12 Solid Ways to Make Your Writing More Vivid

“Simplicity is a virtue in writing, true; but never the primary virtue. … Vividness is.” —Dwight V. Swain

image by Shawn7
image by Shawn7

I created the following paragraph, ignoring Dwight V. Swain’s recommendations for vivid writing in his book, Techniques of the Selling Writer.

Her car had stopped. She tried to start it again. The engine wouldn’t start. Lissa fearfully evaluated her situation. It was miles from a service station. McKinsey slept in the backseat. At least she wasn’t frightened.

She wished Colby was with them. He was a sizeable man. No one would mess with him.

She turned on her cell. It had no service. It quickly brought insects to her window. Lissa, though usually competent and strong, but realizing help would only come from her, started to cry. Lights reflected from the mirror.

Swain’s Suggestions to Add Vividness

image by geralt
image by geralt

1.  Use the character’s senses in action and movement.

2.  Fix monotonous length, form, and style of sentences to produce variety.

3.  Select specific, concrete, definite and pictorial nouns that create images in readers’ minds.

4.  Choose the singular of a noun. It’s usually stronger than the plural.

5.  Use active verbs; avoid forms of “is.” Show a character’s actions when he feels a certain way.

6.  Reword sentences in the past perfect tense (had) to put them in the past tense.

7.  Make sure pronouns refer to the correct nouns.

8.  Use adjectives to give the precise meaning of nouns when needed.

image by makamuki0
image by makamuki0

9.  Substitute action for adverbs where practical.

10. Add a metaphor or a simile relatable to the reader’s experience.

11. Avoid cramming too much into a sentence and distancing the subject from the verb.

12. Fix unintentional repetition of words and phrases in close proximity.



Look for Swain’s principles addressed in my rewrite to increase vividness.

The Honda Pilot’s engine sputtered and died. Her heart racing, Lissa wrenched the steering wheel hard right and coasted the SUV off the remote road, miles from help. She shot her gaze to the rearview mirror and then twisted her shoulders right and left. All locks secured. No attacker lurked outside in the night.

The low-gas light flickered. The Pilot was out of gas? Impossible. The gas gauge registered full two hours ago. She turned the key. The starter grated like a garbage disposal grinding a peach stone.

Lissa gave up, threaded her hand between the front seats, and brushed her index finger against sleeping McKinsey’s bare foot. Her daughter’s lips parted and closed in a soft snore. Hopefully her toddler would miss the entire frightening incident. Unlike herself.

Her hands shaking, she rustled her cell from her handbag and thumbed the phone to life. No service. She dropped her head against the headrest. What now?

image by Republica
image by Republica

A mosquito fluttered against the side window, determined to reach the glow from her cell screen. She could handle a mosquito. But not the brute with a crowbar invading her imagination and removing every bit of spit from her mouth.

If only her two-hundred-pound Colby sat in the passenger seat. McKensie’s Daddy could scare away a zombie. But a jet flew him to the other side of the US. As Lissa’s lips trembled and her face crumpled, headlights reflected off the rearview mirror.

If you don’t write vivid passages, here’s probably why. Click to tweet.

Would you share your rewrite of the passage?


Make a Splash in Your Story With These “Little” Things

“If you can take a little slice of the world and a little piece of dirt and really focus on details, you can drive large, seemingly spectacular movements.” —David Baldacci (Writer’s Digest November/December 2015)

image by inspired images
image by inspired images

Note the quote from David Baldacci above. It’s from his interview, “Absolute Writer,” by Jessica Strawser.

Baldacci’s quote from the interview says I can do four things:

  • “take a little slice of the world and ”
  • “a little piece of dirt and”
  • “really focus on details”
  • and “drive … spectacular movements”

I think this could work on novels, scenes, or short stories.

As an exploratory example, I’ll apply Baldacci’s advice, as I perceive it, to the short story, I’m working on, a Christmas romance.

My slice of the world is the road to marriage. I see these subparts:

  1. the dreams of the perfect love,
  2. the cute-meet (movie term),
  3. the getting-to-know-you,
  4. the wariness of less than perfect,
  5. the acceptance of less than perfect,
  6. the embracing of less than perfect,
  7. the desire to become one, and
  8. the commitment to the union.
image by zulubo
image by zulubo

My story needs to be a “little slice.” So my slice will cover the hero and heroine’s amusing meeting to their realization they prefer the less perfect person more than the perfect one of their dreams (subparts 2-5).


