Ending on the Right Note

Where you end decides where your audience begins.

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It was recently brought to my attention (by my own mother, strangely enough) that certain endings sit well with some people, and sit terribly with others.

music noteMy mother, brother and I were sitting at Qdoba, eating our burritos and discussing what movie my brother should watch with his friends that night. He said that one of his friends liked sappy romances, and I said that Fault in Our Stars would be a good choice.

(Hey, I don’t watch romantic movies much and I thought it was pretty good when I saw it, though the book was definitely better.)

I was immediately met with this almost disgusted look on my mother’s face. I asked what was wrong, and she responded, “doesn’t that movie end in a sad way?”

I nodded. “Yeah, it ends on a pretty sad note. Why does that matter?”

She shook her head and said, “I just don’t like movies that end in sad ways. I mean, come on! It’s the ending. It should be happy!”

I stared at her a bit, then burst out laughing. She asked me what I was laughing about, so I told her, “If I ever publish a book, do not read it. You will hate it. There is rarely a time when I end anything I write on a happy note. Every novel I’ve planned ends on a bittersweet note at best. You would hate me as an author.”

She changed the subject immediately.

you are my sunshine (2)


That little anecdote should be enough to tell you what I’m getting at. Certain people like certain endings. Others like something entirely different. There’s no way to make everyone happy.

So, what ending should you go with?

That… Is entirely up to you.

That’s the honest truth. I can’t tell you what to write or what ending is best. I can tell you that I love those bittersweet endings that leave you with something to think about, but that doesn’t mean that those endings are the best. They’re just one type of ending that some people like.

What’s that? You’re wondering what all the different types of endings are?

Refer to the following image.

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That, my friends.

That is how you separate all the different types of endings.

I know, I know. I always have the best answers.

There really isn’t anything else for me to say. How you end your piece of writing is entirely up to you and your style. I can’t tell you what ways are the best and what ways are the worst. It all depends on you.

The best advice I can give you is to end your piece of writing in a way that reflects everything you’ve been building up to that point.

….. What?

Still stuck?

If you still have no idea how to end your piece of writing, think about the following questions:

  • What sort of tone have you been creating over the course of your writing?
  • What has happened to your character(s) over the course of your writing?
  • And most importantly, what ending would most interest you?

Note: I did not say to think about what ending you would most want to read. Everyone wants a happy ending, but a happy ending isn’t always the most interesting. You need to think about what ending would most interest you, what ending would keep you thinking about the book days or even weeks later.

Now, seriously, there isn’t really anything else I can say on this topic. Only you can know what the best way to end your writing is.

Until next time!

P.S. The stanza up there is the last stanza of a common lullaby-type song. If you comment what song it’s from, you get a cookie!


Picture sources: abcnotation

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The Mystery of the Semicolon

The semicolon.

A device that stumps even the most experinced of writers.

Some fear it; others see it as a challenge.

I am an example of the latter.

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I’ll go ahead and admit it: semicolons can be tricky. There’s a valid reason as to why writers tend to stay away from them. However, their reasoning isn’t that semicolons themselves are tricky; it’s that differentiating the semicolon from the regular colon and comma is tricky.

Already confused? Don’t worry, this entire post will be focused on breaking it down for you.

To start off, you should know that—unlike most of the punctuation out there—there isn’t ever really a time when semicolons are necessary. I mean, you’ve probably gone your entire life thus far without using a semicolon. That’s kind of proof enough that it isn’t necessary. However, there are a three reasons as to why you should use a semicolon:

  1. When a sentence calls for a semicolon, you can’t replace it with some other punctuation. Semicolons are unique, and it just won’t work (or work as well). You could always change the sentence so that it doesn’t need a semicolon… but you’d still need to understand the semicolon to do that.
  2. Semicolons can be very poetic. I’m not saying they’re always poetic or necessary in writing poetry, but they can definitely expand the possibilities of your writing and style,
  3. Your teachers will be impressed. Seriously. How many people in the world do you think know how to properly use a semicolon? The only people I know with that knowledge are top English students or English teachers. My parents are brilliant, and even they have no clue!

If you still don’t care to know how to use semicolons…

… Why are you still here?

imageSeriously, this entire post is about using semicolons. Nothing else. If you don’t want to know about semicolons, you’re wasting your time.

