Fifty Writing Tools
The introductory column to the workbench of Roy Peter Clark.
Writing Tool #1: Branch to the Right
Begin sentences with subjects and verbs, letting subordinate elements branch to the right. Even a long, long sentence can be clear and powerful when the subject and verb make meaning early.
Writing Tool #2: Use Strong Verbs
Use verbs in their strongest form, the simple present or past. Strong verbs create action, save words, and reveal the players.
Writing Tool #3: Beware of Adverbs
Beware of adverbs. They can dilute the meaning of the verb or repeat it.
Writing Tool #4: Period As a Stop Sign
Place strong words at the beginning of sentences and paragraphs, and at the end. The period acts as a stop sign. Any word next to the period says, "Look at me."
Writing Tool #5: Observe Word Territory
Observe "word territory." Give key words their space. Do not repeat a distinctive word unless you intend a specific effect.
Writing Tool #6: Play with Words
Play with words, even in serious stories. Choose words the average writer avoids but the average reader understands.
Writing Tool #7: Dig for the Concrete and Specific
Always get the name of the dog.
Writing Tool #8: Seek Original Images
Seek original images. Make word lists, free-associate, be surprised by language. Reject cliches and "first-level creativity."
Writing Tool #9: Prefer Simple to Technical
Prefer the simple to the technical: shorter words and paragraphs at the points of greatest complexity.
Writing Tool #10: Recognize the Roots of Stories
Recognize the mythic, symbolic, and poetic. Be aware (and beware) that common themes of news writing have deep roots in the culture of storytelling.
Writing Tool #11: Back Off or Show Off
When the news or topic is most serious, understate. When the topic is least serious, exaggerate.
Writing Tool #12: Control the Pace
Control the pace of the story by varying sentence length.
Writing Tool #13: Show and Tell
Good writers move up and down the ladder of abstraction. At the bottom are bloody knives and rosary beads, wedding rings and baseball cards. At the top are words that reach for a higher meaning, words like "freedom" and "literacy."
Writing Tool #14: Interesting Names
Remember that writers are, by training and disposition, attracted to people and places with interesting names.
Writing Tool #15: Reveal Character Traits
Reveal character traits to the reader through scenes, details, and dialogue.
Writing Tool #16: Odd and Interesting Things
Put odd and interesting things next to each other.
Writing Tool #17: The Number of Elements
The number of examples you use in a sentence or a story has meaning.
Writing Tool #18: Internal Cliffhangers
Use them to move readers to turn the page.
Writing Tool #19: Tune Your Voice
Of all the effects created by writers, none is more important or elusive than that quality called "voice."
Writing Tool #20: Narrative Opportunities
Take advantage of narrative opportunities.
Writing Tool #21: Quotes and Dialogue
Learn how quotes differ from dialogue.
Writing Tool #22: Get Ready
Take a tip from Hamlet and always be prepared to tell the big story: Expect the unexpected.
Writing Tool #23: Place Gold Coins Along the Path
Learn how to keep your readers interested by placing gold coins throughout your story.
Writing Tool #24: Name the Big Parts
Seeing the structure of a story is easier if you can identify the main parts.
Writing Tool #25: Repeat
Purposeful repetition is not redundancy.
Roy's 'Toolbox' is Filling Up
Steve Buttry asks Roy Peter Clark about his Writing Tools, and gets a glimpse into the toolbox.
Writing Tool #26: Fear Not the Long Sentence
Do what you fear: Use long sentences.
Writing Tool #27: Riffing for Originality
Riff on the creative language of others.
Writing Tool #28: Writing Cinematically
Authors have long understood how to shift their focus to capture both landscape and character.
Writing Tool #29: Report for Scenes
The scene is the most basic unit of narrative literature. Scenes put us there, and make us care.
Writing Tool #30: Write Endings to Lock the Box
All writers have a license to end, and there are many ways to do so.
Writing Tool #31: Parallel Lines
Writers shape up their writing by paying attention to parallel structures in their words, phrases, and sentences.
Writing Tool #32: Let It Flow
A transition from tools to habits.
Writing Tool #33: Rehearsal
Procrastination can be productive.
Writing Tool #34: Cut Big, Then Small
Precise and concise writing comes from disciplined cutting.
Writing Tool #35: Use Punctuation
Proper punctuation can help a writer control how fast -- or slow -- a reader goes.
Writing Tool #36: Write A Mission Statement for Your Story
Learn how to reach the next level in your writing.
Writing Tool #37: Long Projects
Breaking a big project into small parts makes it easier to start writing.
Writing Tool #38: Polish Your Jewels
In shorter works, don't waste a syllable.
Writing Tool #39: The Voice of Verbs
Choose active or passive verbs for their special effects.
Writing Tool #40: The Broken Line
Use this tool to combine storytelling with reporting.
Writing Tool #41: X-Ray Reading
Reading others' work can help make you a better writer.
Writing Tool #42: Paragraphs
Go short or long, depending upon your purpose.
Writing Tool #43: Self-criticism
Go from nice and easy to rough and tough.
Writing Tool #44: Save String
Save information -- it could be used for a big project later.
Writing Tool #45: Foreshadow
Plant important clues early in the story.
Tool #46: Storytellers, Start Your Engines
Good questions drive good stories.
Writing Tool #47: Collaboration
Help others in their crafts so they can help you.
Writing Tool #48: Create An Editing Support Group
Create a support network of friends, colleagues, editors, experts, and coaches who can give you feedback on your work.
Writing Tool #49: Learn from Criticism
Even severe or cynical criticism can help a writer.
Writing Tool #50: The Writing Process
Use these tools to demystify your writing.