Vision: A Resource for Writers

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Learning to Write Well

By Martha Ramirez
Copyright © 2009 by Martha Ramirez, All Rights Reserved

My debut children’s book was released in the year 2008. I have set many goals and have learned a great deal in this past year alone. I didn’t know there was such a thing called the “craft.” I wasn’t aware this so called “craft” is how most successful authors practice their writing. All I knew is that I held a strong passion to write and a willingness to achieve my goals. A strong desire burned within me, not to just write, but to write well.

Some authors attain this talent without being aware of it. Others study it to better their prose. Regardless of whether you’re born with what it takes or if you learned along the way. The craft is essential…it is what will bring every author to success. What exactly is the craft? Good question. If you look it up it is referred to as an art, skill, an occupation requiring special skill. I like to think of it as a way of writing. Here are some helpful reminders on learning to write well. I found them to be invaluable:

·        “Show don’t tell.” If you’re into writing and into writing well then you have heard it far too many times before. You “show” don’t “tell” what your characters are feeling. “He was angry” vs. “He clenched his fists.” This is one of the most important rules I’ve learned.

·        Delete the passive voice from your vocabulary. The passive voice is usually near words such as: was, were, and had. Be on the lookout for passive verbs. Sentences should be written in the active voice (subject first, then action). i.e., Ruby likes Ernie NOT Ernie is liked by Ruby.

·        Remove fluffy words. Take out all unnecessary words. Examples: There were, some, started to, began, that, tried to, really, could, that, then. Try not to be predictable. Don’t repeat the same words.

·        Get rid of most “ing” verbs. The ones that have another verb nearby. Original: He was playing ball with his son. Replace with: He played ball with his son. You’ll notice a lot of “ing” verbs have the word “was” before it. Was is a passive verb.

·        Leave out most adverbs. One or two is fine, but it is necessary to not chose “ly” ending words in place of descriptive words. “ly” words tend to “tell” and NOT  “show.” Using adverbs indicates you are an amateur. Use action rather than adverbs.

·        Know the protagonist’s objective. What is his/her sole purpose? What motivates the lead character? Every lead character has a goal, what is it that he/she wants to accomplish? If this is clear at the beginning, readers will care about what happens to the lead character. They’ll be willing to push things aside in their everyday lives to find out what happens next. Wouldn’t you want to know if the lead attains her/his goal? 

·        Always include a character chart for your records. A chart is essential for information such as: eye color, occupation, personality traits, pet peeves, goals, fear, etc. Anything that is needed to know. This will help keep the story accurate. You don’t want your lead to have blonde hair one chapter and be a brunette the next. Think of it as a summary of describing a person. Do this for each of your characters. I found it to be very helpful.

·        Create believable Characters. Breathe life into all your characters. Make them real in your story world. Make the reader care. No room for “cardboard characters.” They should be unique with realistic goals. Create trouble. How will the lead character respond?

·        Scenes. Each scene should move the plot forward. No “Hi how are you?” small talk or unnecessary dialogue. Debating on a scene? Which one adds more conflict, more questions? 

·        Dialogue. Remember to use shorter sentences and apostrophes. i.e., “I am not happy.” Instead write: “I’m not happy.” People usually talk in this manner.

·        Chapter openings and chapter endings. You must grab the reader in order for it to be a page-turner. How do you do that? Can you end with a question? Maybe conflict? Remember nothing should be “easy as pie.”

·        First draft, write from the heart. Second draft, write with your mind. Have you ever seen the movie Finding Forrester? If you haven’t gotten the chance yet, I suggest you rent it today. The lead character learns of this advice, a very true and helpful technique. It’s one of my all time favorite movies. It will touch your heart and inspire you. Pour your heart out the first time around (first draft). Don’t worry about grammar or punctuation. There’s time for that later. Let your creativity flow. Put your editing cap on while writing your second draft. This is your chance to nitpick and look for errors.

·        The ending will break you or make you. It is up to you to compel your readers. Chose your last line carefully. The best endings stay with readers long after the book is closed. Read other books and see how the masters end their stories. Learn, but do NOT copy.

·        Last, but definitely not least, every story MUST live off of conflict. We are glued to movies who breathe life with conflict. Books are no different. It is conflict that makes us turn each page. Without it the story becomes boring. And boring is the exact opposite of what it should be. Whether it is external (physical) or internal (psychological) struggles, it MUST exist. NO conflict, NO struggles, NO story. DO NOT make it “a walk in the park” for your characters.


Keep learning. Keep reading, whether it is books on the craft or books written in your favorite genre. The more you read, the more you learn. The day you think you know it all is the day someone will teach you something new.

Happy writing.

Martha Ramirez

You may visit my website at: and visit the “writing links” page for more helpful tips.

 Favorite book on writing:

James Scott Bell, Revision & Self-Editing, Writer’s Digest Books, ISBN# 978-1-58297-508-5  Plot & Structure, Writer’s Digest Books, ISBN# 978-1-58297294-7

Gail Gaymer Martin, Writing The Christian Romance, Writer’s Digest Books, 978-1-58297-477-4

David Morrell, The Successful Novelist, SourceBooks, INC., ISBN# 978-1-4022-1055-6

Debra Dixon, Goal, Motivation & Conflict, Gryphon Books for Writers, ISBN# 978-0-9654371-0-3