… Still with me?

Then let’s get started.

The Basics

Now, as I stated before, there’s never really a time when semicolons are necessary. Therefore, there are never times when you should use semicolons, only times when you can use semicolons.

You’ve already seen two examples of when you can use semicolons earlier in this post. The second example follows slightly more complex guidelines than the first, but all semicolon usage follows the same basic rule:

  • Use a semicolon to combine two clauses that otherwise could have been two separate sentences.

This is a pretty easy rule to understand. Remember the first sentence I used in the introduction:

Some fear it; others see it as a challenge.

Pretty basic. And thinking about the overall rule I just gave you, you can probably see it as two separate sentences as well:

Some fear it. Others see it as a challenge.

Notice that the two separate sentences are grammatically correct on their own. This is important. The rule does not apply if the sentences are not complete. If they aren’t complete, you most likely have to use a different type of punctuation entirely.

You may be thinking, can’t I just use a comma? For this example in particular, yes, you could. However, notice the difference in how the sentence reads when a comma is used:

Some fear it, while others see it as a challenge.

It doesn’t have the same impact when a comma is used. This is why I say that semicolons can be poetic. The semicolon can make two basic sentences seem much more important than they really are.

Got It? Let’s Get a Bit More Complex.

The second example I used earlier follows the same basic idea. However, when you read the two combined sentences separately, you’ll notice something slightly peculiar:

However, their reasoning isn’t that semicolons themselves are tricky; it’s that differentiating the semicolon from the regular colon and comma is tricky.

However, their reasoning isn’t that semicolons themselves are tricky. It’s that differentiating the semicolon from the regular colon and comma is tricky.

It’s a bit hard to catch, but the sentences look and even sound a bit awkward when they’re separated. They’re meant to be connected and don’t sound quite right when they aren’t.

This is where semicolons get tricky. Some people consider this a proper use of the semicolon; some do not. It’s a matter of preference. My opinion is that it works, but if your teacher says it doesn’t, don’t test them. It’s not worth it.

When Not to Use a Semicolon

Semicolons do not replace commas!!! This is the biggest mistake people make when trying to use semicolons. In some cases, commas can replace semicolons, but the relationship only goes one way.

Don’t believe me? Here’s an example:

Correct: They fought hard, but all was for naught.

Incorrect: They fought hard; but all was for naught.

And another:

Correct: Though she loved him, she couldn’t marry him.

Incorrect: Though she loved him; she couldn’t marry him.

And another:

Correct: She loved to dance, so she did.

Incorrect: She loved to dance; so she did.

And one more, just to clarify:

Correct: Beware, for I am fearless and therefore powerful.

Incorrect:

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DO NOT REPLACE COMMAS WITH SEMICOLONS. IT DOES NOT WORK.

That being said, commas aren’t the only punctuation commonly replaced with semicolons. People replace colons with semicolons as well, and I’ve even seen hyphens replaced with semicolons.

There’s an easy way to not make these mistakes:

  • Check to make sure no other punctuation works before testing the semicolon.

If no other punctuation works, then maybe a semicolon will. However, check all other forms of punctuation first.

If you’re still not confident that you know how to use a semicolon, check out this guide at GrammarBook.com. I used it to double check myself when I was writing this. It’s short, sweet, and very helpful.

Let me know what other grammar/writing rules you need help with! I’ll try to get to most things eventually, but if you need some help with something in particular, I’ll work on it immediately!


Picture sources: From the Write Angle

Simple Writing

Grammar-Monster.com

Let’s Play a Game. Let’s Play Murder.

An intro to the art of killing characters, brought to you by a master.

So there’s this book series that everyone is going crazy about. You weren’t planning on reading it, but your best friend begs you to read, and after much pestering, you agree.

You get through the first book in one week. It was amazing, and you rush to get the second book. As you read, you meet this awesome character named Sam. He’s not made out to be super awesome, not focused on, not even a hero! But you can’t help but love him. There’s just something about him that makes him the most loveable character of the story.

You keep reading the series, and you love him more and more with each book. He’s just the best! There’s nothing about him that’s perfect, yet you can’t help but feel like that’s exactly what he is.

