characters / writing

When Writing, Shout it Out

weak wordsAre you surprised to hear your writing should be strong and confident, with the verbal tone of one who can’t fail? You shouldn’t be. This is fiction. We like our heroes flawed but super, our dialogue crisp and pointed, and our protagonists like bulls in life’s china shop–charging forward though they can’t possibly succeed.

Your story needs to reflect those biases. Character decisions  must be opinionated and firm. Action moves forward at a hundred miles an hour no matter the literary speed limit. Antagonists are meaner than a crazed parakeet in a cage. Otherwise, readers find  the story too close to real life, and who needs to read about that?

It’s easier than it sounds to affect this bias. Step One: Write as you normally would. Let the words flow from subconscious to paper. Don’t edit. Don’t stop. Just write. Step Two: When you’ve finished the first draft, excise wishy washy. Remove mitigating words–all of them. These include:







close to



kind of



seemed to



sort of



Do a Word search of your entire story–or Ctrl+F. Every time you find one of these action-killers, delete it.

Step Three: Re-read the mss. Wow! Your pacing now matches what’s been sprinting through your head.

I understand what you’re going through. You and me–we’re similar. We live in a community, so must get along with hundreds of disparate personalities. We do that by watering down our opinions, listening with a smile to the (flawed) thoughts of others, avoiding prejudice and its ugly twin bias as though they were unwanted relatives. The truth: Readers want to love your protagonist and hate the ground your antagonist’s shadow falls on. Readers want to know if they can travel four hundred pages with these people. To do that requires an understanding of motivations, actions, what drives the plot in your story, none of which can be accomplished if you couch every thought and movement in ‘kind of’ and ‘seemed to’. Check those attitudes at the door to your office. Write like you’re opinionated, sure of yourself, and that everyone wants to know exactly what you think.

Well, not politics. It’s a brave writer who wraps politics into their storyline. Do that at your peril.

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 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 the editor of a K-8 technology curriculumK-8 keyboard curriculumK-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate 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.

Follow me.

10 thoughts on “When Writing, Shout it Out

  1. Remember the school assignments that required you to write a string of adjectives before every noun and a trail of adverbs for every verb? Graduate from some schools and you are certain not to be able to write. I had a long recovery from that experience and am still not healed.


  2. Good call Jacqui.
    I know those wishy washy mitigating words but I haven’t been brave or strong enough to kill them off. Your words of encouragement and support will help my cause. So thank you very much Jacqui for your piece. Arun


    • It’s intimidating to take such a strong stand, but once you put that in your writing, re-read your work and tell me it doesn’t sound much better. Much closer to what you yourself would read.

      The exception, of course, is the character who is wishy washy.


What do you think? Leave a comment and I'll reply.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s