3 Small Fixes That Will Give Power to Your Paragraphs

“Make every word count.”  — Sol Stein.

 

powerarm.jpgDo you wonder why your sentences seem to lack the power of those of other authors?

Here’s three editing fixes that will add power to your paragraphs.

Let’s say you wrote:

oldphone.jpgShe detested and disliked telephone callers asking for money for this and for that. They always asked if she could find it in her heart to give twenty dollars. She gave literally thousands to charities that were important too. She couldn’t fix every problem in the world. She’d ask the next pushy, fast-talking caller to give twenty dollars to each of the charities she gave to. And, she wouldn’t answer the phone again anytime soon.

Power to Your Paragraphs!

1.   Reduce repetitions of the same word, especially at the beginning of sentences.

Notice that “She” opened five of the six sentences. Mix up the opening words to add interest.

file0001658617775.jpgThe writer wrote three forms of “ask” and four forms of “give.” Boring words to repeat. Avoid overusing less common words or phrases as well, such as the two occurrences of “twenty dollars.” They’re more noticeable, so look for synonyms. If you need help, consult your thesaurus.

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  • Replace repetitions of words with fresh ones and liven up your paragraphs.
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 2.  Cut unnecessary adverbs and adjectives.

“Literally” is unnecessary. file000444162833.jpgRemoving it puts more emphasis on “thousands.” She gave thousands.

If you’ve used two adjectives to describe a noun, choose the one that best describes the noun. Especially if the adjectives are close in meaning. 

Note “pushy” and “talkative” describing the same noun? I like “pushy.” Selecting one adjective allows the reader to picture the caller. Adding another one near it jars the reader to stop and reevaluate his image.

When I like both my adjectives, I choose one and then work the other in elsewhere in the paragraph. For example in the second sentence, “Fast-talking salespeople” could have replaced “They.”

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  • For smoother reading, cut nonessential adverbs and adjectives from sentences.
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3. file0001343372729.jpg End sentences with power words. I blogged about backloading sentences and paragraphs in an earlier post. The weak ending words, “to” and “too,” leave the reader with no gist of the sentence. Marginally better are “that” and “soon.”

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  • Where possible, reword sentences to end with meaningful words.
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Here’s how I rewrote the paragraph.

She detested pushy callers hounding her for money for good causes. The pitch was always: Couldn’t she find it in her heart to give twenty dollars to this or that relief? Humph. Weren’t the organizations she already donated thousands to equally important? How much of the world could her fixed income fix? She’d suggest the next fast-talking caller contribute twenty bucks to each of her charities. Better yet, she’d stop answering the phone.

 

Instead of naming the character’s feeling, “detested,” I could’ve shown the character’s emotion with actions or inner thoughts. This would be in line with deep point of view.

What quick fixes do you recommend to make sentences appeal to readers?

How to Entice Your Readers to Read the Next Sentence…and the Next

“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.”  — Albert Einstein

skunkbackload.jpgDo many of your sentences and paragraphs end with words, such as “his,” “it,” “with,” or “was”? If yes, you’ve left your reader with a dull word. It gives him little motivation to move on to the next sentence.

This doesn’t mean your reader won’t read on, but wouldn’t you like to entice your reader into reading your next sentence?

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  • Entice your reader to read on by ending each sentence with a power word. 
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A power word:

  • Is tied to the meaning of a sentence or paragraph.
  • Leaves the reader with what you want him to feel.
  • Leads the reader to the next sentence.

file0001338460061.jpgExample 1:

Unloaded

Barbara clamped her mouth shut, unwilling to rile a man who carried a rifle under his arm and a hunting knife strapped to his leg.

Backloaded:

Barbara clamped her mouth shut, unwilling to rile a man armed with a rifle and a hunting knife with a twelve-inch blade.

The first version leaves the reader with the man’s leg. If the sentence was about his wounded leg, “leg” might be appropriate to backload. But it’s about Barbara’s fear of his dangerous look. A knife scares me more than a rifle does. And the blade of a big knife is even scarier. So, I chose blade over leg, rifle, or knife.

Example 2:

Unloaded:

He was still dead, no matter how long she stared at him.

Backloaded:

No matter how long she stared at him, he was still dead.

The first sentence leaves the reader with a boring pronoun. “Him” tells us nothing about the sentence. The second version’s “dead” gives us the finality of the situation. Hopefully, the reader will want to know what she’s going to do now.

file00063104814.jpgExample 3:

Backloaded (first this time):

“She splayed her arms over her paper-covered desk and knocked her head on the piles. This was all Jason’s fault. Jason needed space? Right. What he needed was freedom to date that woman with a waist the size of his muscular neck.” (From Calculated Risk by Zoe M. McCarthy)

See how each last word tells something about the heroine, Cisney, or her ex-boyfriend, Jason?

  • “Piles” points to Cisney’s disordered desk and life.
  • “Fault” points to how she feels about Jason in her predicament.
  • “Space” points to the excuse of someone who’s at fault.
  • “Muscular neck” leaves the reader with the feeling of a powerful person hurting vulnerable Cisney. Hopefully, the reader will want to know what Nick, who’s on his way to her office, is like in contrast.

Suppose I’d written the paragraph this way:

She splayed her arms over her paper-covered desk and knocked her head on it. The fault was Jason’s. Space was what Jason wanted? Right. What he needed was freedom to date that woman with the small waist.

“It,” “Jason’s,” “wanted,” and “waist” don’t link to Cisney’s life, how she’s feeling, or anything about Jason.

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  • End each sentence with a power word, leaving the reader with a sense of its message.
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How might using backloading improve a sentence in your work?