Watch for mixed metaphors! “Her eyes flew across the room” is a classic example. If this doesn’t conjure up eyeballs springing from someone’s head and soaring across the room, like often seen in cartoons, I don’t know what does. While the reader is likely to know what you mean and may not even catch it, this is one of the things a pro will avoid. Metaphors are great, but need to be constructed with care.
This confusion can also happen with misplaced prepositional phrases. Make sure they’re in the most logical order or they can have a similar effect. I know that my thought process as an author is often not linear, which can cause this to happen. I get quite a few laughs when I start editing.
What works for me is to make sure related phrases are kept close to whatever they describe. If it relates to the character, then make sure it is next to the subject, not trailing along at the end of the sentence. This also serves as another indictment on prepositional phrases, which generally should be used judiciously and avoided when another literary vehicle will do the job more effectively.
Preposition phrases are one thing that get a lot of bad press. If you had the not-so-joyful experience of diagramming sentences in school, you’ll remember that they were placed below the main subject/predicate/object line. This is a graphic illustration that they are add-ons. One way to get around them in many cases is by using possessives. For example, “the pencil’s tip” vs. “the tip of the pencil.”
You’ll be surprised how often this streamlines a sentence, not only be eliminating words, but by compacting the sentence’s meaning, making it easier for the reader to digest. Often prepositional phrases are redundant, too. Give them an evil eye when you’re editing. First see what happens when you take it out entirely. If it contains important information that needs to be included, see if using the possessive form works.
You can’t get rid of them entirely, but assessing their value and then using them sparingly gives them as well as your writing as a whole more punch.
Unless afflicted by writer’s block, authors have no trouble getting words down on paper or screen. However, some have more trouble than others getting those words in the proper order. Periodically study your sentences for correct structure. Especially make sure prepositional phrases are where they make the most sense. If misplaced, they can have hilarious implications that will commit the serious faux pas of throwing your reader out of the story. Place them as close as possible to what they modify for maximum clarity.
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.
Scrutinize all prepositional phrases to determine if they’re needed or whether the sentence can be reworded to avoid them. If they’re redundant in any way, zap those suckers out of there! For example, saying “He put his hat on his head” could easily be shortened to “He put on his hat.” Where else would he put it? Economy of words for maximum impact should be your goal.
Use possessives to avoid prepositional phrases, e.g. notice how I changed the header from “Writing Tip of the Day”. You wouldn’t say “the collar of the dog”, would you? Tighter Writing is Better Writing. #amwriting #RRBC #amediting