Give your Writing a Makeover - by Nichola Meyer

Your motto as a writer: I shall entertain my reader. Whether you write blockbuster novels, or simply want to send more enjoyable letters to your family and friends, each line should beg, "Read me!" Each paragraph should entice your reader to lap up more of your words.

So how do you get your reader glued to the page? You've heard it many times on our writing courses: "Show, don't tell." Movies show. Movies instantly captivate viewers, and so should your writing.

How to add that sparkle to your writing

As you stare at your computer screen hoping for some magical inspiration to kick start your first sentence, do this exercise:

Imagine that you are a movie camera focusing on your writing topic. What would the cameraman see? What would the soundman pick up? Paint the picture you see before you with simple descriptions. Notice small, interesting details. Create a scene. Use characters. Use dialogue. Just like an entertaining movie.


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An example of "Show, Don't tell"

Let's illustrate with an example. If you were to write a piece on the dangers of extreme sports for a magazine, here are some facts you came up with about skydiving (facts adapted from Francois Nel's Writing for the Media in South Africa):


There are 12000 injuries in skydiving each year - 17 % of them permanently disabling the victims. Fourteen people died last year.

Jonathon Levy, 19, a first-year Nature Conservation student at the Cape Technikon has been wheelchair-bound since an accident earlier this year. His chute had not been packed properly, and he tumbled to the ground, with a broken neck and a broken back.

"I guess I should have been more careful, but I wasn't paying enough attention when we were prepping for the jump," said Jonathon from his hospital bed two months after the jump.

Now for the same facts, but zooming in on the entertainment factor.


Jonathon Levy's mates knew three things about him: He loved to party full throttle. He racked up more distinctions at college than most of his peers could even dream of attaining. And he adored skydiving.

That was till he woke up in a hospital bed three months ago and realised that his entire life had changed.

As Jonathon drifted out of his coma and struggled to place the grey walls of his ICU room, the memories of his last skydive returned with sickening clarity.

It must be every sky adventurer's worst nightmare: a chute pack that refuses to open. Jerking on the release chord until your hands are bloodied. Falling. Your screams torn away on the wind. Then blackness....

Jonathon miraculously survived his 2000 m fall. But is that a blessing or a tragedy? The doctors say he broke his back, his neck, and will never be able to walk again.

A mere 19 years old, Jonathon has had to quit his studies in Nature Conservation at the Cape Technikon. A moment of "not being careful enough when prepping for the jump", he says, is likely to haunt him for the rest of his life.

His plight is not uncommon. Last year this adrenalin-junkie sport caused 12 000 injuries; 14 of these were fatal.

What do you think? Compared with the dull "telling" in the first draft, can you see how adding more emotion, description and detail makes you want to read further? Details draw you in to Jonathon's life. Driven by your sympathy and curiosity, you feel compelled to find out what happened to him.
Want to learn how to write better? Click here for a list of writing courses in South Africa.

Remember, other writing genres allow for even more description than I've used in this example of magazine writing. Writers of short stories, fiction and poetry can play with imagery and emotion to their hearts' content.

So get creative, expressive, graphic and dramatic. Show us what you mean, and most important, entertain us!

About the writer:

Nichola Meyer started her career as a freelance writer in 2001, and has written feature and cover articles for several leading magazines, among them O: The Oprah Magazine, Femina, Your Baby, Essentials and Child. With a university Major in English and a Masters Degree in Psychology, Nichola has a special interest in reporting on issues of interest to women and parents. Previously she lectured in psychology, taught English to High School Pupils, and presented the Magazine Journalism Short Course since 2004 at CityVarsity Film & Television and Multimedia School, as well as at Boston Language College in Cape Town, South Africa.

Nichola Meyer has been the Principal at SA Writers' College since 2005. SA Writers College offer the best writing courses in South Africa, including Cape Town, Western Cape; Johannesburg and Pretoria, Gauteng; Durban and Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal; Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape; Bloemfontein, Free State; Nelspruit, Mpumalanga; Kimberley, Northern Cape and Polokwane, Limpopo.
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