Friday, March 7, 2014

Lessons from young writers

Part of my work is mentoring high school students in writing. Without exception the students tell stories that are worthwhile and interesting, even profound. The challenge is to coax their voice and substance past their barriers so we make contact. The other day I had a flash of insight: I should listen more carefully to my own advice.

A few lessons from young writers:

1.     Write as if you’re speaking. Many of us immediately erect a barrier between our readers and ourselves by becoming stilted and formal in prose. When writing, my students often start a sentence with “However,” or “Therefore…” I always ask them when they last said those words in conversation. The fix? Speak your words, and either record them or try to recall how you expressed yourself when you were speaking. I often ask them to read their creations out loud when they’re done. You never forget this lesson once you’ve ever read your own work aloud at a signing or other event. J

2.     You’ll probably know this one, but: cut to the chase/start with Chapter Three. Forget the background until you’ve hooked your reader.

3.     Reduce the number of points you’re trying to make in any one section. For maximum effect narrow your focus, like concentrating a beam of sunlight through a magnifying glass.

4.     Leave out excessive detail; it slows the action.

5.     Ask yourself, when you finish a piece, “So what?” If you think about it, even in fiction, the writing has to be pretty good to distract the reader from that question.

6.     Use quirks. Find something unusual, visually interesting if possible, and latch onto it. One student wrote a great piece about how much she enjoyed wearing pink and other forbidden colors with her red hair. It’s fun and unforgettable, and told the reader a lot.

Now, if I can just listen to my own advice!

~ Stormy


  1. Great advice, Stormy. I am keeping this list handy when I edit.

  2. Wonderful points! I need to remember number 3 because sometimes I find my characters in situations where a number of points are being made and it's distracting. Focus, focus, focus! Thanks!

  3. Stormy, you really know how to get to the heart of someone's heart. It is a challenge for us writers to do that with a character who we created in our heads. Such a challenge. Thank you for the hints. Inky