Tips for Writers
1. Avoid Clichés 
2. Active Voice vs. Passive Voice
3. Strong, Precise Verbs vs. Weak, Vague Verbs
4. Show. Don’t Tell
5. Dialogue
6. Point of View

1. Avoid Clichés

 A cliché is an overused expression or idea. They can contribute to your writing becoming boring and mundane. Who wants to read something they’ve read a thousand times before? They’re acceptable in dialogue because people actually speak in clichés. In narrative, they should be avoided like a poisonous snake. 

Examples of clichés:

The job was as easy as pie. 
The boy was as smart as a whip.
Curiosity killed the cat.
I'm fit as a fiddle.
Let sleeping dogs lie.
Can’t you see the writing on the wall?
He got out of there in the nick of time.
She was good as gold.
Our vacation went on without a hitch.
That guy is as slippery as an eel.
There was enough food to feed an army.

2. Active Voice vs. Passive Voice

Verb phrases that include the words is, was, are, were, be, been, would, could, has, had, have, etc. are usually passive. They often describe a state of being rather than something actively happening. Active verbs describe something a subject does.


Passive: The teddy bear was sitting on the bed.
Active: The little girl cuddled the teddy bear in her arms.

Passive:  The horses were out in the field.
Active:  The horses galloped across the field.

Passive:  Her grandfather thought he should go to the mailbox and get the mail.
Active: Her grandfather grasped his cane and shuffled down the sidewalk to the mailbox.

3. Strong, Precise Verbs vs.  Weak, Vague Verbs

You’ll bring a richness to your writing if you strive to use strong verbs instead of settling for verbs that will do the job, but not add much sparkle to your work.

Examples of stronger verbs:

jog, raced, ambled, strode, skipped, stomped, hobbled 

swiveled, pivoted, spun, wheeled around, rotated, revolved, swirled

vaulted, leapt, pounced, sprang, lunged, launched, exploded, erupted

clutched, pawed, gripped, grasped, palmed, handled, caressed, stroked, rubbed

drew, withdrew, picked, selected, chose, plucked, removed, snatched, seized

beat, socked, thumped, pummeled, punched, thwacked, slapped, smacked

Stashed, placed, positioned, dropped, stuck, lodged, plopped, plunked, planted 

4. Show. Don’t Tell

Avoid telling the reader what the character is doing and feeling. Would you rather be told a young woman fell in love with the stable boy, or experience falling in love with the man along with her? Would you prefer being told the pirate sailed on a great adventure, or climb aboard on the pirate ship and go with him? Let the reader experience emotion, thoughts, and action along with the character. 


The lightning and thunder outside Carrie’s bedroom window scared her. She wondered if she should hide under the covers or run to her sister’s room.

Carrie woke and sat up with a start. A crackling white light flashed outside, followed by a deafening boom. A second flash lit her room as though it were daylight. She clutched the blanket close to her chin, covered both ears with her hands, and squeezed her eyes shut. Thunder followed. Carrie hated storms. Hated them ever since her grandmother’s home, struck by lightning, went up in flames, leaving nothing behind but ashes.

5. Dialogue

Dialogue is critical to a story. It can be used to share information, show emotion, and move the plot along. Every line should have purpose. Wasted words will bog the story’s flow and your reader will become bored and skim, looking for the “good” parts.

•  A new paragraph should begin every time someone different speaks. If more than several people   are conversing, the speaker should be identified so readers don’t have to wonder who is talking.

•  You can spice up your writing by adding what is known as “beats.” Beats show any action taking      place by the speaking character. They can also help show emotion, 

•  When not using beats, you can use “tags” like "he said" and "he asked.” But refrain from filling
    your dialogue with tags like "he yelled” or "he screamed." The content used in the dialogue
   should make it clear as to the emotion behind the words. 

•  If it's clear who is speaking, don't use a tag at all.

•  Avoid overusing names. 

An example of poorly written dialogue:

“Hi, Cindy! How are you?” asked Tom.
“I’m fine, Tom” said Cindy.
“I’m glad to hear it, Cindy,” said Tom
“How are you, Tom?” asked Cindy.
“I’m fine, Cindy.”
“That’s good, Tom,” said Cindy.
“I’m kind of hungry. Cindy, would you like to get a burger?” asked Tom.
“Sure, Tom. That sounds like fun,” said Cindy.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz . . . 
A little tedious to read through, don’t you think?

An example of a better written dialogue:

“Hi,” Tom said, as he tapped Cindy on the shoulder.

She spun around, a grin spreading across her freckled face. “Hi.” Her eyes sparkled. “You look pretty good for having spent all summer in that tropical heat.” 

“It was worth it. Those orphans needed a new home after the hurricane.” Tom hooked his thumbs in his front jean pockets. “I was wondering . . .”


“I was wondering if you’d have time to . . .  I’ve been craving one of Carmichael’s burgers . . . and well, there's something else . . .”

The corners of her lips slid up into a teasing smile. “Tom McCarthy, what else are you confessing to besides needing a burger fix?” 

His tried to swallow the constricting lump in his throat. "I've missed you." This is what he’d waited months for. The opportunity to tell her how he really felt about her and how much he’d changed. "I was hoping we’d get a chance to talk. I’d like to tell you what happened to me while spending time with all those kids.”

She wrapped her arm around his. “I’d like that, too.” 

6. Point of View

“Point of View” (POV) is the perspective (or perspectives) through a character’s eyes. Think of it as watching a scene through a camera lens. The reader sees, hears, smells, tastes, and experiences everything through the point-of-view character’s thoughts and observations. 

Since the POV character would not be able to tell what anyone else is thinking or feeling, you shouldn’t include in the narrative or their thoughts, anything the POV character couldn’t know. 

An example:

The POV character wouldn’t know that while a coworker is stating she loves the manager’s new shirt, she’s really thinking it’s a nauseating shade of green.

To move to another character’s point of view, the author needs to make a section break (usually designated by a centered pound sign, or three to five asterisks, in an otherwise blank line). The beginning of each section should identify immediately whose point of view the reader will be in throughout that section.

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