You get to the last book, and you’re pumped for a grand finale. There’s no way it won’t be awesome, because the entire series has just been so amazing and the author is the best writer ever!

You get to the last few chapters, and… Wait. What? What?!?!?

imageWHAT?!?!?!?!?!?

THE AUTHOR KILLED SAM!!!!!!!!!!!

 

Why You Should Kill Characters

Yes, I am condoning the killing of characters.

I know, I know! Based on the painfully relatable character death I just wrote out, you would think killing characters is a bad thing. Especially killing favorite characters.

However, think back to all those favorite characters who died in your favorite stories.

SPOILERS!!!!

Finnick Odair in The Hunger Games series.

Rudy Steiner in The Book Thief.

Will in Divergent.

Newt in The Maze Runner.

Dobby in the Harry Potter series.

Sirius Black in the Harry Potter series.

Remus Lupin in the Harry Potter series.

Fred Weasley in the Harry Potter series.

(By the way, you should have seen that one coming. Fred rhymes with dead. Good authors love stuff like that.)

Anyway, I do have a point to this post beyond making you hurt over all of these deaths yet again.

Note how much you loved all of these characters, and how they impacted you more than maybe even the main characer. Think about how their deaths made you feel, and how differently you would have felt if they had survived.

Those deaths might hurt, but they were the deaths that really made those books amazing.

Now, if you’re trying to become a top writer, you have to kill characters. It’s a necessity (not really, but I think it is). More importantly, you have to know how to choose which characters to kill, and how to kill them in a way that actually gives the death a point.

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I’ll start with how to choose the right characters to kill. It’s actually a pretty basic process that includes exactly three steps:

  1. Before you start choosing, keep in mind that if you love a side character (not because they’re super-awesome-perfect, but because they’re them), your audience will likely love them as well. If you immediately love a character, don’t immediately decide to kill them. Develop the story a bit first. Either write a ways into it to see if their character remains the same, or outline a plot and specific scenes a bit. If you only find yourself loving them more, you can confirm that the audience will love them.
  2. Take a look at your other characters. If you kill one character, what will that do to your other characters? Will it force another character to take a role as a leader? Will it lead to a character feeling guilty? Will it lead to your main character feeling angry and running off to their downfall? All of these are good reasons to kill a character. Don’t just kill a character because they’re no longer necessary. Their death needs to have meaning.
  3. Have you chosen a character whose death could lead to conflict? Good. That’s who you’re going to kill.

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So now you have the character you’re going to kill. Yes, their death will hurt you just as much as it will hurt the readers. This is a good thing. However much the death impacts you, it will impact the readers just as much (if you wrote the character well, that is).

The key thing to remember is, you want the character’s death to hurt.

I know it’s cruel, but to write a good character death that people won’t call stupid and pointless, it needs to hurt them and leave a mark.

Now to address the question, how do you write the perfect character death/death scene?

There’s just a few things you need to consider.

  • What relationship does the character you’re killing have with the other characters? Is your character part of a group or a beloved leader of an organization? How will those that care about them react? Will it help the characters grow/change? And my personal favorite, can another character be blamed for the death?
  • What flaws does your character have? Is your character apt to joking around? Do they have anger management issues? Are they naïve or innocent? Does your character act without thinking? Are they protective or loyal? All of these traits could be the cause of your characters death.
  • Is ther any way to make the character’s death ironic? Are they a cab driver killed by a taxi? Do they hate technology and die while talking on the phone? Do they control fire then die in an inferno? I would suggest staying away from ironic deaths, as they’re difficult to get right and often take away from the impact of the death. Also, they’re terribly difficult to come up with.
  • What sort of dramatic event/situation could lead to the death? At which point in your story will a dramatic battle occur where al of the characters you need are present, and all the characters you need to be gone aren’t? Is it far enough into the story that your readers would have had enought time to really love the character? Make sur the death doesn’t get in the way of the plot, but rather spurs it on.

Those are the main questions to ask yourself. If you answer them all accurately, you should easily be able to craft the perfect character death.

Coming to the point where you can craft the character death is probably the hardest part. There are two possible ways to go about the planning process:

  • One, you can write a while until you get to a point where the character can die in an epically awesome way based on the above tips.
  • Two, you can plan the plot of the story and decide where it would be best to kill the character and how. In this case, your plan may change as your story progresses.

