Writing Real

don't write downDon’t write down to your reader.  It is a piece of advice that sounds simple but applying it can take many different forms.

Don’t oversimplify vocabulary.  Not every word in a picture book has to be short or simple.  Some could in fact be deliciously complicated. Rich, specific vocabulary makes a manuscript sing.  For example, which word paints a picture? Dog or afghan.  Duplex or house.

Don’t oversimplify characters.  Characters that are overly simple become two-dimensional. Your cheerleader is perky and upbeat.  Your nerd loves role playing games and hates sports.  Protagonists are as pure as pure can be.  They drink their milk, respect their parents and always use proper grammer.  Antagonists are evil with hearts as black as coal. They loathe puppies and kittens and contemplate mischief, mayhem and cruelty at every turn.

But these overly simple characters don’t feel real to your readers.  They are just too simple. A proud hard-working person may also be an egomaniac who never makes time for her friends.  An honest person may be judgemental.  But a bad person, the charcter who smokes and drinks, may also be the character who is prepared to accept the protagonist when she falls from grade.  This character isn’t 100% bad after all.

Don’t oversimplify dialogue.  When you write dialogue, it shouldn’t be like a ping pong match.  Character A speaks.  Character B replies.  Character A speaks.  Character B asks a question.  Instead, have your character say one thing and mean another.  Or Character A might ask a question and although Character B responds, it isn’t actually an answer to the question.  Shake things up.

Situations are also seldom black or white.  Your character may be faced with two bad choices.  There may be no “high road.”


Don’t oversimplify plot.  In a simple plot, your character faces good choices and bad choices.  But what if there is no clean cut, good choice.  What if both choices are in some way undesirable?

Don’t write down to your reader.  It’s good advice, but remember to take it beyond simple word choice.