Leave the Cheesiness on Your Pizza, Not Your Writing

So, who is Morgan T. Jackson? She’s got a lot to say about life, family, + beginning a writing career. Read more below.

Let’s be honest. How many times have we read in a book that someone’s hair is as smooth as silk or a person’s attitude was as hot as fire? Probably more times than we can count! Really, these are similes that I try to pull out of my sixth graders. With that being said, what kind of writing should we expect from adults? Should our sentences be long + fluid, or short + sweet? In this post, I share ways to keep your writing new, interesting, + true to your own voice.

Keeping your content unique is not difficult! Below are two simple ways in which to keep your writing fresh + thoughtful while still being different:  

  • Draw on Real Life for Inspiration
  • Vary Syntax + Grammar While Getting to Your Point

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. Books like Alaya Dawn Johnson’s The Summer Prince + Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient showcase women of different ethnicities trying to make it in a world where they know + love their differences even if at times they make them insecure. Helen Hoang wrote The Kiss Quotient with herself in mind + to bring awareness to living life with Asperger’s. She was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder + writes romance novels from an authentic point of view in which the main characters have the same quirks + work to build their self-esteem.

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 experiences can enhance the flavor 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 + all your friends were Southern Baptists? Do you have red hair that stands out in the crowd? What was it like to grow up with red hair in a sea of blonds and brunettes? Maybe this affected you, maybe it didn’t. Either way, you’re going to have a much different experience with your identity than the girl or guy down the street, an identity that might make for a great story.

Since we’re on the topic, let’s go back to my “hair is as smooth as silk” example. While this may be true for most women, I myself don’t have hair as smooth as silk unless I flat iron it or relax it, and even then it’s still a bit coarse. So, I use this small fact to my strength! Since the main characters in my stories are usually black, I like to mention once or twice the highs and lows of having tight, coarse hair showing it’s okay to be different. Hair doesn’t necessarily have to be the forefront of the conflict, but it does allow readers to identify with your characters + further authenticate you as a writer. Every woman has hair trouble in some shape or form, but everyone’s experience with it is different.

This isn’t the early 2000s anymore where your main character has to be a cookie-cutter copy. Whether your protagonist is white, black, Asian, or Hispanic, they have a quirk unique to them + it’s your job to find out what it is to bring that character to life.

Vary Syntax + Grammar While Getting to Your Point 

If you’re going to write for a specific genre like fantasy, sci-fi, or romance, sentences that can really bog down a reader are the ones that are cliché, precocious, have long prepositional phrases + fancy fluff that we may have seen before. Literary language is quite beautiful, but if that’s not where your strength lies then don’t force it.

Keeping your work short + simple shows you trust your reader enough to follow along your story’s journey as you see it in your mind. Sometimes being straight forward with what your characters are doing is easier to understand in contrast to flipping through five, long pages about the gloomy weather outside. There are literary authors out there for a reason + that is because they’re good at what they do + study their craft. But if you’re going to be a genre writer, show restraint + talk about the weather within a few sentences because the truth is, your commercial reader goes through a book quickly, skimming scenes + sometimes skipping the longer, more “boring” phrases to get to the action quicker. Active verbs + specific nouns may paint the scene even more than an influx of figurative language. To check out an active verb list, click here to read a resource by Angela Ackerman + Becca Puglisi.

Do make sure your sentences are interesting + vary in length. As I tell my students when writing essays, don’t rely on simple sentences alone such as “The cat ran far” or “The cat jumped high.” If you’ve ever wondered if your work reads a bit dry, it could be because there’s only one type of sentence you’re using + that’s no fun. Use compound, complex, + sometimes compound-complex sentences. If you have trouble with grammar + syntax I suggest snagging a copy of the McGraw-Hill Handbook of English Grammar and Usage, 2nd Edition: With 160 Exercises to learn more about the craft.

Consider first what your narrator’s tone is + allow that to drive the types of sentences + diction you use. If your character is at a point in the story where they’re panicking because they’re being chased, what will those paragraphs look like? On that note, will everything happen in a single paragraph or will you use multiple paragraphs with varied lengths? Sometimes one to three words on one line is all you need to drive home your point.

When all is said + done, it’s better your genre writing include the action with hints of really interesting bits of figurative language spread throughout the story. If you want to get good at this then keep reading books + examine how the author structures their story. Nowadays, good writing can be defined as being simpler in your approach while basking in the moment at hand.   

Keep writing. Keep studying. Never give up.

Morgan T. Jackson

Published by morgsjackson

Teacher + Writer + Thinker based in SC.

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