My “little piece of dirt” is:

  • A neighborhood,
  • where movement is limited by a dumping of snow,
  • where most scenes happen in the hero’s and the heroine’s houses,
  • where only three other characters make brief appearances (two by phone) to move the story along.


image by srose
image by srose

Keeping their story in the neighborhood and limiting the number of characters, allows me to concentrate on the play between the hero and heroine.





The details I’ll “really focus on” are in:

  • hitting home the theme,
  • creating believable and unique characters, and
  • writing unpredictable plot points.

Baldacci says that while we’re showing the details, we need to trick, distract, and deflect the reader’s attention to keep the story unpredictable and to move the action forward. This will be my challenge.

Driving my “spectacular movements.”

  • I interpret that as: at the end, the reader needs to feel like cheering and/or changing.

Focus on details & limit world, setting, characters to write an amazing story. Click to tweet.

How have you used the idea, “little,” to make a splash in your story?

10 Devices to Increase Your Story’s Pace

“Pacing is a tool that controls the speed and rhythm at which a story is told and the readers are pulled through the story events.” —Jessica Page Morrell


We’d wince at these comments in reviews:

  • Too much description and explaining bogged down the story.
  • Everything happened too fast. Left me wanting to know more.

Jessica Page Morrell, in her September 2014 Writer’s Digest article, “Pacing Your Story,” discusses devices to produce faster- and slower-paced writing.

I’ll concentrate on keeping up the pace.

image by Stevebidmead
image by Stevebidmead

Why do we want to speed up the story?

Morrell says a story needs a fast pace throughout the book, but particularly in first chapters and in chapter and scene openings. She says:

“A quick pace is comfortable—never rushed, careless or contrived. You want the reader to be on edge and involved, not exasperated because things are happening so fast he can’t quite take it all in.”


Devices for accelerating the pace.

 This list and quotes are from Morell’s Writer’s Digest article “Pacing Your Story.”

Increase the Speed

1 Action Scenes, “few distractions, little description, and limited transitions”

2 Change, “plot dashes off in a new, unexpected direction”

3 Cliffhangers, “reader will turn the page to find out what happens next”

4 Dialogue, “rapid-fire,” “reactions, descriptions and attributions are minimal”

5 In Medias Res, “start some scenes in the middle of events”

6 Prolonged Outcomes, “the reader wants to know [outcome]”

7 Short Chapters and Scenes

8 Summary, no “play-by-play,” “summarize whole eras, … and backstory”

9 Word Choice, “crisp, punchy verbs,” verbs with “harsh consonant sounds”

10 Sentence Structure, short paragraphs; break up long paragraphs

image by kaboompics
image by kaboompics


Let’s examine a scene – the device number is noted where the pace moves along. (Partial scene from Calculated Risk)




     Cisney held her cell away from her mouth, so Daddy wouldn’t get an earful of her heavy breathing after she ran up two flights of stairs. [5]
     He spoke loudly as if he thought he had to yell all the way from Germany. [10]
     Her breathing and heartbeat refused to quiet, and it had nothing to do with physical activity. She’d have to tell Daddy the truth—tonight. [10]
     “We spoke so briefly on the phone before,” Daddy said, “I didn’t get a chance to ask you about your Thanksgiving.”
     “It must be about four in the morning there,” she said.
     “I couldn’t sleep. How’s my man, Jason?” [4]
     “I’m not at Jason’s.” And neither was Jason. The rat. [4, her reaction is short]
     “What? Where are you?” [4]
     “A friend from work invited me home for the holiday.” [4]
     “But why didn’t you go to Jason’s? Is he there with you?” [4]
     She hated ruining Daddy’s vacation. “Because…because he broke up with me.” She cringed [9] waiting for the blast.
     “Oh, Cis…” He sounded sympathetic. Maybe Daddy could understand that a man like Jason did pretty much what he wanted, and he wanted to date the beautiful blonde doormat. “What did you do, honey?”
     “I cried, mostly. I’m sorry, Daddy, I know how you feel about crying, but—”
     His volume ratcheted up a notch. “No, I mean, what did you do that made him leave?” [2]

10 Devices to keep your story moving. Click to tweet.

Which device will most improve your story’s pace?