This week author Mary Marvella, joins us with her tip. Mary has been a storyteller for as long as she can remember. Her M.Ed in Counseling serves as she tutors, teaches writers, and edits.
Mary’s Tip to Make Your Writing Sparkle
As a writer and editor I see a lot of places writers can and should improve their manuscripts. I won't bore you with one of my LONG lectures, but I will list 5 things a writer can do to make his or her writing sparkle!
1. We need to avoid vague or ambiguous pronouns.
Sally and Elaine are good friends because she is always there when she needs her. Who is there when who needs whom?
Better: Sally and Elaine are good friends because Elaine is always there when she needs her.
Even better: Sally and Elaine are good friends because Elaine is always there when Sally needs her.
2. Showing instead of telling involves readers.
He had never been so angry. Telling.
Better: For the first time in his life he wanted punch a hole in the wall. Showing
Better: He grabbed the phone and threw it against the wall. Showing
Better: He fisted his hands with the need to smash someone.
Better: His anger rose like bile into his throat.
3. Making "was" the verb of choice makes writing dull. Use it but replace it when you can with an action verb.
Sam was cold though the sun was shinning. Telling with was and no action
Better: Sam shivered. He needed more than the sun to warm him. Showing.
Better: Pulling his coat tighter, Sam looked up at the bright sun. Showing
4. Using passive voice a lot takes away from the action.
She was chosen to be the CEO. Passive voice. The subject received the action.
The board chose her to be CEO. Active voice. The subject caused the action
Jack was fired for eating at work. Passive Voice. The subject received the action.
Jack's boss fired him for eating at work. Active voice. The subject caused the action.
Edward was hit be a sucker punch. Passive voice. The subject received the action.
Edward didn't see the punch before it hit him. Active voice. The subject acted.
Craig hit Edward with a sucker punch. Even stronger. Active voice. The subject caused the action.
5. Use a variety of verbs that don't need adverbs. I don't hate adverbs, but sometimes stronger verbs don't need them.
Sarah walked slowly across the room.
Sarah strolled across the room.
Sarah entered the room. (YERK, did she fly?)
If a character strides or races or stalks or waltzes into a room, I know whether to smile or want to hide.
Blurb for Protecting Melissa Book 2 of the Protection Series
Melissa sees herself as a woman well-rid of a jerk, rather than as a widow. Since she learned the distressing news that her philandering husband swindled her neighbors and friends before an irate husband killed him in bed with his wife, she figures nothing can shock her. Right! She wants a quiet world, a safe world where she can teach and never think about the problems her husband caused.
Gabe has a lot to make up for, since he left his son and wife stateside while he served as a career Marine. In his defense, she had insisted she wanted to stay near her parents instead of traveling all over the world. Time and distance worked their magic, and he and his wife drifted apart, just as he and his son did. The years he nursed her and tried to be a better father weren't enough to make up for not being there for her when she learned she had cancer.
Of all the things Melissa would have expected, seeing her old crush standing in her classroom door hadn't made the list. Having him hang around and flirt outrageously would have been wonderful when she trailed around him and her brother. Now it didn't make her happy.
Gabe's need to protect his best friend's baby sister kicks in when they leave a high school basketball game to find someone has slashed the tires on her vintage Mustang. Emails sending photos of her nude or looking way too sexy scare her so much he knows he can't leave her until he finds who is responsible and who wants to harm her.
EXCERPT from Protecting Melissa Book 2 of the Protection Series:
Melissa almost didn’t go to the basketball game. Gabe would be there. He always attended the games, even for sports Jay didn't play. But she loved basketball and she liked to cheer her students.
Everyone laughed and talked. Students called out to her, some of the younger ones waved and giggled. She had a good time, too, until she felt Gabe staring at her from the floor. Then he actually climbed up to sit beside her.
Gabe was the kind of man who had a way of taking up more space than his size required. He used his knees and elbows and energy to crowd people, her in particular.
“Ref, are you blind?” he yelled. “He was charging and you know it.”
The cheerleaders, in good form, bounced on their sneaker toes and jumped as usual, waving their arms in the air, all youthful animation. For a moment their yelling combined with the crowd noise, reaching a dizzying pitch. Melissa shook her head to dispel the fog surrounding her brain. She watched one of her students on the team miss a free throw.
A chill ran down her spine. In the midst of people she’d known all her life she felt uneasy. Fear pressed her chest. Menace. She felt menace. Everyone appeared to be watching the action on the court, not her. But she retreated into herself until she felt an elbow hit her side.
“Did you see that basket?” Gabe’s enthusiasm seeped through her fear. “Thirty-nine to thirty-nine. God, what a game,” he yelled as the half-time buzzer sent both teams to the locker rooms. “You okay?”
He grasped her shoulders, turning her body toward his.
“Huh? Sure. The noise was giving me a headache. I could use an aspirin.”
“I’ll go get you something to drink. Be right back.”
