Cicada's Bag of Writer's Tricks

TIP #1: Show, don’t tell.

This is a biggie in writing. Instead of telling your reader someone’s state of mind, show it.

Tooth-biter was angry. (This is telling.)

Smoke roiled from Tooth-biter’s nostrils as she burst from her cave and stomped down the mountain, her scaly tail lashing trees from their roots. Small animals fled before her. (This is showing.)

Matt felt happy. (Big whoop. This is ... yawn ... telling.)

Matt danced down the school corridor, whooping and high-fiving everyone in sight. (All riiiiight! This is showing.)


TIP #2: Verbs can stupefy or they can thrill.
Stupefying verbs:

I did my English essay, then went to bed.
Kaitlyn walked across the stage to receive her diploma.

Thrilling verbs:

I wrestled with my English essay then tumbled into bed. Monster verbs and demon nouns pursued me through my dreams. (O.K., so we jazzed it up, but you can see that wrestled and tumbled are more interesting than did and went.)

I breezed through my English essay then slipped between the sheets for a good night’s sleep. (Yeah, we hate this person, too.)

Notice how revealing a verb can be:

She strode across the stage and accepted her diploma with a firm handshake.
She shuffled across the stage and ducked her head in embarrassment as the principal grunted and slapped a diploma in her hand.


TIP #3: Use adverbs judiciously.

“Good job!” she said excitedly.
“Good job!” she said. (The exclamation point shows excitement.)

The prince walked slowly along the riverbank.
The (cocky) prince sauntered along the riverbank.
The (bedraggled) prince trudged along the riverbank.
(Sauntered and trudged are slow-moving verbs.)


TIP #4: I Got Rhythm
That’s great. So does language. Read your work out loud to make sure your words flow the way you want them. As in music, let the rhythm play its part in establishing mood....

Mr. Ecke droned on and on about the Civil War, and my eyes drooped lower and lower. (This is soporific.)

Mr. Ecke barked, “Jack, wake up!” (This is staccato.)


TIP #5: Use proper manuscript format.
Click here to view a PDF example.