Archive for April, 2010

Words Not Worth Repeating: Tip #5

Monday, April 5th, 2010

Be careful not to say the same thing more than once, but in slightly different words. Or to frequently repeat the same word or phrase. A good example of this is in the case of personal pronouns. We all have a tendency to overuse “you” and “I” and “she” and “he.” Cut those down to a minimum, and your writing reads better automatically. The same is true for repetition of any word or phrase. How many times in one paragraph or on a single page do you use a particular word relative to your subject matter? More often than you are aware.

Seek a new way to refer to a character. For example: “Alice went to the cupboard and found George looking for a box of cereal. George stared at Alice and wondered where she had been.” Try it this way, instead: “Alice went to the cupboard and found George looking for a box of cereal. He stared at his wife and wondered where she had been.” Now, not only does the second sentence read more smoothly, but also it reveals what the first one did not — that Alice is George’s wife.

Just as common is the repetition of thoughts from one paragraph to another. When reading the material over, you will likely find that something said in one paragraph was already stated in a previous one, but somehow differently. Pay close attention, and read for comprehension, or you could miss some of those entirely.

While the same rule holds true for writing dialogue, some writers take the opposite path — going well out of their way to avoid the “he said/she said” conundrum.  However, this is one case where sameness is considered desirable. In the spirit of originality, writers often seek substitutes for the verb “to say,” which generally seem artificial and forced. “Don’t leave me,” she wept. “I don’t love you anymore,” he reasoned. “I’ll change,” she vowed. “There’s someone else,” he confessed. “I don’t want to know,” she sniffed. You get the general idea.

Fewer Words, Better Writing: Tip #4

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

Omit spare words wherever you find them, and you will be amazed at how much more effectively you can express the same thought.

The shorter the sentence, the likelier it is to be understood and to comply with rules of grammar. You may wish to embellish your thoughts for the sake of imagery, introspection, or information, but ultimately, you want every one of your sentences to be messengers of your creative thought process with the sole intention of elevating the reader’s experience.

I encourage you in the practice of minimalism and efficiency, and to scrutinize your sentences for excess. The following sentence can do with a word cut: “When you go through the painful process of grieving, it would be helpful for you to enlist the support of close family and friends.” This is the same thought, but in half the word count: “Alleviate the pain of your grief through support from family and friends.”

Read Your Writing Aloud: Tip #3

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

Is there a consistency of pattern, cadence, and rhythm to your writing? Do you find the sentences flow from your lips with ease and precision, or does your mind stop on occasion at a particular word or phrase that seems awkward or misplaced?

Reading your material aloud will give you the opportunity to notice if your words and phrases flow like those of a song lyric or a poem. It will allow you to listen to that rhythm of your writing, and to discover those places in which they don’t ring true. Words are arranged best when they perpetuate a beat, which is why, when they fail to fall so easily on the ear, they are likely in need of fine-tuning. It’s amazing that the simple act of removing a word or two from the end of a sentence and placing it at the beginning or middle can make a vast difference in the overall clarity and effectiveness of the piece. It’s why writers are sometimes told their words “sing,” and it’s that kind of reaction you should be seeking. 

So, read your words with a keen ear, and you will hear those things you didn’t see in print.