Monday, January 16, 2012

Tighten up your Prose

By B.D. Tharp

Is your writing flabby? Are there too many words that don’t really move the story along? Need some advice on how to tighten things up? If you’re like me, the answer is YES. A writing buddy shared an editing tip sheet with our group several years ago and it really comes in handy. We need reminders occasionally and this one you can print and put on your wall or tack board.

BACK: Often a given if the subject of the sentence is doing one thing and then does another. Also note in the example, down was unneeded.
Jessie shook her head as she gazed back down at the child.
*Jessie shook her head as she gazed at the child.

TO BE: Another example of wordiness.
He needs to be scrubbing.
*He needs to scrub.

DOWN: If the verb implies down, "down" is unnecessary.
She sat down in the chair.
*She sat in the chair.

UP: If the verb implies up, "up" is unnecessary.
He stood up.
*He stood.

OUT: If the verb implies out, "out" is unnecessary.
The cloth was spread out over the table.
*The cloth was spread over the table.

THEN: If an action follows, "then" is implied.
He aimed the gun then fired.
*He aimed the gun and fired.

THERE: Generally weak and should be removed when possible.
If there are men that close--
*If men are that close--

BEGAN - STARTED: He lifted the pen and started to write.
*He lifted the pen and wrote.

FELT - FEEL: Weak words can often be replaced to create a clearer image
The chill of the night air had little to do with the cold she felt.
*The chill of the night air had little to do with the cold swirling inside her.

BACK - RETURNED: Sometimes "returned" can signal going back to a previous action.
He turned his attention back to the raging storm.
*He returned his attention to the raging storm.

PASSIVE VOICE: Various methods of torture developed by his ancestors were contemplated by Thomas.
ACTIVE VOICE: Thomas contemplated various methods of torture developed by his ancestors.

INSTEAD: Often unnecessary. It's a given that he didn't land on the chair if he landed on the floor.
He'd land on the floor instead of the chair.
*He'd land on the floor.

TO THE: Often causes wordiness
The door to the office.
*The office door.

SUDDENLY: Seldom needed. If it's the next action, writing it as such often eliminates the need for the word.
Suddenly the bull lurched forward.
*The bull lurched forward.

BE -ING: Sometimes makes for longer, weaker sentences.
I suppose I should be thanking you.
*I suppose I should thank you.

COULD: Determine if the sentence conveys the information without it.
He could see her walking toward him.
*He saw her walking toward him.
*Even better: She walked toward him.

WAS (and other linking verbs): Signals a possible weak sentence that can be punched up with a stronger action verb.
His only fear was--
*He feared--

WOULD: Determine which sentence is stronger and if "would" is needed. Sometimes it is might be.
Occasionally, he would catch her watching him.
*Occasionally, he caught her watching him.

SEEMED: Use only when you want to create an image of doubt.
Andrew's presence seemed to dominate the camp.
*Andrew's presence dominated the camp.

THAT: A word we all overuse; sometimes it's necessary, often it's not. Always try the sentence without it and see if it means the same.

JUST: Another word we overuse. Try some of the synonyms like merely, only.

Enjoy the writing journey, my friends. And please share your tightening tips, too!


Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

Wow! Great tips! This is information to include in Self Editing Tips. Thanks for sharing.

Good luck & God's Blessings.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I'm with Pam. These are great self-editing tips, ones we can really use to strengthen the quality of our writing.


BDTharp said...

Great. Glad to help. Thanks, gals!

Brenda Hill said...

Loved the article, BD. Raised in the South, I have keeping deleting the words, "well," and "just."

Thanks for the reminders!

BDTharp said...

We say well, just and so a lot in Kansas, so I know exactly what you mean, Brenda. I have to do a lot of editing.

Karen Cioffi said...

Great self-editing tips. I'll be linking to this post.

BDTharp said...

Glad to hear it, Karen. We writer's need to stick together!! Happy writing.