10-Second Writing Lesson
Written by
Tayari Jones
December 2011
Written by
Tayari Jones
December 2011

I was reading a student's manuscript recently. I liked it, but I didn't love it because there was something generic about the descriptions. I shared with him a pretty easy fix that will make a significant difference in the draft:

Dear _____________,

Here is an easy suggested to amp up the language in your story.  Use your "find" function on your word processor and look for the following words: NEVER, ALWAYS, EVERYBODY, NOBODY, NO ONE, EVERYBODY, NOTHING, EVERYTHING.

You think you are using these words for emphasis. For example, you say that NOBODY attended the funeral. I get your point that the guy was not popular. But it's way more interesting for you to describe the two or three people that did attend. You won't lose the idea that this man had alienated many people, but you give the reader a more engaging description.

I want you to go through and find all the words I have listed above in caps and then replace them with more vivid imaginings. You let yourself off to easy with these consensus words. To say that "everyone thought that he was guilty," is the kind of thing you should write in an early draft as a placeholder. Then, you should come back and take it up a notch. This is just off the top of my head but, "Everyone thought he was guilty except the Eastern Stars from Greater Hayes A.M.E. You could not tell those ladies thought Miss Hilda's baby boy was a criminal. Not one of them was a minute under 80 years and they felt that they didn't have to watch the news or listen to scientific experts to know what was what, and who was who."

This is just my two cents. I hope this is helpful to you.




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  • Marian Evans

    This was a hugely useful tip! Thank you!