How to Write Better Prose

In this post, I’ll be specifically talking about how to improve the flow and variety of your language. In other words, the more concrete answer to the question of how to write better, instead of the larger (and significantly harder) question of how to write better novels. The question of how to write better novels is in essence what I address in all my other posts, so if that’s what you’re looking for stick around for a while.

Anyway, flow is all about comprehension. The number one thing that causes someone to stop halfway through a sentence is making that sentence so complex that the meaning is lost entirely. I want you to keep that in mind as I talk about the rest of this, because if you don’t get your meaning across the rest of this advice won’t help.

Another major factor is your toolkit. Do you know how to properly use commas? Can you utilize semi-colons and ellipses? The more options you have in your toolkit, the more precise your use of language can become. You don’t necessarily have to be a Strunk & White scholar, but you should at least know who they are. More importantly, you should at least read up a little on the advice they give. Without the proper tools, depth of language becomes exponentially harder to achieve.

Vocabulary is another tool worth mentioning. It’s paradoxical in some ways, because you’ll spend a lot of time building it up as a writer (at least, hopefully), but half the time you’ll avoid using the tastiest words because they don’t match the narrator’s voice. That being said, it’s still worth investing time in learning the right words, so that when you need to you can utilize them to great effect. When it comes to vocabulary, you can write beneath but not above. It’s nearly impossible to feign a well-equipped vocabulary without producing stilted dialogue or narration.

There’s also a good deal to be said in defense of simplicity. Simple sentences get a lot of hate from authors, myself included, but they’re also the fastest way to get a message across. ‘He ran’ is easier to digest than ‘he frolicked through an amber field.’ The second option may achieve more depth of meaning, but sometimes all you need to impart is the simple concept. Just as every sentence shouldn’t be a simple one, every sentence shouldn’t be needlessly complex. If a few words will do, then by all means use a few words.

Writing is best when it offers both variety and subtlety in getting a message across. Using the same structure is boring, and so adding as many tools to your kit as possible—whether they’re in the form of vocabulary, grammar, or simple structure—is the best way to improve your writing. Learn about the tools you’ll be using, and then make sure to use them whenever you can.

If you enjoyed this post, please like and follow my blog. And be sure to check out Ashes to Ashes, available on Amazon as of March 8th. Thanks!

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