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A Few Lessons I’ve Learned from Reading and Writing

This was a post that I originally wrote for

Exclamation Points: They tend to sneak into our writing where they don’t belong. I would suggest that they should only be used when a character is exclaiming something. Don’t fall into the trap of using them just to emphasize a point. If you wait to give a sentence some punch, use your words. The sentence itself needs to be strong enough to demonstrate its own importance.

In the movie Dan in Real Life, Dan’s second daughter is dramatic and passionate. If you’ve seen the movie, you remember her screaming at her father, “You are a murderer of LOVE!” It’s hilarious—a great moment in the movie and she’s a great side character. But would you want to read an entire book from her point of view? Probably not. If a narrative has an excess of exclamation points, it can bring to mind a teenage girl, jumping up and down and clutching her hands as she tries to contain her excitement.

“It was the very worst experience I have ever had in my entire life!” has far less impact than a simple, “It was the worst experience of my life.”

Excessive exclamation can cheapen your words and make a reader roll their eyes. Whereas a statement of genuine emotion, with a matter of fact period at the end, will make readers sit up and pay attention.

 Setting: You have to know where your characters are. This is something that I struggle with at times. My imagination and creativity are based in emotion, so I often times see only my characters and I’m unable to see the setting. But even if the setting is of less importance, you have to have a clear vision of your characters’ surroundings. I spent a lot of time searching in Google images for castles, hedge mazes, lush gardens, etc… Do what ever works for you, but make sure you know what the setting looks like.

Villains: The bad guys in your stories have feelings too. It’s important to keep that in mind. A villain will have far more impact if they aren’t a caricature. An evil cackle and a sinister rub of the hands works for children’s movies, but if that’s not the feel you’re going for, then you need to take your villain’s character as seriously as you do your main characters.

Why do they act the way they do? What are their motivations? Who in their life loves them despite all their faults?

Have them show a little bit of vulnerability, maybe even give your readers a reason to sympathize with them. The bad guy/girl needs to be a person first, and a villain second.


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