writers tips / writing

Writer’s Tip #34: Tell What Is, Not What Isn’t

When you read your story, does it sound off, maybe you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know you’ve done something wrong? Sometimes–maybe even lots of times–there are simple fixes. These writer’s tips will come at you once a week, giving you plenty of time to go through your story and make the adjustments.

Today’s tip: Write in the positive, not the negative

For example, don’t say

There was no light in the room


The room was dark.

This hint made a big difference in the tone of my writing. My scenes went from sounding depressing and negative to uplifting and positive. If you’re a mom, your familiar with this concept because you use it disciplining your children:

Don’t say: Don’t jump in the bed

Do say:      Jump on the rug.

It’s the same idea. Without the negatives, what you communicate to your reader is more proactive than reactive. The reader feels like they’re moving forward with positives. They feel like they’re being held back with negatives. When I’ve finished a rough draft, I do a search for all not or n’t words, to see if I can replace them. That’s how serious I am about changing the tone of my writing.

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Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing TeachersCisco guest blog,Technology in Education featured blogger, IMS tech expert, and a bi-weekly contributor to Today’s Author. In her free time, she is  editor of a K-8 technology curriculumK-8 keyboard curriculum, creator of technology training books for middle school and ebooks on technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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11 thoughts on “Writer’s Tip #34: Tell What Is, Not What Isn’t

  1. Pingback: Writers Tip #74: Exposition Tips From Chuck | WordDreams...

  2. It seems so easy when you say it, but it can be daunting trying to ‘keep the motion’ of the story going. Simple tips like this can make all the difference. Thank you so much for the reminder 😀


    • I always do a search at the end of my 1st or 2nd draft for n’t or ‘not’ or words like that. Invariably, I have far too many. I’m not sure what that says about my state of mind while writing!


  3. This is such a practical hint, and I probably wouldn’t have thought to edit that way. Although sometimes the negative is just right, consider, “frankly my dear, I care far more about other things right now.” It just doesn’t have the same ring to it 🙂


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