable narrator include: Pi Patel in both the novel and film versions of The Life of Pi and the main characters in Forrest Gump, Big Fish, and The Usual Suspects, Fight Club.  One of my favorite parts of reading a story or watching a movie with an unreliable narrator is seeing if the tale contains a twist ending.  These endings often show us what the true situation with the narrator was and are quite enjoyable.  

Keep It Simple

Outtakes 380


Keep It Simple

By Cait Collins


Have you ever started reading a story or book and realized you needed a dictionary to understand what the author was saying?  I can’t say I had to pull out my handy Webster’s Dictionary, but there have been times when I had to read paragraphs several times before I could follow the story.  I usually don’t finish the book.

The point is that we don’t need to impress our readers by filling the pages with flowery description and hundred dollar words. Our narration should lead the reader in entering the story and bringing him in to the lives of the characters. The words should be descriptive, seasoned with adjectives and adverbs that strengthen but not over power the narrative.  Less can often mean more and better.


Who’s Telling the Story?

Who’s Telling the Story?

Rory C Keel

As we look at “Narration” of a story this month, think of Narration as the one telling the story.

Who is the Narrator?

Is the person telling the story the Hero? Is the one telling the story a friend of the Hero or companion? Maybe the narrator is merely an unnamed person who can see, hear and knows everything from a god-like perspective.

Who the narrator is will determine the viewpoint of the story.




By Nandy Ekle

As a horror/thriller writer I read a lot of horror stories and thriller stories. I’ve been told I’m an adrenaline junkie, and that may true. I just love a story with lots of deep layers, tortured main characters, a little action, a little (okay, a lot) of mystery and scary, and tons of surprises.

But as much as I love these things, sometimes I feel like I’m in a rut. I look through my library and pay attention to what I mostly look at in the bookstores and realize most of my reading material is basically all the same. And really and truly, I have to admit half of it did not deliver what the synopsis on the back of the book promised. So I get leery of starting another book with same formula to end up disappointed.

Not too long ago, I found myself in a rut so deep I had completely stopped reading and writing. So on a trip to the bookstore where a friend of mine was having a book signing for her latest book, I shopped for something new. I was convinced something light and fast, humorous and glamorous would be the answer to my dilemma.

So I found a cute little cozy mystery. A cozy mystery is a mystery story that’s very light hearted. There might be a murder, but it’s not tragic, except for the person murdered. The one I bought the murdered person follows the main character around through the whole story helping her solve the mystery of her death. And there’s another ghost of a murdered person from a previous story as well.

One thing I didn’t do before I bought the book was look at the first page. If I had I would have seen that the book is full of gimmicks. The writer shamelessly tries to get the reader’s attention by using sarcasm. As the narration and dialog is so unnatural it’s actually quite distracting from the story.

I’ve always said you can learn something from every book you read, even the not great books. And the thing I’ve learned from this book is to not use gimmicks. You should make your narration and dialogue flow naturally, and that will keep the reader’s attention much better than a gimmick.

Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.