Writing simple is not about using short sentences and easy words, but it is about using the best possible word and structure to ensure ease of reading.
It is pretty much a given than at some point in their lives a budding writer will face the problem of writing simply. And it is also likely they they will make several mistakes, the same that many other writers will make too. This article should help writers realise that they aren’t the only ones in the difficult situation of making every word count, outline the mistakes writers do make, and demonstrate how to write simply.
It shouldn’t be surprising if you’ve already make these mistakes, or read pieces that make these mistakes. After all they are common and something most writers have to get over on their own. The first, rather unsurprisingly, is trying to assume a style.
This mistake covers a few small mistakes, that everyone makes. If you read and write at the same time it is very likely that you will emulate the style of the book you are reading. If you like a specific author you might do this more consciously. Or maybe you want your own, unique style… all these three things are mistakes. Believe it or not style forms unconsciously and develops with you as a writer.
Trying to emulate a style can interrupt your usual writing flow, and won’t help you develop your own voice. Writing is in part about developing your own voice so that your writing reflects you and your ability – not another persons. Trying to develop a style can put back how well you write too.
The second mistake a lot of writers make is being too descriptive. For example a paragraph written in the same style of the sentence below would be overwhelming. Most of it would be cut out by an editor if your book were ever taken on.
“On that windy Wednesday morning the wind was like a whirlwind, blowing leafs of orange and red into her tangled brown hair, that had been cut by Tony, her barber, the day before into a new choppy style that really didn’t suit her baby-faced shape face.”
And it is possible for a writer, truly trying to be descriptive, to write a sentence longer and stickier than that above. Think of how the writers of old wrote. Back then it was okay but now readers do not want to read overly descriptive pieces.
It would be impossible to cover all the mistakes a writer makes so I’ll throw you one more bone before we move onto how you can make your writing easier to read. Telling everything rather than showing it to the reader is something every writer does at some point. But it is important to get the balance right, or although the writing might be easy to understand it will also be boring, bland and lack any sort of style.
Of course the easiest advice to give is to avoid the mistakes listed above and the mistakes that you already know about. And of course it’s the hardest to follow and the least helpful. It’s all very well knowing what you can’t do, but what can you do? Hopefully this article will be able to help you out.
Using the right words: possibly the best advice one can give about writing for ease of reading is about words. It sounds obvious but many people don’t realise how powerful using the exact right word is, however a simple change of word can affect how an entire sentence reads. For example the wind isn’t usually written to “shout through a room” it will “howl” or “lash.”
Sentence length: It is always good to have a variety of sentences for smooth reading, but keeping an eye on that sentence length is important. Sometimes breaking a long sentence down into two can drastically improve how obvious the meaning of that sentence actually is. Or at least what is actually happening. For example in the sentence I used as an example of over-descriptive writing – if we cut the second part out it would read better.
Grammar and punctuation: Very important, but also something you’ll want to examine after finishing a chapter, not during writing. Having even a comma in the wrong place can affect the meaning of a sentence. There is a famous example on this which you can read here: “Woman without her man is nothing.” However if you aren’t fabulous at grammar and punctuation don’t worry too much.
The best advice is to tell it as simply as you can. This means just telling the story how it is. Don’t worry about describing things too much, or making everything beautiful and poetic. If something needs explaining then explain it as simply as possible. Usually I would advise you avoid using too many similes and metaphors, but in futuristic pieces comparing a new device with a strange name to it’s primitive counterpart would be a good example of clear explanation.
If you need to use complex sentences intermixed with more complicated punctuation than a comma and fullstop to get through your meaning clearly then do it. Don’t fiddle about with trying to use short clear sentences, or simple words. Just say what you mean.