“Make every word count.” — Sol Stein.
Do 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:
She 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.
The 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.
- 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. Removing 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.”
- For smoother reading, cut nonessential adverbs and adjectives from sentences.
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3. 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.”
- 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?
Reblogged this on Blondewritemore and commented:
A really useful post! A help for someone like me who has a non essential adverbs and adjectives issue!
Great post Zoe! – have re blogged it:-)
Blondeusk, thanks for reblogging the post. I’m glad you found it helpful.
I’m always looking for a way to say it with fewer words. I tend to write with lots of prepositional phrases. When I’m editing, I look for a single word that can replace the phrase. Same goes for adverbs or adverbial phrases, which can be replaced with one strong verb.
Overusing prepositional phrases should be avoided. Thanks for mentioning that one, Jane.