Neither plan is better or worse than the other, so do whatever you please. Either way, make sure to use these tips in planning your character death, and definitely make sure to include a character death!

Happy fictional character killing!

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P.S. Yes, I borrowed a quote from the Sherlock TV series. Deal with it.


Picture sources: The Writing Chimp

Cheyenne McCray

CrossFit

Write What Wants to be Written

Don’t force the words. Let them be what they want to be.

I know what you’re thinking. The title of this post sounds like a crazy hippie proverb.

Well… You aren’t wrong.

I mean, who would be crazy enough to talk about words like they’re some sort of living entity? What sane person would argue that the writer doesn’t control the writing, but rather the writing controls the writer? Who could even begin to debate the fact that words have a mind of their own?

Oh, wait.

That would be me.

Blank notepad over laptop and coffee cup

Don’t worry, I’m not actually insane (well, not officially). My argument does, in fact, make sense, and I’m not trying to say anything too crazy or far-fetched.

What I’m trying to say is, you can’t force the words to be one thing when they want to be another.

Confused? How about an example from my writing:

I just posted a poem of mine called “Imagine.” I already wrote most of what I’m about to say about it in the note at the bottom, but I’m going to guess that you probably didn’t read it. If you did, you’re awesome! A+ for you! If you didn’t, don’t worry. I’m going to restate it anyway.

Before I started writing the poem, I had already thought about what I wanted to write to an extent. It seemed pretty obvious. A world without color. Defintiely a bad idea.

But as I was writing the poem, I found myself writing about the opposite. I tried writing my original idea, but my mind refused to give me the words. If you’ve ever fought with your own mind before, you know exactly how it felt.

If you haven’t, let me tell you, it is not fun.

I take pride in the fact that I am an exceedingly stubborn person, but I’ve learned from experience that it’s not worth it to fight against your own mind. So I gave in and wrote what wanted to be written.

The results were better than I ever could have imagined.

I know, I know! Sometimes you have to write about something specific or write in a particular format, usually for a class or a project. I get it. I’ve gone through that. But even then, this rule applies.

In a situation where you’re required to write a certain thing or in a certain format, great. Write it the way you’re supposed to. But at some point—while you’re writing, when you reach major checkpoints, even when you complete your first draft—read through the whole piece. This is important: you need to look at the piece as a whole to see if and where things fit. Otherwise, your final draft will sound disconnected.

As you read, delete everything that doesn’t seem right. Even if it’s well-written and presents a good point, get rid of it. Be very picky. If you question something, try changing the wording before you get rid of it. If it’s a larger section that you spent a lot of time on, you can always copy it to a different document and go back to it later. Just don’t cling to anything.

If you only end up with one well-thought-out point, that’s fine. Try to find a way to split it up into more points and expand on it. Then continue the process from above.

I know that’s a lot to take in, so here are the two key points you should take away from this:

  1. Always choose quality over quantity. Don’t just throw in facts and words because they sound smart. They’ll sound quite a bit less intelligent in the end. Stick to what actually sounds and feels right. Bonus: It’ll also flow better in the end if you stick to quality!
  2. Trust your instincts. Sure, they might guide you wrong sometimes, but usually they’re right. The more you trust, the more you’ll listen, and the better everything will turn out in the end!

Picture source: Ivoh

Finding Your Voice

Don’t try to copy others. Learn from others, but write as yourself.

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Good morning, beautiful writers!!!

To begin today’s lesson, I would like you all to click on the link Poetry by Me and read a poem or two that I’ve written, or click on the link Fiction by Me and read one or so of the short fictions I’ve written.

Before you ask, no, this is not an attempt to get more people to read my writing. I actually have a point to this.

You back? Okay, time for a bit of analysis. What did you notice about the style of whatever you read? What did you notice about word choice? Sentence fluency? Literary techniques? Maybe it all seemed a bit dark?

imageWhat I’m trying to get you to notice about my writing is my voice. When it comes to writing, everyone has their own, unique voice. It’s created and formed over the years through reading and trying to reflect the voices of others until, eventually, it becomes something distinct and specific to you.

