Grace A. Johnson
5 tricks to writing pristine prose in any genre
I don’t know about you, but my prose differs in some way in every single book, genre, and POV type I write. Sometimes, in a lovely third-person historical romance, my writing is flowy and poetic and immerse and detailed. And then just as soon as I switch to a first-person contemporary, it’s chaotic and unbalanced and overly emotional.
Sound like something you’ve dealt with? Or do you have a hard time finding a consistent style that fits well with every genre and story you write?
If so, you’ve come to the right place! I’ve compiled five of my top tips for creating beautiful, immerse prose that enhance your story rather than take away from the elements that make it unique!
get to know your personal style
This is really the foundation of everything, not just prose, and if you’re like me you jump right into writing without really developing and understanding your own personal writing style, preferred genres, themes, character archetypes, tropes, etc., each and every story is going to feel inconsistent and incomplete. Whether you write action-packed sci-fi and poetic historical romance or contemporary slice-of-life and epic fantasy, there are going to be some common threads. Your own personal flair. Hints of you. Maybe it’s your sarcastic quips, classic comedic situations, themes of light vs darkness, messages of hope, admirable heroes, or including specific things like pirates, talking vegetables, and grumpy elves.
Ask yourself what makes your stories your stories (besides you being the author, of course). What makes your writing stand out from everyone else’s?
For example, one of my common threads is passionate but pure romance that reflects the love of God! So whether you’re reading one of my pirate books, a contemporary novel, a mystery, or a Regency romance, you’re gonna see examples of God-honoring romance and love stories He’s redeemed for His purposes!
Another example is Julie Lessman. Not only do all of her stories also have passionate, Godly romance and impactful messages of faith, they have Irish main characters and families! So whether you’re reading her contemporary series, her westerns, or her O’Connor family series, you’re bound to find some stubborn Irish mules in her books!
Once you know what your common thread is and how it translates into your stories, you can cultivate it and give all of your work a consistent, cohesive feel!
strive for quality in every project
Sometimes it seems easier to rush up to write your short story and half-tail it, while you take a painstakingly long time creating and editing and rewriting your fantasy epic. You may feel obligated to pay careful attention to the prose and specific words you use in your historical novel, but just have free rein with your contemporary project.
But the thing is, writing inconsistently produces inconsistent writing. If you want quality prose that is a delight to read in every story, you need to put in the work in every story. Pay attention to how your sentences flow in your contemporary coming-of-age novel. Short, choppy sentences may sound more modern and vibey, but they can be a pain to read if you don’t arrange them just right (which is a post for another day). In the same way, you may not want to spend 1,000 hours researching Old English for your medieval romance, but letting modernisms slip is only going to make your story feel inauthentic and amateurish, so keep an eye out for phrases that don’t sound correct and try throwing in a few 14th century insults or idioms every now and then!
Read your writing aloud to catch moments of rambling or lack of detail, and rewrite accordingly. Edit every project thoroughly, no matter how long or short, to ensure you’ve done your very best. Don’t be afraid to cut out or rework sentences or paragraphs that don’t mesh well with the rest of the story.
It may take time and effort, but it’s worth it in the end!
Bonus Tip: If you’re like me and you can’t stand for your writing to feel poor or incomplete as you write, try writing a cleaner first draft! Go ahead and flesh out descriptions, focus on the flow of your sentences, and choose words that accurately convey your meanings!
pick an element to emphasize
My friend Grey S. Park was lamenting her prose the other day (hence this article, actually), and one of her main reasons why she felt her prose fell flat in her current WIP is because her characters are all a bunch of tough gangsta boys. Not ideal for lyrical, poetic prose, eh?
Maybe you’re in a similar predicament, working with macho men or no-nonsense girls or dogs who can’t see color, and you’re curious how in the world you’re going to make the prose sound good when it would be insanely out of character for your characters to wax poetic about the glow of the moon. Or anything else, for that matter.
There are ways to add some flair (maybe not entirely poetic flair, but close enough) to your prose, even with a bunch of gangstas and pirates.
Start by getting to know your characters and what they actually care about and notice, how their mind works and what they think. For example, my character Rina isn’t one to spend three paragraphs describing a beautiful dress or a sunrise or really anything...but she rambles. Her thoughts are always detailed and emotional and immersive. Not chaotic (not after editing, at least), but certainly not bland and vague. Or my character Keaton won’t ramble in his mind, but he will take note of everything around him and catalog all the details.
So ask yourself what your characters think about, what they notice, how they think and describe things. The hero may not notice the beauty of a garden, but he’d notice how the freckles dance across the heroine’s nose. The heroine may not describe her setting lyrically, but instead she may use metaphors and similes that fit her life/personality/experiences.
Once you’ve got a good idea of the individual elements of your characters, focus on those elements. You do not have to describe everything or detail everything prettily, but odds are something will affect your characters (or fit your setting, genre, or plot), so take advantage of that! Use words, metaphors, and similes that are natural to your characters, and pay attention to what they pay attention to.
choose unique & meaningful words
Just like using metaphors that mean something to your characters, you need to choose words that mean something to your story. Describe your storm as violent instead of very strong. Call the love interest captivating instead of pretty. Use as blue as the waves that hit the shores of my home instead of sea blue. Try the heavy mahogany table instead of the brown-ish red table.
See the difference?
Using strong verbs instead of adverbs, applying detail to boring nouns, and selecting adjectives that are unique and meaningful will give your prose that beautiful, immersive feel without overdoing it!
do something drastic
When all else fails, give a word a new meaning. Turn a noun into a verb. Make up your own metaphor or simile. Describe something in a way no one’s ever done before.
Personally, one of my favorite pieces of writing, The Gift of Her Heart, was written drastically. As you can read in the first chapter here, I tried a few of the techniques above to turn the short story I wrote in an even shorter amount of time into something unique and well-written.
So next time you feel like your story has lost its spark, try infusing a bit of light into it with some drastic measures. 😉
Well, there you have it, folks! Five tips and tricks to help you make your prose stronger and most consistent between all your stories, no matter what the genre is or who the characters are! Of course, there’s so much more, and I could go on about prose all day, but hopefully this will get you started! Let me know which tip is your favorite down below, or what genres/types of stories you write!
(Also, if you're interested in seeing more posts like this from me, make sure you drop your suggestions and/or questions in THIS FORM!)
yours in spirit and script,
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