Economy of words makes your message stronger. Using too many that are extraneous distract and dilute it. This is why adverbs, adjectives, and prepositional phrases often add extra bulk that should be trimmed. Being too wordy indicates lack of skill and trouble expressing what you want to say. When you’re talking aloud you can get away with fumbling around a bit, but not in print.
On the other hand, people who talk too much are usually annoying. Thus, by extension, it can be pretty grating when an author takes too long to say something. Readers are not the most patient people out there. Everyone these days is pretty busy and doesn’t want to waste their time with someone beating around the bush.
If you can say the same thing with less words, do so. Start by zapping adverbs by using a better verb, then see if those prepositional phrases really add anything to the story other than word count. Some writers have a tendency to add a prepositional phrase on the end of a sentence that is totally redundant. Make sure you’re not one of them.
Adverbs get a lot of well-deserved bad press with regard to writing. More often than not they’re a symptom of lazy writing. These verb modifiers can more often than not be eliminated by using a verb that incorporates the feeling or action you want to express. This is where having a good Thesaurus is essential. Every author should have one within arm’s reach of where they do most their writing.
Whenever you start to use a word ending in “ly” challenge yourself to replace it with a better verb. This is something you should pay close attention to while editing your first draft.
When you get to what you think is your final draft, start tightening your story by trimming adverbs, adjectives, and prepositional phrases. Many adverbs go away when you select the correct verb. Make sure adjectives contribute to imagery or emotional impact and avoid repeating them. Prepositional phrases are often necessary for clarity, but make sure it’s really needed and that you don’t repeat the same information later. Read the sentence without each of these items to see what, if anything, they contribute.
Avoid adverbs and adjectives whenever possible. For example, rather than saying, He walked slowly say, He strolled or He dragged his feet. Using exactly the right word brings clarity and moves the story along more quickly. Verbs are powerful; use them properly and they strengthen your writing. This contributes to the Show, don’t tell admonition which allows the reader to experience the story as opposed to simply observing it. For example, which of the following is more effective?
“I can’t believe you didn’t tell me that before,” Sally said sadly.
Sally’s eyes filled with tears and her chin quivered with emotion. “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me that before,” she whispered.
Use active voice and subjective case. In other words, say, He threw the ball as opposed to the ball was thrown by him.
Avoid using the same word more than once in a paragraph. This is something my senior lit teacher told us in high school. Of course there are exceptions, but often when you need to repeat a word it’s a signal that you could reword the sentence in a more concise way. For example:
Sharon saw the pantry was empty so she went to the store to get some groceries. When she got to the store she bought bread, eggs, milk and sauerkraut.
Seeing the pantry was empty, Sharon went to the store to buy bread, eggs, milk and sauerkraut.
Flashbacks are often a source of confusion for the writer as well as the reader. The convention is to begin a flashback with past perfect tense, e.We had started that day with the usual cup of coffee. If you want you can use it for the next sentence as well, particularly if it’s going to be a fairly long sequence. Then when the flashback ends, you close it again with past perfect, i.e.I had thought at the time that it was a good idea, but time had shown otherwise. You can also include a simple statement such as He returned to the present….
There are numerous words out there that sound the same but have different meanings and are spelled differently which are called homonyms. Examples include here and hear; whole and hole; where and wear; your and you’re; you’ll and yule; there, they’re, and their and a host of others.
In the past few weeks I have seen the word shudder used incorrectly in two different books. The meaning of this word is to shake or vibrate; it is not the word for those planks designed to cover or sometimes decorate windows; that word is shutter like in shut. Another one I’ve seen misused in an otherwise excellent book is the word reign. This word relates to authority, such as “the queen’s reign.” To restrain or limit is the word rein, like the straps used with a bit to control a horse. The most common seem to be your (possessive) and you’re (contraction for you are) and they’re (contraction for they are), there (a place) and their (plural possessive.)
Nothing shows your ignorance as a writer faster than getting these different words mixed up. Many readers won’t know the different, I’m sure, but it’s really our responsibility as writers to provide correct usage and set the example for what appears to be an increasingly semi-literate world.
Of course now that we have autocorrect messing with our best intentions sometimes it’s not entirely your fault if they show up. Furthermore, if your keyboarding skills are advanced your fingers may tend to spell incorrectly from time to time. I have that problem where I know (not no) better but when I really get on a roll (not role) they often turn up (not turnip). That said, you’re (not your) going to have to pay attention and do your (not you’re) best to at least know (not no) the difference between them so you can correct them when you see (not sea) them. If you tend to read over your own mistakes then please, by all means, hire a good editor. Readers who know the difference will appreciate it.