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?


4 Tips in Using Your Personal Stories in Your Writing

“I write a lot from personal experience, but I also embellish a bit.” — Miranda Lambert


by Rgaspari
by Rgaspari

Why is it important to include our personal stories in some way in our writing?

Well, few can imagine catching a sailfish better than a person who actually landed one.

When you don’t use your personal stories in your writing, you ignore your best resource . Click to tweet.

Image courtesy of cuteimage at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of cuteimage at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Some avoid using personal stories because it’s difficult to relive the experience. But when they do, readers reap the blessing.

How to Use Your Personal Stories in Your Novels

Knowing it’s your list to use as you wish, brainstorm your experiences. Here are categories to help you:


Tip 1

Many situations from your list are nonthreatening to you or others. So use those incidents in the life of your character to tell a richer story.

by anairam_zeraria
by anairam_zeraria

Example: As an actuary, I shared ideas with my analytical team, making notes in every direction on a piece of paper. I added boxes, squiggles, arrows, and circles as I talked. When I finally stopped, a team member always grabbed my “collage” and made copies for each team member for documentation. That struck me as humorous. I used this in Calculated Risk, but Nick, the actuary, responds differently to the “collage” Cisney, the marketing rep, creates.

Tip 2

Instead of using the actual incident, give the feelings you had to your character in her similar situation.

by creative_xen
by creative_xen

Example: A boyfriend took out his frustration verbally on me when he played poorly on the tennis court. So, after the first time my future husband mishit a golf shot, my heart pounded, and I feared he’d act similarly. He didn’t. Cisney’s ex took his aggravations out on her. So, when Nick and Cisney have a flat tire, her first reaction is to scrutinize how he handles the situation.

Tip 3

When you use a significant event to shape your character’s experience, pull in all the elements. Include how all your senses reacted. The thoughts going through your head. What you learned about yourself or others. Your first and second reactions.

Example: Working for three insurance companies, I knew several actuaries whose behavior was considered weird. In one job interview, someone asked if I minded working with odd people. A little scary. But I learned weird means interesting, less affected by peer pressure, and loveable. I used my friends’ unusual behaviors in the tale Cisney’s overbearing father tells about actuaries. His story offends and embarrasses Cisney. As I did, she’s learned to look past harmless external habits.

Tip 4

Be careful to avoid elements of an incident that identify an actual person. Change the props, actions, and mannerisms so the new ones produce the same reactions received from the real-life situation.

Example: In the last example, I used some of the actual behaviors of one actuary. I realized his actions were unique and others would recognize him. So, I changed the behaviors to fictional habits equally unusual to most people.

How have you used personal experiences in your writing?

If Your Hero Doesn’t Smell, You May Have a Senseless Novel

“There are three schoolmasters for everybody that will employ them – the senses, intelligent companions, and books.”  — Henry Ward Beecher.

file0002012084757.jpgDo your hero and heroine seldom smell scents, taste flavors, hear sounds, see settings, or touch people and things? If so, you risk readers feeling like your characters live in a vacuum.

As a writer, I know I’m to connect my characters to their surroundings through their God given senses. BUT, I’ve learned there’s an art to it.


  • Don’t dump odors, tastes, sounds, sights, and touches into your scenes.
    click to tweet


  • Weave the five senses into the context of the surroundings and actions of the scene.
    click to tweet

Let’s look at what I mean through examples.

Dumped Aroma

As they walked through the park, Mark turned to Sandy. “Why didn’t you support me when I told the police I was with you.”

“Because I thought they’d say all wives say that.” Was that chocolate she smelled?

“Well, I wish my wife had told the truth and said I was with her.”

The chocolate scent drops in from nowhere and jars readers from the conversation.

Crafted Scent

jmm_0629.jpg“Kenn had the group laughing as they settled down, but it was the sweet haze of Christy’s lavender perfume that finally brought him down into the circle, right beside her, calm and eager.” —Hearts Crossing Ranch by Tanya Hanson

The scent of Christy’s perfume is integral to the action here, drawing Kenn to sit near her.

file000665724379.jpgCrafted Sight and Touch

“Our kickstands flew up, and we rode down Highway 129 wrapped in the beauty of a cotton-candy pink sunset. It was cooling-off time in the mountains and instead of sweltering, we stayed comfortable in our jackets and helmets.” —The Pastor’s Wife Wears Biker Boots by Karla Akins

Can you see the sunset? Though we aren’t shown what’s happening to their skin, I can imagine the coolness on their faces and how comfortably warm their skin is inside their jackets.

Crafted Sound and Sight

file3091274380502.jpg“Jack stood at the admitting desk, dressed in coat and tie even at this awful time of morning, tapping his foot in a heavy rhythm, glancing first at his watch then at the clock on the wall then back to his watch. Tap, tap, tap. Glance. Tap.” —The Rising by Lynn Chandler Willis

We learn much about Detective Ellie Saunder’s supervisor from what  Ellie sees and hears. His coat and tie are his personal uniform, and that he’s impatient she’s late.

Crafted Touch

“Air-conditioning kissed her overheated skin while she let the door slam behind her.” —Mended Heart by Mary Manners

This sense of touch went well with the heated encounter she’d just had with the hero in the hot stairwell.

Senses can be metaphorical.

terka.jpgCrafted Taste

“Brody clamped his lips. Deserved or not, he would not have taken those words from any other man. He swallowed them along with the bitter taste of his pride. For Megan.” —Masquerade Marriage by Anne Greene

I can see Brody’s lips curl as if he’s bitten into a lemon.


  • Weave the five senses into the context of the surroundings and actions of the scene.
    click to tweet

What example of connecting readers to their surroundings through the five senses have you enjoyed?