By Dr. Dennis Hensley
A few months ago I attended a writer's conference here in the Quad Cities. This was one of my favorite sessions I sat in on, and although the notes may not show how interesting the session was, they are practical and useful for anyone interested in growing as a writer. Dr. Dennis Hensley is a great communicator, and his passion for writing comes through as he speaks. Maybe these simple points will help you as much as they've helped me!
1. Prefer the plain words to the fancy.
*Use language people can understand.
2. Prefer familiar words to the unfamiliar.
*People will stop, reread and lose momentum.
*You want people to feel comfortable with your writing.
3. Use action verbs and picture nouns.
*House [boring!] --> mansion, shack, etc. .
*Hit [boring!] --> tapped, slapped, etc.
4. Avoid clichés or worn-out expressions.
*The “eternal squelch” --> people tune it out b/c they hear it too much.
*i.e. “works like clockwork” or “clean as a whistle” --> Eliminate and replace!!
*i.e. Instead of “roaring thunder” use “the universe cleared it’s throat.”
5. Never use a long word when a short word will work just as well.
*Using shorter words takes more sophistication as a writer when they’re used correctly.
6. Master the simple declarative sentence.
*What do you want me to know?
7. Vary the lengths of your sentences.
*Keep them awake and surprised.
8. Keep paragraphs short.
* It's psychological
*Dialogue is good!
*We like to see white space on the pages!
*It’s a cheap trick and it works everytime!
9. Put the key words you want to emphasize at the beginning or end of sentences.
*Force the reader to pay attention to what you want them to.
10. Use active voice whenever possible.
*Draws you into the action
*Shorter! Crisper, tighter.
*i.e The book was given to Tom by Bill [8 words].
Bill gave Tom the book [5 words].
11. Cut needless words, sentences, paragraphs.
*Hensley Law: if it doesn’t move the action forward or provide vital info, CUT IT!
12. Write like you talk.
*Don’t use plastic, artificial, fakey language.
*If you would never say it, don’t write it!
13. Avoid Imitation.
*You don’t want to be a 2nd best, watered-down someone else. You want to be a 1st best
14. Think clearly and you will write clearly.
*If you don’t understand something, don’t pretend like you do.
*Make sure it’s so clear in your mind that your readers can’t get confused.
*Give them something they can relate to [parables] --> dumb it down if you need to.
15. Avoid jargon, Christianese, “garble-de-gook.”
*Use language the average person will understand.
16. Write to be understood, not to impress.
*If you are understood, you will impress.
17. Beware the temptation to overuse any one point of punctuation.
*It’s like seasoning: sprinkle a little here and there to give it flavor.
18. Revise with time.
*Whenever possible, let your writing sit and “get cold.”
*When you get a little distance from it, you can look at it with a little more of a critical eye.