The Mechanics of Writing

Me·chan·ics [muhkan-iks]

Noun

1. The technical aspect or working part; mechanism; structure.

2. Routine or basic methods, procedures, techniques, or details.

 

The mechanics of writing are just as important as the plot and characters. If the mechanics of the novel don’t work, then the reader is going to end up putting the book down and shaking their head, saying that the plot sounded great until it looked like a second grader wrote it (not to say that second graders can’t have a firm grasp on sentence structures, it’s just not very usual).

So we know that mechanics are sentence structures, spelling and grammar—so what should you look out for? Spelling is probably the first and the last thing to check. Typos and hard-to-spell words are sometimes difficult to catch. Don’t necessarily check it yourself, I would recommend sending a draft out to one person, revising and then sending to someone else. Having a couple of pairs of eyes on your work is helpful, even if it can be nerve-wracking. What if you have to check it yourself? A good way to check spelling is reading your piece from back to front. Seriously, the disjointed sentence structure makes it so your brain doesn’t automatically edit the typos so they look like they are actually spelled correctly. It’s a neat little trick to self-editing my Mum taught me back when I was in middle school.

So spelling is first, and then grammar. If you haven’t taken extensive grammar classes then I suggest handing this over to a friend or family member who you know is either an avid reader or good in English. There is no guarantee that they will catch every single error, but this is your best bet. It’s also free. There are, however, editors out there that are professional whom you pay to have them edit your work. This will likely cover all of the points in this article rather than just the grammar portion, but it is thorough and extremely helpful to get an outsider’s view of the work.

Now you want to check that your sentences are varied in structure. Different lengths, starting with a verb, starting with a noun. Of course you don’t want the work to sound horrendous when read, so read it aloud so you know it doesn’t sound too jumbled.

Your sentences should be active instead of passive: a great way to check if you have a passive voice is to add “by zombies” after it. If “by zombies” fits after it then it is a passive voice you are using. If it does not suit the sentence (it will be obvious) then you have an active voice. The goal here is to have a majority of active sentences rather than passive ones. The reason for this is ease of reading; it’s okay to have a passive sentence structure here and there, but it shouldn’t be prevalent in your work.

Next is adverbs: are there too many in your work? Some people have problems with them, just like I’ve had issues with using commas everywhere in the past. Adverbs are easy to accumulate and not so easy to nix out of your writing, especially after they are already in there. Sometimes, though, you just need to dial it back a bit. Not everything has to be “obviously”, “amazingly”, “suddenly”. Try to find alternatives in sentence structures.

Verbs are another mechanic that is often lacking. In this aspect most writers are often using weak verbs such as “was” and “did”. These are words to avoid, if possible, and instead look for a stronger alternative. “Drank” and “ran” are good strong verbs that can carry a story along and not begin to sound monotonous. How do you tell the difference between a strong verb and a weak one? A weak verb will form the past tense by adding -ed, -d or -t to the present tense of the verb whereas a strong verb will often change the vowel in the present tense, usually to a or u.

These are the most often flubbed mechanics in writing, although this article certainly doesn’t cover all of them. If you have any questions about these mechanics specifically, have anything to add or other mechanics you would like me to talk about in the future, leave a comment below and I’ll be happy to discuss them!

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