Wednesday, March 25, 2015

SPECIAL WORDS --- and More Special Words -- 

You can often remove “the” from sentences without losing meaning. This goes back to naming things—using names to create images:
Do a computer search for “the”—when you find “the tree,” “the store,” “the last car from the left,” try to eliminate “the” by naming each object.

There are times when using “that” in a sentence is critical to convey meaning, but it is another word you can often remove without losing meaning:
Do a computer search for “that” and test the sentence for clarity without it—remove it if possible.

Which” is often used when the writer really means “that:”
Do a computer search for “which” (and its accompanying comma,) test the sentence for meaning by replacing “which” with “that.”

In addition to over use of  “the, that, when, and, but, or and because,” writers tend to over use VERY and JUST:
Both of these words are intended to prop-up, strengthen or emphasize a verb. Their use however, often acts to weaken it. When you eliminate very and just, you may instantly see the need for a different, more precise or stronger verb. You may need a verb that will clearly, concisely and more emphatically convey meaning and needs no help.
Many writers use these two words often in their earliest work. It’s an easy mistake to make, because we constantly use “very” and “just” in speech.

“Bill got very scared and just ran away from the fire.” This is often the way we speak and perfectly acceptable, but the sentence reads much better and seems more immediate when written, “Terrified, Bill fled the scene of the fire.” The precise words help the reader see an image of Bill running.
One of the greatest benefits of running computer searches for tricky words is—after a short while you find that questioning the use of problem words in your writing becomes a ingrained habit. You will eventually stop using those words or make automatic corrections in your first draft.

Strive for clarity above all:
Always strive to make your statements and questions direct and plain. Compound sentences are fine and you will certainly use them many times. You must be careful however, and be certain a compound sentence conveys your meaning clearly--that it does not lose your reader. Compound sentences can occasionally be quite confusing and you must not, under any circumstances, confuse your reader.

Use simple sentences construction:
Find and use succinct singular adjectives rather than modifying clauses,
NOT: “He rode a mottled, reddish-brown horse.”
BUT: “He rode a roan horse.”
If your reader does not know what a roan horse is and wants to know she/he can and should go look it up.
NOT: “She wore a rosy red, waist-length jacket with epaulettes.”
BUT: She wore a rosy-red military jacket.”
The definition of a military jacket is “waist-length with epaulettes.”
Use modifiers only when you absolutely must to convey your meaning.

Do not become a victim of Thesaurus Syndrome:
The English language offers a writer thousands upon thousands of wonderful, interesting words. Short, long, intriguing, shocking, blunt, soft words—every sort you can imagine. Many of them however, are specific to a certain field or a certain time period.
A thesaurus can be helpful to a writer, but it won’t help your writing to fill your paragraphs with unusual, fancy or obscure words. Avoid using words your reader will have to look up to understand. Use a thesaurus only to remind you of an ordinary word you’ve forgotten.

You are writing for your readers. Even when writing for well-educated adults using esoteric or obscure words will not impress them. Your editor or agent will definitely not be impressed. He or she might even find you pretentious.
If you are writing a short story, article, paper or novel, always keep this in mind—MOST people read between sixth and eighth grade level. American newspapers are written to the sixth and seventh grade level and many college texts are written at the eighth grade level.


Use simple words—words most people readily understand:
Avoid using an adjective or an adverb unless it is the only way to make your meaning clear.

Picture an adverb as a CRUTCH for a verb:
An adverb will often end in ly and although it is intended to be supportive, to add to the meaning of a verb, it often acts to weaken your sentence. Rather than truly help, it may emphasize the fact that your verb does not convey the exact meaning you hoped it would.

Picture an adjective as a WHEELCHAIR for a noun:
Mark Twain advised killing any adjective found in your work. I think that’s going a little far, but you must at least, always be suspicious of adjectives. They are useful of course—they are critical in some cases, but strive to use strong concrete NOUNS—words that convey your meaning without support.

Remember the magic of naming—using descriptive nouns to guide your reader:
If you mention a tree and your reader has a willow tree near her back door, without guidance from you that is the tree she instantly pictures as she reads. Your tree is going to become a willow tree in her mind.
If you tell this reader your character is climbing this tree, the reader’s logical mind will instantly wonder how small the character might be in order to climb the weak limbs of her willow tree.