Easy Paths to Sharper Prose
_5 simple tips
- “Nobody wants to read your shit.”
- Before you try to be clever, be clear.
- Tell stories, not stats.
- Consider the audience.
- Words matter. Metaphors matter.
Here's more on how to write captivating prose from William Greanleaf:
How to Write Captivating ProseAfter you’ve written a scene in your book, do the following:
_William Greenleaf Captivating Prose
- Underline every motion word. Just as action catches the eye of the television viewer, so it does in a book. Here’s an example:The Corvette went out of control and ran into a brick wall.
- Examine each motion word. Can you make it more specific and exciting?The Corvette spun out of control and slammed into a brick wall.
- Use color. Include specific colors in your scenes: a blue sedan; a yellow hair ribbon; a red sweater.
- Use words of size and shape. Compare the known with the unknown: a fiddler crab the size of her thumbnail; a sting ray as large as a VW wheel.
- Appeal to all the senses. Besides sight, your reader has four more: sound, taste, touch, and smell. Use specific nouns that suggest the sensuous: the murmur of distant voices (sound);the spice of pine after an autumn rain (smell); a velvet dress (soft, therefore, touch).
- Name specific objects in the setting. Characters must inhabit time and space.Jack eyed the wall clock. In two minutes, the bell would dash all hopes of ever finishing this exam.
- Use body language. Do your characters use facial expressions, gestures, mannerisms? Do they interact with objects in the setting?Marcie fingered a button at the collar of her shirt and, lips pursed, glanced at the offending book lying in plain view on the coffee table.
- Zap every needless is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been.Replace with action verbs. The sentence The night was cold and wet in the tall marshes, becomes The night slipped cold and wet over the tall marshes.
- Search and destroy passive voice verbs. Replace with active.The story was written by Carla becomes Carla wrote the story.
- Find adverbs. Terminate, if possible. Find a better action verb instead. Then challenge each adjective. Is it the best possible one — or would a more descriptive noun eliminate the need for the adjective?
- Highlight words used more than twice per page. Find synonyms for the third and fourth appearances.
- Correct spelling, punctuation, grammar errors. However mundane a task for you, your manuscript cannot leave home without it. Such errors will ensure its immediate return.
And finally, here is a quick outline from a Purdue website, meant to help focus on keeping your writing clear:
ConcisenessMore ideas at the link above.
The goal of concise writing is to use the most effective words. Concise writing does not always have the fewest words, but it always uses the strongest ones. Writers often fill sentences with weak or unnecessary words that can be deleted or replaced. Words and phrases should be deliberately chosen for the work they are doing. Like bad employees, words that don't accomplish enough should be fired. When only the most effective words remain, writing will be far more concise and readable.
This resource contains general conciseness tips followed by very specific strategies for pruning sentences.
1. Replace several vague words with more powerful and specific words.
Often, writers use several small and ambiguous words to express a concept, wasting energy expressing ideas better relayed through fewer specific words. As a general rule, more specific words lead to more concise writing. Because of the variety of nouns, verbs, and adjectives, most things have a closely corresponding description. Brainstorming or searching a thesaurus can lead to the word best suited for a specific instance. Notice that the examples below actually convey more as they drop in word count.
2. Interrogate every word in a sentence
Check every word to make sure that it is providing something important and unique to a sentence. If words are dead weight, they can be deleted or replaced. Other sections in this handout cover this concept more specifically, but there are some general examples below containing sentences with words that could be cut.
3. Combine Sentences.
Some information does not require a full sentence, and can easily be inserted into another sentence without losing any of its value. To get more strategies for sentence combining, see the handout on Sentence Variety.
Contributors:Ryan Weber, Nick Hurm.
This resource will help you write clearly by eliminating unnecessary words and rearranging your phrases.
_Purdue Clear Writing
There are few hard and fast rules in writing prose, and those that exist are meant to be broken from time to time. But only for good reason.
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