Take mine for example. My voice changes somewhat depending on what I’m trying to create, but I generally write with two very distinct tones: one when I write creatively, one when I write casually (a.k.a. when I blog).

With creative writing, I almost always carry on some sort of dark quality and tend to use more imagery to tell the story. Unless I’m writing a full-on novel, I tend to stay away from dialogue and use thoughts more than words.

However, when it comes to casual writing, I prefer to stay much more nonchalant. I choose to write like I speak, even though it might come across as rather foolish. At the end of the day, my main goal is to entertain, not to sound cool or all-knowing.

Though these two tones are completely different, they’re both the same voice. They evolved from a mixture of other voices that I tried to reflect when I was younger. For example, my greatest idol is Poe, so a large part of my voice reflects his. However, it’s obvious that my writing is not his because it’s also picked up notes of other voices, such as Uncle Rick, C.S. Lewis, and Shakespeare.

What I’m trying to say is, everyone, writer or not, has their own, unique voice. When writing, you should always stay true to your own voice. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Your best pieces of work will evolve from you being yourself.

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If you don’t know what your voice is, then practice writing. Find prompts and write something based off of them. Whatever you write, don’t compare it to someone else’s writing. Don’t even reflect off of it. When you finish your piece, turn the page and start on a new piece.

After you’ve written ten or so pieces, you can go back and read through them. Don’t criticize your voice, and don’t try to change it. The more you write, the more it will develop into something distinctly you.

And once your voice is distinctly you, you’ll finally be a true writer.


Picture sources: WriterAccess

The Art of Writing

TechWyse

Oh, What a Trope!

A good trope can make your writing. A bad trope can break it. And dancing on that fine line is the best part.

Tropes are basically just clichés. They’re the themes, events, scenes, motifs, and other literary devices that you consistently see in creative works.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking you should stay away from clichés when you’re writing. You’re thinking you should be unique in your writing if you want it to be any good.

One, you can’t completely avoid tropes. It’s impossible. There are just too many. You literally can’t create a single character that isn’t a trope, and there isn’t a single setting that hasn’t already been used.

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And two, you need to get those ideas out of your head right now. Tropes are fantastic. Everyone loves some sort of trope, whether they realize it or not. The question is, which tropes are great, and which tropes are poison?

I’m sorry to say, I can’t answer that question. I can probably tell you what most people like and what most people hate, but at the end of the day, it all depends on what you want to create. Once you know that, everything else comes naturally.

However, what I can do is share with you some of my favorite and least favorite tropes.

Obviously, there are instances where the worst tropes are great and the best tropes are terrible, but those instances are rare. Almost always, my reactions to these tropes are the same. I hate them, or I love them. If you want me to love every second of your story, follow these trope guidelines!

Worst Tropes

  • The Stereotypical Teenage Girl/Guy — In my opinion, stereotypical girls are worse. And I’m not talking about the type of girls from Mean Girls. I’m talking about the characters that act like they have maturity and were obviously written by authors who thought they were awesome, but they aren’t. The main character Cassie in the book The Fifth Wave is this type of character, in my opinion. A lot of people like this person, but I just don’t.
  • Satellite Love Interest — Why would you make a character just so that your main character could have some romance? That’s stupid. One, romance isn’t necessary. And two, at least develop the character to some extent! It’s just so pointless!
  • The Pity Party — You know the characters I’m talking about. The ones who are always focused on their own problems. Sure, they might say they’re focusing on someone else’s problems, but it always comes back to them. And if they’re always getting kidnapped or knocked out, it’s even worse! Though I love Percy Jackson, Jason Grace is a pretty decent example of this. I don’t hate him, but he is so annoying. Seriously. Get over yourself!
  • One Single Among Couples — Why? Why is this a thing? I’m fine if this just so happens to be the reality of the situation, but when you broadcast the fact and make a big deal out of it? Just don’t do it. There are just too many examples for me to identify just one.
  • Deus Ex Machina — If you don’t hate this one, something is wrong with you. In real life, problems don’t suddenly solve themselves. They shouldn’t in books, either. It’s annoying and unsatisfying. Don’t do it. Let your characters search for a solution. Don’t just give it to them!

