These tips focus mostly on our use of verbs. In many ways verbs are the most important part of our sentences, and these tips can hopefully help us jazz up our writing and make it more interesting.
4. Use stronger verbs. This is an oldie but a goodie. I'm sure we've all heard this before, but its important enough that I thought it bared repeating. It's simple and subtle but very effective. So:
Henry hit the table with his fist and walked out of the room.becomes
Henry bashed the table with his fist and trudged out of the room.
With stronger verbs, we can more easily see the way Henry exited the room. And that's our goal, to put images in our readers minds.
5. Use linking verbs with caution. Here is a list of linking verbs: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been. Also add to that had and has. Obviously we're going to need to make fairly frequent use of these verbs; I'm not saying we have to avoid them all together. They are simply an integral part of the English language. However, when we can find a way to avoid them, it's one of the most effective ways to spice up our sentences. So:
The old, gray house was known to be abandoned, and a habitat for bats and raccoons and maybe something more sinister.
We often heard the squeaks of bats and raccoons coming from the abandoned house on the corner, and occasionally noticed an unidentifiable moaning more sinister than creaky floor boards.
This is also a quick way to bring our sentences from passive to active voice.
6. Avoid "Thinking" verbs. These are some of the verbs the workshop leader called "thinking" verbs: think, know, believe, want, desire, understand, realize, remembers, imagines, feel. Again, this is not to say we can never use these verbs. They are simple and common, which is why they are so often used, and also why we should be judicious ourselves in using them. Changing things up when we can will elevate our writing to something more beautiful. So:
I could feel the adrenaline dissipate, leaving exhaustion in its wake.
The adrenaline dissipated, leaving me too exhausted to do anything but collapse next to the fridge.
Again, this trick adds action and focus to the sentence, making it more attention-grabbing for the reader.
Like I said, these tricks are not the be all and end all and should be used judiciously. Like pepper on a stake. Cook the way the works for you, but know that these spices are available to add flavor.
The key here is to dig deep and see why these suggestions can be helpful in the first place. I believe it is because using these strategies tends to bring in more character and more action. They help you bring a person into your sentence and make them do something. And that is a very good thing. I'm working on these things as much as anybody, which is why the conference was so helpful for me. So keep character and action in mind, even when not using these particular little tricks, and your writing really will shine.
Any other tricks I should add to this list? Do you have tips for making your sentences work better?