Remember in elementary school when your teacher pulled out the math flash cards? Multiple times a week you had to practice the fundamentals of math: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Without these basics, trigonometry, geometry, and calculus would be impossible.
The same holds true for writing. If you want to write a book, all you need is an idea. If you want to advance and write a good book (or article), you need to first master the basics. In my opinion, these are five of the most important basics principles to understand:
1. Punctuation: Commas and semicolons are not interchangeable. Substituting one for the other changes the meaning of a sentence. Make sure you know what you want to say and how to punctuate it.
2. Passive Verses Active: The wall was hit by the car, or The car hit the wall. In the first sentence, the subject does nothing; it sits and waits for life to affect it. In the second sentence, the subject is doing something! It’s not waiting to react to a situation, it’s making things happen! Active writing (such as the second example) provides a more interesting read.
3. Beginning/Middle/End: Basic, but make sure you include all of these. Don’t just jump into a story without some type of introduction. Don’t end the story without some type of closure.
4. Know the story. I often take 2-3 pages of single-spaced interview notes before writing a 500-word article. I don’t include every detail in the story. The trick (in both fiction and non) is to sift through the information to find the heart of the story. Remember – just because you have the information doesn’t mean it needs to be shared.
5. Do your research. No one should ever submit a college research paper based on what he or she thinks is truth – you do your research and find proof to support your thesis. The same is true for any article or story. Get the facts. Know what a policeman, accountant, and fast food employee really do, don’t just assume that you know.
There are dozens of other tips and exercises that will make your article or novel stand out – outline your draft, use deep POV, show, don’t tell – but none of these will help if you don’t first master the basics. Make yourself some flash cards and start studying!