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Keep Writing Clear and Imaginative

by Charles Haddad


I like to pretend that my imagination is a rubber band. It sits dusty and curled in the back of my mind when I'm not daydreaming. But when my mind begins to wander, I imagine myself stretching and twisting it into new and wonderful shapes.

You may find my metaphor a stretch, but I think it captures what makes writing strong. Even though imagination is key, it is not enough. Learning to write well is like figuring out how to hit a baseball or bake bread. You can do certain things to ensure the bread rises and your bat connects with the ball. Here are some tricks I've learned for hitting a home run with stories:

* Pepper your stories with crazy characters doing interesting things. Nobody wants to read a story with a great character who sits around twiddling his thumbs in a corner.
* Don't tell your readers the characters are interesting: Show them. Use meaningful details to describe the colorful things that make your characters unique. For example, don't write "Paula loves the color green." Write instead, "Each day, Paula wore army green pants, a lime green shirt and even painted her nails a pale shade of Chartreuse."
* Grab your reader from the first sentence. Begin your stories in the middle of the action and then work backward to explain what's going on.
* Never start a story with "Let me tell you a story," or "Once upon a time." It's lazy.
* Think of your stories as scenes. Connect the scenes in a story line driven by conflict and action.
* Keep your writing crisp. Use strong, specific verbs, such as "grumble," "wallop" or "wheeze." Avoid strings of adjectives. Keep your writing and story line taut -- just like this sentence.
* And last, never fear rewriting a story. Writing is rewriting. Your best ideas will come in the third or fourth drafts.

-- taken from Denver Rocky Mountain Newspaper, November 8, 1999.

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