Sunday, August 21, 2011

Powerful writing

I hate wishy-washy words. Throw out the "to be" verbs and give me something active, something powerful.

And take "made his way." Please. I once was reading a chapter in a novel and noticed "made his way" eight times on one page and 40 times in the chapter. The protagonist didn't walk, strut or stroll. He didn't move, slide, wend or walk. He didn't even matriculate or hurry. Or stumble and fall.

He just made his way, over and over and over.

It works the same way when writers use tons of modifiers. Saturn is massive; it can't be very massive or hugely massive (yes, I'm exaggerating to make a point). A locomotive is powerful. Very, extremely and all of the modifiers in the world won't change or add to that.

If a woman is beautiful or stunning or enchanting, will a modifier make her more so?
A woman is pregnant, not very pregnant (I'd be tempted to say that she's hugely pregnant, though). And a one-of-a-kind diamond is unique. Very won't boost it a bit.

Shakespeare wasn't famous or revered because of his wordiness. He cut his writing to the core and made every word count. (And, of course, he was one heck of a writer.) 

In fact, you can pretty much kick the word "very" out of your vocabulary and use powerful words. Mark Twain suggested that we change every very in our writing to damn. The editor will take out the damns, and the writing will be as it should be.

Smart man, that Twain. Very smart.


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