editing / writers tips

The Power of Positive Writing

writing tipsHave you ever read a book and found yourself feeling depressed or angry, or maybe just fidgety as you read? You might blame it on the tension and growing crises that are part and parcel to a developing plot, but then why does your subconscious keep pushing you to take a break? A good book is a page-turner. You can’t put it down. So what is it about this one that has you tapping your fingers even during the chase scene?

One reason: It’s just too negative. Bear with me–I know good stories have lots of angst as characters try to grow and find themselves and the good guys claw away at saving the world. What these good stories don’t do is wrap this tension in a negative tone.

Tone in writing can be defined as attitude or emotion toward the subject and the reader. It conveys a particular message from the writer to the reader that while life is chock full of problems, there’s always hope. The story’s protagonist may fall, but s/he’ll get up. The addiction in a good story is how life’s unsolvable problems are defeated by a motivated main character whose core principles, motivations, and morality are just like yours. If the story’s tone turns negative, it quickly becomes pedantic, as though the writer is superior to the reader, lecturing because the audience is dumb. No one likes to be around that sort of person, much less choose to read a book that makes you feel that way. A positive tone, even as the world crumbles, conveys hope that this flawed, Everyman character is going to find his way out.

I hear you–you don’t believe you do that. Here’s a quick test. Search a chapter of your manuscript (use the Alt+F4 Find shortkey) for ‘not’ and all variations of that (including contractions). Every time possible, switch the negative for a positive. For example, instead of:

‘She couldn’t run anymore’

rewrite as

‘Throat rasping,  she screeched to a slow stumble’.

Instead of

‘She couldn’t see out the window’

rewrite as

‘All she saw was the grimy dirt of a window that had gone years without a wash’.

Unless you’re in Britain, replace

‘I don’t suppose you’d be so kind as to…’


‘Please’ or ‘Get over here!’

When you’ve switched as many as you can, re-read your manuscript. Does it sound more powerful? More engaging? Now go through your entire manuscript like that. Sure, you’ll skip some–they’ll need to be negative–but as many as 70% can be switched. That will make the negative parts more striking rather than tonally depressing more striking.

Here’s what I’d like you to do: In the comments below, share a section from your novel that has negatives in it and then tell us how you rewrote it–or ask for help. We don’t have to understand the entire plot to fix these.

More on writing:

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 the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

54 thoughts on “The Power of Positive Writing

  1. Pingback: 3 Helpful Writing Tips | Views from Eagle Peak

  2. Now you’ve got me thinking about my current WIP since the main character has a lot going on. I tried to make her outlook as positive as possible as she gets out of her situation. This is an interesting post, since I’ve felt down about certain books.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jacqui, this is an uncommon topic. I don’t think I’ve read this idea anywhere else, but I like the implications. I’m going to consider everything I write and see if I can write the same general scene with a more positive outlook.
    I suspect that one outcome is that I might even feel better at the end of a writing session. Winner winner.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your stories are positive–always a light at the end of the tunnel whether it’s a mom stuck in a tree or stuck in her own head. You don’t make it fatalistic, so I would think you’d want as few negatives as possible.


  4. Right now, I’m trying my hand at a dark story, one where the ending may show the solution to all of it, but it won’t be happy. Nonetheless, I grasp the meaning of what you propose here. Giving hints that can’t really be missed can be written in a positive way instead of just tattle-telling the negative. Thank you for the quick lesson, Jacqui. I’m on my first draft and I refuse to backtrack to fix all, but from here on out, I’ll turn more to the showing with positive tone, as you put it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I have enjoyed reading your article, Jacqui. To be quite honest with you, I’ve received confirmation that I am a very positive writer. I am in the revising process of my first manuscript so I’ve look through only one chapter and I feel good about the warm feeling it gives my readers.
    Here is a small WIPpet from my manuscript.

    How she did it puzzled him, but it pleased him too, and tiny bubbles of joy sprang up from an unknown reservoir in his body––my grip has forced out your spirit of creativity while you sleep.


    Liked by 1 person

  6. Very interesting. I never thought it could be so simple as changing negative words into positive words. I have read so many books that make me tired and ‘itchy’ and your reasoning is entirely logical. Thanks for this valuable advice, I will definitely be doing that to my manuscript.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Jacqui, this is excellent advice and the rewritten versions pack a punch! Whilst I always try to write in that way, telling less I’m sure I will find plenty that slipped through and I will take my MS out of the drawer today and find an example. I’m pretty sure there is one very similar to your first example during an attack scene. I’m printing this out – many thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just do a search for n’t or ‘don’t’, ‘not’–a whole list of negative words. Sure, you don’t want to get rid of all of them, but they should be spice, not set the tone. Unless, of course, that is the tone you want!

      Liked by 1 person

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