Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Writing Strong Sentences

Stephen King says he works to make his writing better. True, he hasn’t as far to go to achieve near perfect status as some of the rest of us. All writers should strive to improve their craft. If your main character is in an ongoing series (Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum for instance or Lee Child’s Jack Reacher), the writing can become formulaic and uninteresting. Improving one’s writing skills at the pinnacle of publishing success keeps the characters fresh and the story interesting.

We know that to write, write, write is a formula for improving writing. It amazes me how imperfect my writing is when I go back and critique the first draft that was heretofore perfect in my mind. After having the article sit for a few days or weeks, it makes my errors jump with unnerving clarity to my eyes. It is like my red pencil has direction from an unseen force. Erase, delete, substitute, throw out, recalculate, reword, try again, all are measures I must take to improve my writing. Sometimes it looks like I wrote the first draft in red with a few black corrections instead of the other way around.

I stumbled on to an intriguing exercise that you may want to incorporate to make your sentences clearer and stronger.
1.                 Buy copies of the New York Times, Washington Post or L.A. Times or print out articles from any high-grade world newspaper or magazine.
2.               With two colored markers, use one color to underline the subjects of each sentence; the other color use to underline the main verbs.
3.              Assess those sentences. The stronger sentences should have the subjects and verbs toward the front of the sentence.
4.             The tense should be active not passive.

Expand your vocabulary. After all, words are the real tools of our trade. The wider your vocabulary, the better writer you can be. A “Word A Day” calendar is an author’s best friend. You learn a new word and because an explanation of origin is often included, the new word sticks in your mind. Keep track of your new words and try to use some of them in your writing in the next two weeks. Along with this, look up synonyms for words you use often. These synonyms offer freshness to your writing.

Remember your audience. Use words they will understand and relate to.

Exclude: “very,” “much,” “really,” “actually,” “already, “you can,” “try to,” “seems to,” “it appears,” “to be.” Use active, strong verbs.  NOT: It seems to be that the building is very tall.” INSTEAD: “The towering building …”

Learn to edit revise separately for content (information) and structure (mechanics, grammar).

Express only one idea per sentence. Simplify points for the reader.

Make sure the ideas or thoughts you are expressing are good ones. Nobody likes to read trash or waste time.

A standard rule is to limit one sentence to no more than 22 words or two lines of type.

Vary the length of your sentences. Long sentences are boring. Short sentences keep the reader interested and focused.

“That writer does the most who gives his reader the most knowledge and takes from him the least time.

1 comment:

Jan Cline said...

Expanding my vocabulary is one of my goals this year. Great idea for the exercise. Thanks.