Hannah Harrington: Writing Tips

Everyone’s writing process is different. The great thing about writing is that there are no limits when it comes to ideas or experimentation. However, there are a few simple ways to make your writing stronger:



  • Show, don’t tell. This is a basic idea, but it can be harder than it looks. Readers don’t want you to spell everything out about what a character is feeling—they want to experience it from the way a character behaves or what they say. If a girl is beautiful, don’t tell me she’s beautiful—describe what makes her beautiful so I can believe it. Here’s an example sentence: “Jenna sat at her desk staring at the blank piece of paper before her, and then suddenly ripped it from her notebook, balling it up tight in her fist before hurling it at the wall.” I don’t spell it out there, but from reading that sentence, you can glean a few things from Jenna’s character about her emotional state. She is clearly frustrated and unhappy about something, even though I don’t use those words to describe her. Figuring that out from reading about her actions is more powerful to a reader than saying “Jenna sat at her desk, frustrated beyond reason”. It also adds subtlety.


  • Don’t be afraid of the word “said”. Sometimes it’s good to use more descriptive words, but you’ll find that your dialogue goes much smoother without interjecting it with “she cried” or “she yelled” or “she announced” every other line. It also ties back into showing not telling: readers can often tell just from the dialogue alone what kind of tone the words are being said in without having to spell it out. If someone is stomping around a room while they’re speaking, and you use some exclamation points with what they say, we can tell they are raising their voices without you pointing it out.


  • Character voice. Think of two friends you have, or two family members. Do they speak the same way? Probably not. Everyone has their own voice and mannerisms and sense of humor (or lack of!). Trying to differentiate your character voices in dialogue so they don’t all sound alike can do wonders for your character development. If you’re writing a story with a teenage delinquent and a security guard, I should be able to tell them apart by their dialogue alone, no signifiers necessary. Think, too, if you’re writing from a teenage perspective what kind of words they’re going to use. Don’t try too hard to insert big vocabulary words or purple prose—simplifying your writing can make it cleaner and more believable.


  • Read! A great way to learn about writing is to read the works of other writers you love. Read your favorite novels and try to think about why it is you love them so much. Is it the descriptions, the plots, the characters, the writing style? You can then try to apply what you love about other people’s writing to your own.


  • Write every day, no matter what. Even if you feel you have nothing to say. Even if it’s just a sentence or two. The only way to become a better writer is to write, write, write!


If you found these tips helpful, why not apply them in your entry into the Silence and Secrets contest that Hannah will be judging!


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