12 Solid Ways to Make Your Writing More Vivid

by | Writing | 2 comments

“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?


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  1. Jane Foard Thompson

    What a world of difference in the re-write. And you are going to leave us hanging?

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Boy, the story could go either way, couldn’t it. Things could get worse or the headlights could mean rescue. I guess it should be a rescue of sorts that has its share of conflict.

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