Sticky Sentences Slow or Confuse Readers

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ProWritingAid introduced me to sticky sentences. ProWritingAid says this about sticky sentences, “A sticky sentence is one that is full of glue words.” To me, it’s a special way of looking at wordiness.

Sticky (or Glue) Words

Glue words are words that the reader has to go through before he gets to exactly what the sentence means to get across.

Oh dear, that last sentence is a sticky sentence.

The glue or sticky words are: are, that, the, has, to, go, through, before, to, what, the, to, get, across.

Wow, that’s a lot of glue words.

ProWritingAid suggests writers’ sentences contain less than 45% glue words.

The culprit sentence above contains 23 words. ProWritingAid identified 14 glue words. 14/23=64%

image by Pexels

 

Not all the identified glue words are making the sentence a sticky sentence. Each could be fine in other sentences. It’s the number of them that tires or confuses the reader.

 

Let me rewrite the sentence.

Glue words are words the reader must wade through before he receives the sentence’s idea.

My sentence still has 6 sticky words: are, the, must, through, before, the. But the sentence contains less than 45% and is easier to read.

6/15 = 40%

Here are more examples. I’ll underline glue words.

Examples:

Here are a few more examples of sticky words in sentences. (64%)

Here are additional sticky-sentence examples. (33%)

 

It was wonderful to be in this house for the first time while the realtor was not there to watch her appraise it. (65%)

It was wonderful to be inside the house without the realtor present watching her appraise the rooms. (41%)

image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images

We walked out to the truck to get more things as one of the crew struggled with all his might with its back door. (67%)  

We walked outside to collect more furniture as a crew member struggled with the truck’s rear door. (41%)

More glue words not noted above: some, should, going, up, down, right, left, straight, off, over, if, not, other.

Watch for sticky (or glue) words in your sentences. Click to tweet.

What is another sticky word you avoid?

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Suddenly unemployed, Allie Masterson returns home to Cary, North Carolina where she caddies for her father on the PGA Seniors Tour. There, she encounters a man who possesses an alluring gift of reading the contours of the green. Fascinated with his uncanny ability, Allie is excited to meet the Green Whisperer—until she discovers that the easygoing caddy is actually Shoo Leonard, the boy who teased her relentlessly when they were kids. Despite Allie’s reservations, when Shoo is faced with having to overcome a hand injury, she agrees to use her sport science degree to become his trainer…and then she falls for him.

 Shoo Leonard is grateful to Allie for her singular determination to get him ready for the PGA tour, but he isn’t ready for anything more. Still raw from a broken engagement and focused on his career, he’s content to be her fist-bumping buddy…but then he falls for her.

What seems like a happily-ever-after on the horizon takes a turn when Allie decides she’s become a distraction to Shoo’s career. Is it time for her to step away or can The Putting Green Whisperer find the right words to make her stay?

Self-Editing? Look for These 5 Common Problems

Editing programs such as ProWritingAid will help you catch these problems. For most of them you can use your word processor‘s Find tool to search for the problems.

Problem 1: A character is going to do an action.

Examples:

He was going to make retribution.

Better: He would make retribution.

 

“I’m going to take Cindy to the concert.”

Better: I’ll take Cindy to the concert.

 

Problem 2: A Character has to do something.

Examples:

I had to make the trip for my sanity.

Better: I needed to make the trip for my sanity.

 

“I have to make sure you’re right.”

Better: “I need to make sure you’re right.”

image by PatternPictures

For the next three problems, most of the examples are good sentences. I give alternatives to reduce the number of occurrences of an overused word in a scene. Like the photo, overused words can crowd a scene.

 

 

Problem 3: Overuse of thought, think, believe in a scene’s inner thoughts and dialogue. These can pile up in a scene.

Ways to reduce overuse in a scene:

“I thought you knew Elle.”

Alternate: “You’ve never met Elle?”

 

“I think I should go with you for your safety.”

Alternate: “I should go with you for your safety.” (I think is unnecessary.)

 

He didn’t believe her.

Alternate: She hadn’t told him the truth.

 

Problem 4: Overuse of knew and know in a scene’s inner thoughts and dialogue. Like thought words, these can quickly sprinkle a scene. 

Ways to reduce overuse in a scene:

“I thought you knew Charlie.”

Alternate: “You’ve never met Charlie?”

 

“I know I’ll like your play.”

Alternate: “I’ll like your play.” (I know is unnecessary.)

 

He knew she’d betray him one day.

Alternate: He’d expected her betrayal.

 

Problem 5: Overuse of maybe in a scene’s inner thoughts and dialogue.

Ways to reduce overuse in a scene:

“Maybe she was the killer.”

