10 Fixes to Edit Unclear and Wordy Sentences

“Telling me to ‘Be clear’ is like telling me to ‘Hit the ball squarely.’ I know that. What I don’t know is how to do it.” —Joseph M. Williams

image by weinstock
image by weinstock

First, lets look at an unclear, wordy passage.

image by Unsplash
image by Unsplash

Grayson said he’d made a decision not to return to their relationship due to the fact that Ella was unable to change.1  Hadn’t he seen her establishment of a different approach to her behavior over the last year? 2  She’d made great improvement in the area of dealing with life’s problems. 3

 

Under the circumstance in which Dr. Peters came to town, Ella’s hope was ignited by him. 4 It was her belief that Grayson wasn’t aware of the root of her poor attitude, but Dr. Peters was. 5 Through the patient inquiry method therapy, he showed her how her upbringing had an impact on the way she perceived and reacted to her environment. 6 He really helped her rise above her past injuries and learn new ways of how to respond to her fears. 7 

Second, lets consider fixes for clearness and conciseness – sentence by sentence. (All 10 fixes are mentioned – a few, multiple times. Fixes are in parentheses.)

Sentence 1.

  • Watch for the verb make: make a decision (decided); made use of (used); made a correction (corrected).
  • Avoid wordy phrases: Due to the fact that. (because) Was unable to. (could)

Sentence 2.

  • Avoid changing verbs into nouns, especially adding –tion was in need of an estimation, instead of needed to estimate. In our example, we had establishment of a different approach (rewrite with strong verbs)

Sentence 3.

  • Watch for the word make: made great improvement (improved).
  • Avoid vague, encompassing noun phrases: in the area of dealing with (remove the unnecessary phrase the area of.)

Sentence 4.

  • Avoid wordy phrases: Under the circumstance in which (when)
  • Use active voice. Watch for the word by. Her hope was ignited by him (he ignited her hope)

Sentence 5.

  • Limit it is, there is, and there are: It was her belief that (in the example, the phrase was unnecessary)
  • Avoid wordy phrases: Wasn’t aware of (didn’t understand; or didn’t realize)

Sentence 6.

  • Avoid strings of nouns: patient inquiry method therapy (through asking probing questions)
  • Avoid inflated words: an impact on (affect) (more examples: facilitate (help); cognizant of (know))

Sentence 7.

  • Delete weasel words: really helped (helped) (more examples: very unique; quite nice)
  • Avoid unnecessary prepositional phrases: of how to respond to her fears (to face her fears) (See post about reducing of.)

Finally, lets look at a possible rewrite.

image by geralt
image by geralt

Grayson refused to reconcile their relationship, because he believed Ella could never change. What did he think she’d been tackling this past year? She’d turned her life around.

When Dr. Peters came to town, he ignited Ella’s hope. Grayson misunderstood the root of her poor attitude, but Dr. Peters recognized the source. Through asking probing questions, he revealed how her upbringing had affected the way she perceived and reacted to her environment. Over time, he helped her forgive old injuries and learn new ways to face her fears.

10 Ways to improve wordy & unclear sentences. Click to tweet.

Which tip will improve your sentences?

7 Writing Habits That Bog Down Your Story

“Avoid on-the-nose writing.” —Jerry Jenkins

image by PixelAnarchy
image by PixelAnarchy

Here’s a passage from a book published in the 20’s: The Marriage of Barry Wicklow by Ruby M. Ayres. It contains 7 problems that bog the story for today’s reader. I’ve superscripted instances with the problem numbers from the list after the passage.

There was1,7 a moment of silence. Barry was looking2,7 at her with eager eyes. In a man’s indefinite way he was realizing2,7 vaguely3,4 that she had5 changed a great deal since he last saw her, though he hardly knew how or in what way.

Her hair was7 differently4 dressed. Her clothes were7 different3. There was1,7 something—a sort of flippancy about her whole manner that turned him cold.

“Good afternoon,” she said composedly4. She pushed forward a chair.

image by inez
image by inez

“Won’t you sit down?”6 Barry was remembering2,7 how Hulbert had said5 that she blushed whenever she was7 spoken to. There was2,7 no sign of agitation in her face now. Her blue eyes met his dispassionately4.

She was7dressed all in black, but such smart black, that somehow she did not look as if she were7 in mourning. Barry, glancing at her hands, saw that she no longer wore his ring, that she wore no rings at all.

He ignored the chair she had offered5. He went straight to his point.

“I’ve been7 talking to Hulbert—you know Hulbert. He tells me you are7 going on the stage under the management of that – that man Greaves.”

He spoke a little breathlessly6. “Well,” said Hazel. “What if I am7?”

“I won’t have it, that’s all,” Barry answered excitedly4. “You’re7 my wife, and I won’t have it3, I tell you3! The stage is7 no place for you. I told you when I first met you that I hated it. I repeat it now3, and I forbid you—I absolutely forbid you3—to have anything to do with it or that man Greaves3.”

7 Problems

  1. Weak opening “there was” surfaces three times.
  2. Progressive tense isn’t necessary and slows the pace; past tense works.
  3. Repetitive thoughts and dialogue mirror reality but bog down the story.
  4. Some adverbs are unnecessary or telling.
  5. Perfect past tense jars actions into “history.” Past tense works.
  6. Sentences placed in the wrong paragraphs.
  7. Sixteen forms of “to be” used.

One Rewrite

For a moment neither spoke. Barry scanned her lithe form. Since he last saw Hazel, what made her now seem like a stranger? For one thing, she wore her hair upswept and severer than the soft curls that once embraced her face.

Hazel’s gaze from her half-lidded eyes met his. “Good afternoon.” She shoved a chair forward. “Won’t you sit down?”

black-147098_1280Her flippancy iced his heart. What had happened to what Hulbert called the blushing woman? And, outfitted in her elegant ensemble, all in black, she didn’t look as if she was in mourning.

Barry glanced at her hands. She no longer wore his ring. She wore no rings at all.

He sidestepped the chair she offered. “I’ve been talking to Hulbert—you know Hulbert. He tells me you plan to go on the stage under the management of that—that man Greaves.”

Hazel arched an eyebrow. “What if I am?”

“You’re my wife, and I won’t have it!” Barry chopped the air. “The stage is no place for you. I told you when I first met you that I hated it. I forbid you to have anything to do with it—or with Greaves.”

Avoid these 7 habits that drain readers. Click to tweet.

What habits are you trying to break in your writing?