Tutor profile: Eddie S.
My writing all sounds the same, and I don't really like it. I read things that other people write, and it sounds a lot better. How can I change the way I write to sound more professional or smarter?
First off, you're experiencing a problem that a lot of writers face. Some writers just get stuck using the same transitions over and over again (therefore!) or using words in their writing that they would never use in normal conversation. I have personally struggled with sentence variance for my entire life. I sometimes use long rambling sentences and forget that shorter sentences even exist. They do! However, I think the specific challenge you asked about might have to do with your writing "voice". Think about someone's speaking voice or the way they gesture non-verbally. Think about the way people can change their pitch, tone, volume, or expressions. Imagine how people can imitate other voices or perform for a short while. My advice to you would be to get really specific with what bothers you about your writing. Is it your mechanics? Is it your word choice? Is it your style? If it's any of these kinds of issues, do two things: 1) Read your writing out-loud 2) Ask others to read your writing If word choice and mechanics aren't the reasons you don't like your writing, it may be that you don't like your voice. Just remember, your voice is unique to you. You are the only person who can write like you do, because you are the only person with your experiences and insights and values. If you don't like your voice, I would guess it's because you haven't explored what it can really do yet. If you want to explore, here are a couple of ideas: 1) Pick an author with a really obvious and unique voice, and try to imitate them. 2) Pick a type of writing that you don't usually do (creative non-fiction or journalism) and experiment. 3) Write (or record yourself speaking) a lot.
How do I find the "theme" of a story or poem?
It's often helpful to me to think of a theme as a message or a big idea that an author wants to convey. There might also be more than one theme in single work of literature. As readers, it can sometimes feel like "themes" are secrets that we have to discover; or, it can feel like we are wrestling with the author's words to find that one word that encapsulate a theme. (Love! Faith! Family!) As a student, I've been anxious about possibly picking the wrong word and looking clueless. Here is the best advice I can give for finding a theme: 1) First, instead of "looking" for a theme, try "feeling" for a theme. Reflect on the story, the imagery, the characters, the language, the setting. What do you feel? What words come to mind? 2) Next, try talking with other people. Some of my best breakthroughs were actually just other people pointing out things I couldn't see for myself. Talking about something you're reading is a great way to learn more about it. 3) Finally, read closely. Pick just one chapter, page, or stanza, and read it as closely as you can. Notice the word choice. Read a few lines out loud. Recite them to yourself. Read them in an angry voice or with an accent. If you can't "see" a theme, try listening for one instead.
What is an easy way to identify passive voice, and should I avoid it?
There are many ways to identify passive voice. Depending on your level of comfort with parts of speech, here are four indicators that a sentence may be "passive": 1) If the sentence has a form of "to be" followed by a past participle 2) If the object (or "recipient") of an action is the subject of the sentence 3) If it is unclear who is responsible for an action 4) If your teacher tells you a sentence is passive The question of whether to avoid using passing voice or not is a bit trickier. Passive voice is a tool for writers just like active voice, fragments, or ellipses. Which tools you choose depends on your audience, their expectations, and your objectives. If your audience is a teacher who expects you to use active voice only and your objective is to get a good grade, then avoid passive voice for sure! Just remember that a piece of writing isn't "clean" or "sloppy" because of a single rhetorical device.
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