In the first article in this series, we visited tools to help you get started, and move out of a block. There are many more coming in my next book, "How to Write Your Memoirs...The Toolbox Edition." In this article, we'll focus on ideas to kick your writing style up a notch.


1. Start with a bang, but don’t worry if the gong doesn’t ring right away

The first line of any form you choose to write — novel, short story, memoir, poem — has an important role to play: it’s got to hook your reader. But don’t let this hang you up. Sometimes a great first line just comes to us, and in fact gets us going. But sometimes a good one comes later, after the writing has gone a short or even longer way. Suddenly just the right phrase or line will pop up, emerging from the story. You’ll know it when it surfaces.

Way to go: Holding onto the strap over her head, Hilda fell right out of the funicular car.

What, you ask? How could that happen? Well, perhaps the strap was on its last legs and ripped. Or….you think of another possibility.

Less Interesting: Hilda went on a trip.

2. Don’t repeat the same special word or descriptor in a sentence or paragraph.

Certainly words such as “the” may demand to be used more than once. That’s not boring unless they show up as every other word; they’re not eye-catchers. But if you have used a descriptive, colorful or unique term, for example you’ve described someone as “fascinating,” be sure you don’t use the word, in any of its versions, later in the same sentence or paragraph. You will soon disengage your reader.

Less Interesting: Old Weird Harold was the most fascinating kid on the block. For one thing, what kid would have a name that fascinated people like that?

Way to go: Old Weird Harold was the most fascinating kid on the block. For one thing, what kid would have a name that captures attention so immediately? (adapted, with gratitude, from a phrase by Footprints author, Kay Roberts)

Less interesting: Old Weird Harold always wore a brown hat on his head. Every time he took his brown hat off, the young man bowed.

Way to go: Old Weird Harold always wore a brown hat on his head. Every time he removed his signature head gear, the young man bowed.

3. Keep your tenses straight.

This is one of the hardest concepts for many, even experienced writers. Well, I include myself as experienced here. Maybe other experienced writers never have this problem. Anyway, the issue is sticking to either past or present tense, or using the conditional if warranted. To be specific:

Wrong-o: Jason went into the forest. He hears a whooshing sound.

Right: Jason went into the forest. He heard a whooshing sound.

I know, it’s tempting to want to jump into the present tense to make the story more tense. Examine what you mean to say. Maybe you should be writing the whole section in the present tense:

Jason enters the forest. He hears a whooshing sound.

Just be sure your story hangs together in a timeline. You can certainly move in and out of the past and present, and propel characters into the future in one project. But keep the story line logical by making sure that whichever episode you are describing is clearly in whatever time zone you mean it to be.

Next article: Make your story come alive!

The above is excerpted from the upcoming book by Hillebrandt, "How to Write Your Memoirs...The Toolbox Edition" (c) 2010 Ina S. Hillebrandt. All rights reserved. Except for review purposes, not to be reprinted in part or in whole, in any media, without permission from Pawpress. For inquiries go to:

Author's Bio: 

A Fortune 500 Strategic Planning and Communications Consultant, speaker, author, and editing/publishing coach, Ina Hillebrandt has been leading creativity and writing workshops for companies and individuals for over twenty years. Author of "How to Write Your Memoirs...Fun Prompts to Make Writing...and Reading Your Life Stories a Pleasure!", she is pleased to share writing tips here that have helped her and her students break through writing blocks, and enrich memoirs and fiction. Ina is available for coaching and classes by phone and online as well as in person.