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Literary Traits Writing

What key literary traits demonstrate you’re improving as a writer?

If you’re a writer, whether aspiring, part-time, or full-time how do you know if you’re getting better? It’s such a subjective exercise to review your own work and other people, writers, or otherwise, you get to help you review your work are biased and subjective. Can you take that subjectivity out of the equation and score yourself against key literary traits when it comes to the craft of writing? This question was posed at the latest Finding Your Writers Voice Meet-Up.

Key literary traits when building your writing craft

For this discussion, we were going to look at just one article from the Janice Hardy website. One of her readers had asked herself the following question:

For writers who, like me, have yet to publish anything (For pay) it’d be nice to better gauge where we’re improving, and what weaknesses are still holding us back, are there some exercises or self-study things we can do to figure it out, so we know where to go from there?

A reader

I’m sure a lot of writers empathise with this question, how do you know if you’re improving or standing still or even going backward! The best way for Janice Hardy to demonstrate how to show a likely progression was to critique her own work over a period of fifteen years. Before getting into specific examples she called out some key literary traits to be looking out for:

  • Are you still telling emotions through adverbs?
  • Are you dramatising scenes?
  • Is there a solid POV?
  • Is the narrator floating about somewhere?
  • Are you giving your readers a reason to care about your characters?

She starts with a piece from around 1992 and called out where she saw improvement needed.

  • The piece was all told
  • There’s no hook
  • There is a weak pov

The first literary trait is the old adage of ‘show and don’t tell’ and is probably one of the most common pieces of writing advice you’ll hear. Just because it’s regular advice though doesn’t mean it’s easy to understand or easy to implement. Reedsy has a very informative video on this topic, I’ve included it below.

Show, Don’t Tell – A key literary trait!

The article then goes onto the second example of writing and calls out the following:

  • The importance of Voice
  • Introducing too many characters in one scene
  • Be careful of using too many adverbs

The point is very interesting. Using too many adverbs in your writing can be seen as lazy. There is a great tool here that will check your writing and identify the adverbs you are using. We took a small diversion here from the article and developed a little more in Adverbs. We learned how to steer clear of bad adverbs and when using adverbs can be helpful. The article on Prowritingaid looked at key points to consider when using adverbs and broke them down into three main categories.

  • When the adverb is redundant with the verb it modifies
  • When the adverb modifies a weak verb or adjective
  • When the adverb doesn’t add any solid information

The article then covered two points about what makes a good adverb?

  • Adverbs that add context or new information
  • Adverbs that replace clunky phrasing

The third example from Janice Hardy highlighted the danger of adding too much backstory.

The fourth example is a cautionary tale of trying too hard to tell a story and ending up with something that nobody cares about. It’s critical to tell the story from a strong pov. The feelings and motives of the protagonist are crucial to engaging the readers and helping them care about your characters.

The final example from her published book, ‘The Shifter’, highlights her accomplishment in developing a strong pov and character. It was interesting though just how this critique can be as some of the FYWV on the night thought the last piece of writing was poor and did not show improvement. Just goes to show you can’t please all the people all the time!

One of the best methods of measuring your progression is to ask for feedback from others. Perhaps your writing group or community is a good place to start as you’re likely to get honest feedback. Sharing with family and friends is OK but be realistic that their feedback will be biased and likely to be more positive than constructive.

How do you measure your key literary traits and if you’re improving them? Do you critique your own work, get feedback from family or use a writers group to bounce your work off?

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