L.D. Harkrader loved books from the minute she first held one in her hand. She loved bedtime stories and convinced her amazingly accommodating parents to read the same books to her over and over until she had memorized the stories and could recite them out loud even before she knew how to read. Once she did learn to read, you couldn’t pry books from her hot little hands. In school, her favorite days were library day and the day her teacher passed out the Scholastic Book Club flyers. In the third grade, she realized that somebody had to write all those books she loved to read, and decided that someday one of those some bodies would be her. Now, nearly forty years later, she’s making that third-grade dream come true.
Writing Tips from Children’s Writer L.D. Harkader
In college, I took a course in magazine writing. The focus was nonfiction, rather that fiction, but the first day of class, the instructor gave us the best piece of writing advice I’ve ever heard. It has served me well no matter what kind of writing I’m working on. He said, “Write with verbs.”
He meant write with strong, active, concrete verbs, Anglo-Saxon verbs such as rattle and lumber and yearn, verbs that get to the point and paint a picture, rather than abstract Latinate verbs such as maximize and precipitate. When I read “the woman lumbered,” I see exactly what she’s doing and what she looks like doing it. When I read “the woman maximized,” I see. . . nothing. The last thing I want to give readers is nothing.
When I write, I focus on those strong verbs, as well as strong nouns. I’m suspicious of adjectives and (especially) adverbs. Sometimes you can’t help using an adjective. Sometimes readers need to know that the vampire’s eyes are red. But too often writers use adjectives and adverbs to try to prop up weak nouns and verbs. When I find them in my own writing, I stop and try to find a more vivid way to write the sentence. If I see:
The truck steered carefully over the uneven road.
I rewrite like this:
The truck bumped over the ruts.
By eliminating the adverb and adjective and using a stronger verb and noun (not that there’s anything wrong with steer or road; in this sentence, bump and rut are just more descriptive), I not only paint a more vivid picture, I shorten and simplify the sentence. The best writing is clear, simple, and concise. With a strong verb, you get all three.
Lisa, thank you for your tips on writing strong.
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