I’ve blogged about most every aspect of fiction and nonfiction, from the big picture to the nits. Today’s subject jumps out at me in almost every student’s manuscript:convoluted sentences that stiffen the language and zoom out the camera.
Writing Tip for Today: How can you write clearer, more accessible sentences in your fiction or nonfiction?
Watch Those Prepositions
In the student work I regularly review, stilted language is often surrounded by a lot of prepositional phrases. Look for words such as from, to, of, with or other prepositions. If you’ve already identified an object or person, you really don’t need another prepositional phrase to repeat that info. Here’s an example: Hot tears rolled down my dusty face as I gently held the tiny chick in my hand. Do you see the redundant phrase? If the narrator was holding a tiny chick, it would likely be in her hand. A much cleaner version might omit the prepositional phrase in my hand. Go ahead and draft your copy without thinking about redundancies or prepositions. Later, when you revise, be on the lookout for these sneaky phrases that weigh down your sentences.
Go Concrete, Not Abstract
Along with those needless prepositional phrases, the use of abstract or formal language can make your prose seem as thick as slow molasses. Readers want to get caught up in your story. They are disappointed if they run into twenty-dollar words that are vague or abstract. Unless you’re writing a thesis or drafting a congressional bill, stay away from formal language in your fiction. Never use a big fancy word if a simpler everyday word will suffice. This is especially true in dialogue. If you write dialogue in a formal manner, all your characters will sound affected. Readers will expect the tone of both the narrative and the dialog to be consistent.
Be Intimate With CSD
Finally, strive to be as intimate with your reader as possible. You want readers to lean in, to wonder what happens next, to be actively engaged with your characters and story. By using Concrete Sensory Detail (CSD) you give readers a specific world and/or picture to imagine. Readers crave stories that make them feel a part of what unfolds. As I said earlier, go ahead and draft the scene or chapter without regard to “Rules.” But when you revise, be vigilant about rewriting formal, stiff sentences and sentences containing redundant prepositional phrases. Be a champion for your characters by keeping the camera close in and you’ll be writing clear, accessible sentences in no time.