monocle men

Advice: Writing Too Formal

Anonymous asked: I got told that my writing is too formal??? meaning probably that it doesn’t flow naturally etc etc. so now whenever i try to write it feels like i’m writing a business letter and i get discouraged and i now have no desire to write. is there any way to help me? (not actual a motivational question you know, i’ve found that i still want to write but it’s not that easy anymore)


Usually when people say your writing is too formal, what they’re saying is that it doesn’t sound conversational, like the way people normally speak. Formal writing sounds stiff and snobby. It often uses ornate word choices, excessive description, and sounds like a speech at a 19th century gentleman’s club.

For example, if you were at your locker after school and a good looking new guy approached you with a bloody nose and asked you to take him to the school nurse, you wouldn’t tell that story sounding like this:

I was standing before my locker, contemplating which of my studies would most require my afternoon attention, when lo and behold a young man of unparalleled beauty appeared at my side, holding a blood-stained tissue to his nose.

“I beg you please, madam,” the young man queried.

“Might you assist me by escorting me to the office of the nurse on duty?”

Bewitched by his stunning green eyes, I could say nothing more and nothing less than, “I will at once!”

You wouldn’t tell a story that way, yet when we sit down at our keyboards to tell a story, we often begin to channel old Victorian men wearing monocles, puffing away on their pipes. It’s a very common and very tempting mistake that new writers make, because they’re serious about this story they want to tell, and that translates to their tone. How do you fix it? Look at the piece of writing you need to fix and imagine it the way you might say it if you were telling the story to a friend:

I was at my locker after school, trying to figure out what I had for homework, and suddenly this really hot new guy walks up. He was holding a balled up bloody kleenex under his nose, and he asked me if I’d take him to the school nurse. He was so gorgeous, I couldn’t help but say yes. That has a casual, conversational tone to it which is much more realistic, but you can polish it back up a bit so that it sounds nice for fiction:

It was fifteen minutes after the last bell had rung. Most of the other students had left already, but I was still at my locker trying to remember what I had for homework. I was just about to pull my math book into my backpack when I was startled by a new guy who appeared by my locker. Right off I noticed two things: he had gorgeous green eyes and he was holding a balled up bloody kleenex to his own.

“Sorry,” he said, looking embarrassed. “Could you show me the way to the school nurse?”

“Yeah, of course,” I answered back promptly. How could I say no?


So, just pretend that you’re telling the story to a friend or a group of friends and see if that helps make things a little less formal. :)
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Out today at your local comic shop:

Dark Horse Presents #34 featuring Part 1 of
DAVEY JONES AND THE MYSTERY OF THE MONOCLE MEN

Story, words, and art by me, Dennis Culver
Colors by Sloane Leong
Letters by Christy Sawyer

Here’s the pitch:

The Mysterious Monocle Men are creeping around the town of Ishmael Bay kidnapping people including Sadie and Jackson’s grandfather. So they do what anyone would do in that situation: Put a message in a bottle asking undead ghost pirate Davey Jones for help. But will he answer their call?

(spoilers: He answers their call)