Best Tropes

  • Misunderstood Loner With a Heart of Gold — Number one example? Nico di Angelo. Enough said.
  • Super Best Friends — These are the characters of the same gender that are so close, any separation between them makes you want to cry. They’re always together and have a special relationship that reminds you of an old married couple and super-close siblings, both at the same time. Sadly, you know they’ll never be together because, guess what? They’re both heterosexual. At least, as far as you know. It’s just so perfect, it makes me want to cry every time…
  • Indy Ploy — When used right, this can be pretty much he best trope ever. I really don’t like planning ahead too much because it never quite works out. Improvisation usually turns out quite a bit more commical. It’s much more fun to watch characters create a plan on the spot then watch them put one togehter.
  • Knight in Sour Armor — These characters are awesome. Basically, they’re not fighting for a better world. They don’t pretend that everything is sunshines and rainbows. They know they live in a dark, stupid world, but they still choose to fight for it. Why? Because it’s the right thing to do. They know they won’t make a difference, but that doesn’t matter to them. As long as they’re doing what’s right.
  • Protective Sibling — Actually, this one isn’t only for siblings, though it often is. This trope is where you have one character that’s super protective over another. Usually, it’s the older sibling protecting the younger, or the stronger character protecting the weaker, or the more stoic character protecting the more innocent. Whatever it is, it’s super cute and I love it! Best example: Big Hero 6.
  • Let the Pain Begin — Maybe I just have an evil mind, but watching my favorite characters get hurt and struggle to survive brings me tremendous glee. There’s a perfect example in the book version of The Scorch Trials, but I won’t say what because it’s a slight spoiler. If you’ve read it… You know what I mean (Wink wink).

Obviously I didn’t include too many tropes. If I had included any more, this would have gone on forever…

If you want to look through the majority of the tropes that exist, tvtropes is the best place to go. It’s basically a giant database of tropes from all forms of media (not just TV, surprisingly enough). You can look for a specific trope or story/media, or the site can find you a random trope or story/media. It’s super fun and super cool, and it can really help develop your story if you find a good trope.

Anyway, I hope this showed you the importance of choosing tropes! They really can make or break a story. Be careful and choose wisely…

But don’t be afraid to test the waters of how far you can go. The best stories are made up of tropes that you usually hate, but somehow became amazing because they were used the right way.

Good luck! May the tropes be ever in your favor…


 

Picture source: River City Reading

Play With Sentence Length

The first step in not boring your readers.

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Your first senteces were short. They were simple. They had a subject. They had a verb. There could be an object. Sometimes, they included a comma. They were rarely longer than this.

Then, they began to become slightly more complex. They included more commas, adjectives, and other cool pieces from the world of grammar. They still weren’t too complex, were still relatively simple, but they were growing in length.

And then the real fun began, as you tested just how long your sentences could become, just how much you could fit into one thought, just how much you could do with a single phrase, and you quickly learned: there was a lot.

But then your sentences became run-on sentences and you knew you’d gone too far because they never stopped and you couldn’t pause because there was no place to pause because it just kept going and you didn’t know what to do and you knew you’d gone too far and you had to find a way to make it stop.

So you reverted back to the simple.

Now, before you start calling me a hypocrite, I’m not saying simple is bad. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Simple is just as important to writing as complex. However, you need to understand that both are important, not just one or the other.

Don’t believe me? I’ll break it down for you.

 

You need to vary your sentence length. Good writing always has varied sentence length. Sentences of the same length get boring. There’s no rhythm or depth to them. Your words get wishy washy and blur. You know I’m getting boring right now. My sentences are all the same length. It’s already way past repetitive and monotonous. You probably hate me right about now.

See what I mean?

There’s a certain depth that comes with varied sentence length. It creates a rhythm, a texture, and turns every word you write into poetry. It creates life. And, as a writer, giving your words life is the most important part.

So, to better your writing, play with sentence length. Try using short quips for sharp impacts. Or use a long, flowing sentence to add beauty and texture to your writing. Just make sure to use a mix of long, short, and medium sentence lengths.

This really is one of the quickest and easiest ways to better your writing. Seriously, just try it! You’ll start to notice the difference immediately.

And if something goes crazy or wrong… Don’t give up. Mistakes are how we learn. Just keep trying, and eventually you’ll get it right.

You’ll be a master in no time!