Writing with clarity is important in writing. In order to effectively express a point of view, tell a story, or even argue a perspective, your words and the way you put them together are your tools for success. You can have the best ideas in the world – for books, essays, non-fiction, hard journalism, poems, any kind of writing at all – but if you can’t use words in an organized, eloquent and compelling way, you’ll never make it as a writer. And at the heart of any successful writing, there must be clarity.
Clarity – to be clear or lucid. To be free of ambiguity or indistinctness.
Writing with clarity in a novel means that the characters are making authentic choices. It’s why we get annoyed at girls who do stupid things in horror movies. What kind of idiot goes to explore the scene where a murder took place last week, in the dark, by herself? Who would ever do that in real life? It’s why we occasionally love unsympathetic characters, simply because they are so larger-than-life and authentic, even if they’re doing things that seem nearly unforgivable. Scarlett O’Hara comes to mind. And it’s why we love My Fair Lady or Casablanca, even though those don’t exactly have happy endings. Because Eliza Doolittle finally brought that arrogant Professor Higgins to his knees, but even though she loves him, she’s too good for him – and she suddenly understands that. And didn’t we always know that Rick really is a softy at heart, and far too noble to let Ilsa do the thing that will make them both happy in the short-term, but miserable in the long run?
Writing with clarity also means that you’re writing sentences, paragraphs, and chapters that make sense. They make sense grammatically. They make sense argument-wise. They make sense plot-wise. Form the smallest details to the grandest story arc.
Example Writing with Clarity, Sentence Fail
Mark worked hard all day for his father, to the point of exhaustion, but when the time came around for the dance, he was too tired to go.
That tiny little word ‘but’ screws up the meaning of the whole enchilada. If you’re going to link two phrases together, you need to make sure the ideas match the conjunction you decide to use. Here are two options that are significantly better:
Example Writing with Clarity, Sentence Improved
Mark worked hard all day for his father, to the point of exhaustion, so when the time came around for the dance, he was too tired to go.
Mark worked hard all day for his father, to the point of exhaustion, but when the time came around for the dance, he still found the energy to go.
This is a very simple example, but in the past couple of weeks, I’ve both read in published novels and edited some work that had issues with the way linked phrases didn’t work because of the conjunction choice.
The main idea was undermined by the smallest word. But can you see how even that small sentence told a story? And how the use of that inappropriate word undermined the success of that story? It didn’t make sense to the reader. The ‘story’ didn’t add up.
I’ve also read a published book that had the main character go from being a headstrong, impetuous hoyden to a calm, intelligent sage in less than one hundred pages, with no demonstrated character growth or internal dialogue that would explain the miraculous transformation. The character seemed inauthentic. She made no sense to me, and I became less inclined to care what happened to her.
These are both examples of lack of writing with clarity, though of course, the scale is different.
As a writer, you must be clear about the story you’re trying to tell, even in the shortest sentence — and if you lack clarity, either in the storytelling or in the writing, it simply won’t work.
As a business owner, you also may want to spend some time contemplating clarity. Do you have a business plan? Do you have measurable goals as to your own version of success? Are you mining all of the contacts you have that could possibly help you move toward your goals? Do you know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it?
Be clear about what you want, and how you want to pursue it. Your business is your own story, in a sense. You have the beginning. Figure out what you want the end to be, and then put realistic steps into place as to how you can make that happen.
Be clear. Be authentic. Be persistent.
Interested in more tips to improve your writing? How about avoiding passive voice?
Bobbi Dumas loves good writing. Of all kinds. She also loves romance, a mesmerizing story and the company of friends. When she’s not in the virtual world or one of her own making, she can usually be found in Madison, WI with her husband, two boys, and a clan of great writers she feels grateful and honored to know (some of whom you get to meet here, too). Lucky you!