Guest Writers / Pitfalls

Be colorful and bold: Avoid generic writing


The mark of a great writer is the recognition of individual style. We all want to achieve greatness in our writing, but it’s extremely difficult and often unclear how to do so. The easiest way to develop your style is to avoid generic writing. This strategy might sound, well, generic, so let’s break it down into three easy steps:

generic writing


Step 1: Avoid Clichés

This step is probably the most obvious and well known. Clichés are clichés for a reason! They’re unoriginal and usually don’t add anything to your writing. You’re a writer; you must be creative. Use that skill! Come up with new words or phrases to use in place of clichés. Just by following this one step, you will elevate your writing.

The only exception to this rule is if a character says a cliché, either in narration or dialogue. Maybe it’s in keeping with their characterization to use clichés. Still be careful with this, though. Try to think of a different word or phrase that character can use to portray the same personality trait.

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Step 2: Recognize Your Own Generic Writing

After writing for awhile, we all have our go-to phrases. Maybe you always liken blue eyes to sapphires, or use the word “majestic” a lot. While developing your own signature writing is key, you don’t want to reuse the same things over and over again. Recognizing your own generic writing or your personal clichés is so important, and not something that’s widely discussed. This step is difficult because you have to be critical of your own work, but it will make you a better writer.

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Step 3: Embrace Specificity

After the first two steps, in which you’ve erased all traces of nonspecific writing, you might be feeling lost on how to fill the gaps. This is the time to embrace specificity. This doesn’t mean you have to be overly specific with every description of everything. What it does mean is that you need to pick crucial moments in which to be precise with your language. These details can be included in narration or dialogue, so mix it up.

Say a character is eating a sandwich on her first date. Don’t gloss over details during this important moment! What kind of sandwich is she eating? Is the crust on the bread? Is it cut in half? Does she like sandwiches or is he only eating it because her date made it for her? Where are they eating? What’s the weather like? Of course, you don’t want to over do it. But you see my point—specificity makes moments stand out. Even if it’s one simple detail (his shirt is pink, there’s a thunderstorm outside, today is Saturday), it will make all the difference.

By following these three steps with every piece of writing you create, you will be well on your way to improving your work. Happy writing!

Lexi Bollis is a student at Kenyon College pursuing an English major with an emphasis in Creative Writing and a double minor in Music and Mathematics. You can find her other writing at Miss Millenia Magazine, Her Campus Kenyon and Geek Insider.

Lexi Bollis

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