Writing Tighter Sentences Part III

Diet starts tomorrow.

Diet starts tomorrow.

In Parts I & II, we discussed everything from watching those pesky “ing” constructions to taming modifiers. Never fear, I’ve a few more ways to write tighter sentences.

Writing Tip for Today: Here are three more easy ways to tighten your sentences and make them more readable:

Avoid Formal Words

When I edit, I often come across sentences which start out well enough, but then stray off into a much different and formal tone. The story is following our main character, and we’re squarely within her point of view. Suddenly, a phrase pops up that might be better off in a doctoral thesis or a technical journal. EX: Diane held back a sob, wishing she could determine her own life direction. Do you see how the tone of the sentence changes from the first half to the last? We can imagine a person holding back a sob. But when was the last time you lamented that you wanted to determine your life’s direction? The formal tone of the words determine and direction derailed the emotion in the first part of the sentence. One way to check your tone is to watch for words with multiple syllables. Usually, the more syllables, the fancier the word. Try to use simple yet clear words to keep your readers hooked.

Use Deep POV

A second area where tone is a factor is in describing your character’s thoughts, feelings and actions through an extra layer of consciousness. By that I mean your character is consciously observing things people take for granted. When you think a thought, you wouldn’t be aware of thinking. In fiction, you can eliminate a lot of unnecessary words that only serve to describe what the character’s Point of View should experience naturally, without calling attention to itself. EX: She wondered if he always dressed in rags. You can write simply: Did he always dress in rags? The second sentence more accurately portrays how people think. Thus, you can safely eliminate she thought, she wondered, he realized, he noticed, she observed, she reminded herself and so on. For a more thorough post on Deep POV, go HERE.

The Secret of Tightening

What’s the real secret of tightening your sentences?  Some writers will complain that eliminating the types of words and phrases which slow down your prose might confuse readers. The biggest secret writers learn for tight prose comes from the axiom LESS IS MORE.  How can that be? Writers are managers. We manage the reader experience by managing where readers’ attention will be. By giving readers less, we encourage readers to fill in the blank. If you over-manage your readers, they may rebel and give up. Where meaning is most profound, LESS IS MORE is most useful. You’ll often find it productive to eliminate the last words or sentence(s of a scene or chapter, allowing what is left to evoke reader emotion in ways that spelling everything out cannot. But don’t forget to draft with no regard to any writing rules. Many times, Less is More only becomes obvious during revision.

Your Turn: What do you find most difficult about tightening sentences?

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

5 comments on “Writing Tighter Sentences Part III

  1. Pingback: » Writing Tighter Sentences Part III

  2. You must have ESP, because I’ve been going through my manuscript looking for “he thought, realized, wondered” etc. What a profound difference, too! I look forward to these posts; they’re helping to reinforce points made by my editor, drilling them into my head. Keep ’em coming!

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