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.

Tweetable

  • Replace repetitions of words with fresh ones and liven up your paragraphs.
    click to tweet

 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.”

Tweetable

  • For smoother reading, cut nonessential adverbs and adjectives from sentences.
    click to tweet

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.”

Tweetable

  • Where possible, reword sentences to end with meaningful words.
    click to tweet

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?

5 Steps to Tap “Greatest” Moments to Improve Your Creative Writing

“The wise learn from the experience of others, and the creative know how to make a crumb of experience go a long way.” —Eric Hoffer

Image courtesy of Evgeni Dinev at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Evgeni Dinev at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You realize you need strong emotional events for your character’s journey.

Try using greatest, closest, and funniest moments to pump up your story. Here’s how it works:

Step 1 Ask a question at your next social gathering, such as:

  • What situation was the moment you came closest to death?
  • What has been your greatest fear?
  • What was your greatest embarrassment?
  • What was the greatest injustice you suffered?
  • What was your funniest situation?
Image courtesy of PANPOTE at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of PANPOTE at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Example: What situation was the moment you came closest to death?

First, the facts:

Response 1: When she was twenty, she hiked a cliff path with her parents. The drop from the path to the boulder-filled creek below was over a hundred feet. She stumbled on a jutting rock and shot out her foot to steady herself on a smooth stone slanting toward the drop. It was wet and slippery. She slid toward the drop. Her mother caught her arm and pulled her back onto the path.

Image courtesy of SweetCrisis at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of SweetCrisis at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Response 2: On a dark night, a wasp in her car forced her to stop on the side of a deserted road and exit her car. A car pulled up alongside hers, and the lone man asked if her car had broken down. She said it hadn’t. He drove on a ways and then slowly made a U-turn. She jumped in her car, wasp or no wasp, and sped by him.

Image courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Step 2 Ask the teller to expand on her emotions during the situation.

In telling mode:

Response 1: Desperately trying to get traction, she squealed. Her mother screamed. Afterwards she couldn’t stop shaking. She found it difficult to deal with the realization that her mother, without thinking, risked her own life to save hers.

Response 2: She was terrified the wasp would sting her. The man’s ogling eyes creeped her out. When he drove on, she was relieved. At his U-turn, her heart stopped. Forgetting the wasp, she panicked to escape him.

Step 3 Collect the stories and organize them by subject. I’d file these under Death Defying.

Step 4 Select a situation from your cache when you need a situation for a character.

Step 5 Massage the situation to fit your story. Let’s select Response 1.

Hikers_on_green_fieldsBriefly, in telling mode:

On a team-building weekend, Anne and her colleagues traverse a narrow path along a cliff. Anne precedes Cindy, the ambitious, disliked co-worker. Anne wishes she could pass three people and hike next to Mark, the hunk she and Cindy have their eyes on.

Anne is mentally grumbling about her bad luck, when she trips on a jutting rock. Her left foot zips out to steady herself. She can’t gain traction on the slippery stone slanted toward the boulder-filled creek below. Panicking, she yelps as she slides toward the hundred-foot drop. Cindy grabs her arm and pulls her back onto the path.

Later, still trembling, Anne refuses Mark’s invitation to eat beans together. She’s compelled to understand the woman who risked her life to save hers. She joins Cindy on a log.

    Tweetable

    • How to tap yours and others’ “greatest” moments to improve your creative writing.
      click to tweet

    Now you have a situation with real actions. You can add details and show the emotions.

    What situation have you used to enrich a story?