“Yeah, you do that.” Melissa smiled her most insincere smile. As much as she didn’t want the pest near her, she felt some safe in his presence.
The line to the Ladies room would be long and this was one place she couldn’t, or wouldn’t, use her position as a teacher to break in line. Halfway through the third quarter should be better timing for a restroom trek with no wait.
She sensed Gabe was back before she saw him. His energy seemed to stir the air. “Thought you might be hungry. You’re looking too skinny. Gotta eat more.”
The hot dog Gabe waved under her nose turned her stomach queasy.
“No onions and lots of mustard,” he said.
His grin was so boyishly proud she couldn’t turn away his attempt to be nice, especially after the candy bar she hadn’t planned to eat but had enjoyed immensely.
“Thanks.” She forced a grin as she took the large Coke cup. He placed two aspirin in her hand and watched until she swallowed them. “Where did you get the drugs?”
He smiled. “I have my sources.”
Her body relaxed when the overwhelming feeling of menace faded. She still had trouble swallowing even small bites of the hot dog he'd so carefully prepared for her. Surely every eye in the place was trained on the two of them.
She glanced around. Jay stared down from the top bleacher at Gabe and her as though they had grown horns. She made a point of leaning away from Gabe, even when he seemed determined to stay close to her. Maybe he thought she would break and tell Jay’s secret. He must enjoy tormenting her. She was going to kill Jay for not telling his dad the truth on his own.
Once third quarter was underway Melissa slipped out to the restroom. Strange, the hall to the restrooms was empty and too quiet. At least it wasn’t dark. Surely she wasn’t the only female who had waited for the line to shorten. Like a kid afraid of the dark, she eased the heavy door open.
No giggles or girlish voices. No water running or flushing sounds. Damn. She really had to go and unfounded fear made her need worse!
“No more wasting time.” Her voice echoed loudly in the empty room. She dashed into a stall. Why did I have to drink so much of the Coke Gabe bought? What does it matter?
She was a grown woman, not a kid. What could happen in a building full of people? Loud, cheering people who wouldn’t hear a woman scream down here. Silly. Just finish and leave.
The outside door opened but no footsteps sounded. Tennis shoes, probably. She was no longer alone. She waited. No one ran water or opened a stall door. Then the heavy door opened and closed again. Sweating profusely, Melissa gathered the courage to push the stall door open.
On the mirror the word ’bitch!’ jumped at her like a punch in the gut. The word hadn't been there when she walked in. She wasn’t sure how she made her way to the safety of numbers. Back in her seat, she breathed a sigh of relief. She didn’t pull away this time when Gabe took her hand. She was thankful for his warmth and strength.
The rest of the game passed in a blur. Searching her brain revealed no suspect for the mirror writing. She could think of no one who would hate her that much. Surely the message had been for someone else or just a sick prank. Worse messages had appeared on her chalkboard over the years. Some were much more specific and graphic, but she hadn’t panicked.
When the last buzzer signaled the end of the game she looked to the scoreboard and read – Home 89, Visitors 80.
“Great game,” Gabe draped an arm around her shoulders and squeezed.
“Yeah.” The scoreboard said it was. She remembered little of it. Maybe she was coming down with something.
People jostled each other and made good-natured comments as the crowd made its way from the gym, but she hardly noticed anyone. A knot had lodged itself in her stomach again.
“Lissie, walk me to my car?” Gabe’s voice was so welcome she almost hugged him. “Then I’ll walk you to yours. Come on, it’s been a long day.”
She didn't have the heart to put on a brave front. She was tired of fussing. for now. Later she could push him away. For now, she let him hold her hand. She needed his warmth and bulk beside her.
The night air was cool and crisp, the spring sky clear and filled with stars. A crowd had gathered around her red vintage Mustang.
“Look.” She rushed away from him toward her car.
“Ms. Anderson,” a voice called out. “um, we didn’t see who did this, honest. But we’ll help you…”
Like the Red Sea, the crowd parted to expose her car. Both tires on the driver’s side were flat. Flat and ragged.
Sounds bubbled up in her throat, hurting as they forced their way to the outside. Silence hovered over the crowd, pressing in on Melissa when her whimpers gave way to groans. Fear became anger.
“They ruined my hub caps, Gabe. They’re bent and scratched. I scoured junk yards and mail order catalogs for those. Dammit!”
“Don’t touch anything,” the rotund security guard called as he hurried from his post. “I called the police and a tow truck.” He ran a beefy hand through his thinning hair. “They’re on their way, Ms. Anderson.”
“A tow truck?” Melissa asked. “Why? We’ll change the tires. I have spares in my trunk. Tell them, Gabe. I can change…” Then it hit her. “The police? Maybe I ran over something on the way over here.”
“All four tires?” asked the security guard as the wail of a siren pierced the air. “They’re all flat, Ma’am.”
You can find Mary at:
Follow Mary Marvella on Twitter @mmarvellab
Thanks Mary, for dropping by and sharing that great writing tip.
Don’t forget to check back next week for another author’s tip or tweak.