Bad writing. Everyone's afraid of it, and everyone's seen it at one time or another. It's always a threat you're going to have to face if you want to write books, and it's always out there lurking inside sentences and paragraphs. But if you want to avoid it, you've got to know exactly how to spot it. In order to keep your work free of bad writing, you need to understand it.
What Makes Writing Bad?
Saying that a piece of writing is "bad" is really ambiguous, and not at all helpful. Learn how to spot specific elements that make for bad writing, and you'll know exactly how to fix them.
- Telling a scene. One of the first rules of writing is show, don't tell. I covered this at length in a previous post. Basically, the trick to good writing is to be descriptive. Don't tell me that Sarah walked down the sidewalk, feeling angry. Show me Sarah, angrily kicking rocks out of her path and glaring at the trees as she walks past them. What do the trees look like? How hard is she kicking the rocks -- where are they going? Add detail and description to every line.
- But don't over-do it. I don't want to read too much description; I mean, I pretty much know what tree bark looks like. So remember to paint the scene, but give me plenty of action, too. If you go too many paragraphs without adding a verb, I might just fall asleep. Remember that in books, things need to happen, so keep pushing the action along.
- Do the research. Have some idea of what you're writing about, and do the research. Readers are going to know if you're just making it up as you go along. The beauty of the Internet is that you can ask it any question, so if you want to know exactly how long it takes for a girl to paint her nails or how many hours a flight to Cairo lasts, you can find out.
- Be consistent. Maintain the same tense throughout the book, and don't randomly change your point of view unless it's central to the plot. Always be consistent with your writing; otherwise, it'll just be all over the place.
- Edit. Always read and thoroughly edit your book, more than once, to check the way the words flow and the mechanics of each sentence. Bad grammar and poor editing always make for bad writing.
Sometimes, the best possible thing you can do for your work is to separate yourself from it. When you're writing and editing and thinking about plots all day every day, it's easy to become so wrapped up in a story that you forget how to be objective. Take a break from your own work, read a book you didn't write or just forget about reading for a few days, and come back with fresh eyes. The more you re-read your writing, and work at perfecting it, the better it's going to get. Even the best writers are capable of bad writing, but through re-writing you can make your work great.