Alternate: “The evidence pointed to her as the killer.”

 

“Maybe he could take her to dinner.”

Alternate: “He could take her to dinner.” (I maybe is unnecessary.)

 

Maybe she was right.

Alternate: Was she right? Possibly.

Fix these 5 common problems in a scene’s inner thoughts or dialogue. Click to tweet.

What is another common problem you’ve experienced

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Suddenly unemployed, Allie Masterson returns home to Cary, North Carolina where she caddies for her father on the PGA Seniors Tour. There, she encounters a man who possesses an alluring gift of reading the contours of the green. Fascinated with his uncanny ability, Allie is excited to meet the Green Whisperer—until she discovers that the easygoing caddy is actually Shoo Leonard, the boy who teased her relentlessly when they were kids. Despite Allie’s reservations, when Shoo is faced with having to overcome a hand injury, she agrees to use her sport science degree to become his trainer…and then she falls for him.

 Shoo Leonard is grateful to Allie for her singular determination to get him ready for the PGA tour, but he isn’t ready for anything more. Still raw from a broken engagement and focused on his career, he’s content to be her fist-bumping buddy…but then he falls for her.

What seems like a happily-ever-after on the horizon takes a turn when Allie decides she’s become a distraction to Shoo’s career. Is it time for her to step away or can The Putting Green Whisperer find the right words to make her stay?

Don’t Make Your Characters Do the Impossible

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I could enjoy the book I’m reading more if the characters would stop being contortionists. Every time they do the impossible, they pull me out of the story. This happened so often that I turned to see who published the book. I was surprised. It was a small but reputable traditional publisher.

This book has shown me how important it is for me, the writer, to learn to recognize and fix writing problems. It also warned me to be careful in choosing the editors I hire. All editors are human, and I expect them to miss a problem occasionally. I appreciate editors who know the writing problems to look for and who edit thoroughly.

Here are examples of impossible simultaneous actions. (My research said examples such as these contain participial phrases that suggest the impossible.)

Impossible Simultaneous Actions

 

1.

image by Victoria_Borodinova

Incorrect: Setting her suitcase on the floor, she walked away. (Is she walking bent over or duckwalking and dragging her suitcase on the floor before she let’s go?)

Correct: She set her suitcase on the floor and walked away. (And has the valid meaning and then or that the latter action is chronologically sequential to the first.)

Something that could happen: Setting her suitcase on the floor, she looked around for the man who’d pick it up after she walked away.

 

2.

Incorrect: Pulling a handkerchief from his pocket, he scrubbed the spaghetti stain on his shirt. (If he’s pulling up the handkerchief with his hand, what is he wiping the stain with? His elbow?)

Correct: He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and scrubbed the spaghetti stain on his shirt.

Something that could happen: Pulling a handkerchief from his pocket, he smelled the basil in the spaghetti stain on his shirt.

 

3.

image by katyalison

Incorrect: Reaching behind her for her scarf, she wrapped it around her neck. (How can she tie a scarf around her neck while she’s reaching behind her for said scarf?)

Correct: She reached behind her for her scarf and then (or just and) wrapped it around her neck. (My research showed that, opposed to the opinions of some, She reached behind her for her scarf, then tied it around her neck, isn’t wrong.)

Something that could happen: Reaching behind her for her scarf, she remembered she’d left her scarf on the train.

 

4.

Incorrect: Reaching into her bag, she pulled out her cell. (If she’s reaching in, how can she pull something out?)

Correct: She reached into her bag and pulled out her cell.

Something that could happen: Reaching into her bag, she pressed her lips together.

Participial phrases that suggest your character is a contortionist.  Click to tweet.

Do you have a favorite use of a participial phrase that shows an action that’s impossible?

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Suddenly unemployed, Allie Masterson returns home to Cary, North Carolina where she caddies for her father on the PGA Seniors Tour. There, she encounters a man who possesses an alluring gift of reading the contours of the green. Fascinated with his uncanny ability, Allie is excited to meet the Green Whisperer—until she discovers that the easygoing caddy is actually Shoo Leonard, the boy who teased her relentlessly when they were kids. Despite Allie’s reservations, when Shoo is faced with having to overcome a hand injury, she agrees to use her sport science degree to become his trainer…and then she falls for him.

 Shoo Leonard is grateful to Allie for her singular determination to get him ready for the PGA tour, but he isn’t ready for anything more. Still raw from a broken engagement and focused on his career, he’s content to be her fist-bumping buddy…but then he falls for her.

What seems like a happily-ever-after on the horizon takes a turn when Allie decides she’s become a distraction to Shoo’s career. Is it time for her to step away or can The Putting Green Whisperer find the right words to make her stay?