Morgan T. Jackson has a lot to say about life, race relations + beginning a writing career. Read more below!
It is a truth universally acknowledged that writing is…hard.
And repetitive? And, also…unoriginal?
I know! That second line is one of those truths that hit hard, but let me elaborate. The first drafts of my manuscripts are always filled with sooo many clichés. The actual words I write feel empty + way too familiar. Where is that heart-stopping language that breathes the life into us?
Psh, completely nonexistent.
I’ve been on a mission to make a conscious effort to get rid of my cliché-style of writing, but it’s such a challenge when you’re trying to get the story written + all you want to do is get something on the page, even if the writing isn’t your best work. Really, it takes so long to expound you’re writing when, like me, you’re not necessarily a “natural” talent + you have to think longer about how you’re going to say something.
Keeping your content unique requires effort. When I get that itch to write the cliché + continue on with my merry way, I have to tell myself NO. I give myself a nudge + say, “HEY! Don’t be lazy! Someone has already said this before!”
Clichés originate from somewhere, though, right? They appear in stories time + time again without fail. They’re pretty standard + sorta kinda acceptable to some degree.
But, really, how many times have we read that someone’s hair is as smooth as silk or a person’s attitude is as hot as fire? Probably more times than we can count! Really, these are similes I try to pull out of my own sixth graders. With that being said, what kind of writing should we expect from adults? What can I do to make my writing stand out?
What we want to do is keep our pizza cheesy, but not our writing.
And yes, that line was corny + cheesy itself, but you get what I mean!
In this post, I’m sharing a few tricks of the trade. Keep in mind, I’m an aspiring author who’s still coming to understand the writing craft, which means I’m learning too. The tips I’ll be describing stem from my personal observations about what deems novels as a “must-read”.
Writing is absolutely not for the faint of heart. You have to want to be different + make a conscious attempt to substitute something basic for something more real.
Below are two (2) simple tips to keep your writing fresh + enticing so readers keep on reading:
- Draw on Real Life for Inspiration
- Combine Lyricism + Directness
Tip #1: Draw on Real Life for Inspiration
Nowadays, books + television shows are much more relatable because of the diverse cast + storylines we’re seeing. With shows like Netflix’s The Baby-Sitter’s Club + HBO’s Insecure, audiences can finally see more women of color + how their everyday lives don’t revolve around stereotypical tropes but rather friendship + relationship troubles that EVERYone experiences. Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient follows an autistic woman trying to navigate love through her insecurities. Hoang wrote The Kiss Quotient‘s main character with herself in mind, bringing awareness to Asperger’s. She was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder + writes from an authentic point of view using language that speaks to her experiences + inner dialogue.
So, what does that mean for you as a writer?
When coming up with a story + writing the actual words out, think about how your own life can enhance the integrity of your world. You don’t necessarily have to be overcoming an illness or disorder, but did you grow up in an Irish Catholic household while all your friends were Southern Baptists? Heck, you might not even be religious at all + that would make for an intriguing story.
Let’s go back to my “hair is as smooth as silk” example. Personally, I don’t have hair as smooth as silk unless I flat iron or relax it. Even then, it’s still a bit textured. So, I use this small fact to my strength! Since the main characters in my stories are black women, I purposefully mention the highs + lows of having tight, coarse hair to show it’s okay to have a different texture of hair from the majority. Hair doesn’t necessarily have to be the forefront of the conflict, but mentioning it allows readers to identify with my characters + further authenticate me as a writer.
Below is a line from one of my personal projects:
“I stopped in my tracks and panted like the dog I was, wiping the sweat from my cheek with my palm. I felt over my face until my hand met the top of a matted, kinky mane, The Unlighted’s own cruel gift to me.
Wooly hair’s better for the sweat, Mama used to say. Soaks it right up.“
Here, I purposefully mention that the speaker’s hair is “kinky”, “wooly” + “better for the sweat” because these are my own personal feelings towards my hair. Does it stem from my own insecurity? Yes. But where else is my writing going to come from if not from an emotional place?
This isn’t the early 2000s anymore. Your main character does not have to be a cookie-cutter copy who just goes with the flow. And honestly, in this day in age, most readers crave a character that is complex, flawed + unconventional.
Whatever your main character’s background is, they have a quirk unique to them + it’s your job to find out what it is to bring that character to life.
Tip #2: Combine Lyricism & Directness
For us genre-driven folks writing fantasy, sci-fi, or romance, we are constantly in a quandary. No, really, we are. Because our job is to balance two writing styles in these genres: poeticism + “straightforward-ism”.
Literary language is so incredibly beautiful + I absolutely envy those who have a natural poetic style of writing. But mainstream genres can’t always be 100% lyrical nor can they be 100% straight forward. Most everyday readers looking for escapism want a mixture of both. Writing requires directness with lyrical writing sprinkled in between.
Fusing these two styles is a HUGE challenge for me + requires a lot of patience on my end to effectively accomplish. That’s why reading lots of books in your preferred genre is a must. The authors of these books offer examples for our own writing.
Trust your reader enough to follow along your story’s journey as you see it in your mind. Sometimes, being straight forward about scenery can be accomplished in a few sentences rather than a few pages.
Kass Morgan + Danielle Paige succinctly establish setting in The Ravens using a straight-forward approach:
“Vivi looked at the Westerly calendar she’d tacked to the yellowing wall, the only decoration she’d bothered with this time around…The calendar’s photos, glossy odes to ivy-covered buildings and mossy live oaks, had become a beacon of hope.”
Morgan + Paige compare the calendar’s photos to “glossy odes” filled with “ivy-covered buildings” and “mossy live oaks”. The metaphor helps the reader imagine a collegiate campus with a swamp-like feel in Savannah, Georgia, the scenery accomplished with just one figurative sentence.
Similarly, Isabel Cañas‘ gothic horror novel The Hacienda incorporates a more poetic prose to create suspense:
“Cold swept through the halls like flash floods through arroyo, gluttonous from rain, sweeping me away.”
Cañas’ mixture of similes + personification to describe the protagonist’s haunting estate set in Mexico establishes the frightening atmosphere without being overly descriptive. Like Kass + Paige’s piece, it’s one sentence, but effectively does the job.
When all is said + done, it’s better your genre writing include a mix of simple + complex sentences where action is laced with original figurative language. Nowadays, good writing can be defined as being simpler in your approach while basking in the moment at hand.
Keep writing. Keep studying.
Morgan T. Jackson
*This post has been revised since original publication.