How to Firm Up Flabby ProseBy: Beth Mende Conny
Want to be a lean, mean, writing machine? Then put your words on a diet. Here are some great suggestions for cutting flab, firming muscle and punching up your prose.
Learn to strip
Brilliant as your prose may be, you likely can toss a word or two ... or three or twenty. Be brutal. Strip away the extraneous until your sentences go buck naked. They can then, like streakers, zip across your page.
Remember the if's
Avoid repetitions, redundancies, reiterations, restatements ...
In writing, as in life, you can't sit there like a blob. You've got to use the active voice. Before and after examples:
Don't be dramatic
When possible, use the plainest words possible. For example, too often we use "exclaim", "declare" or "chime" when plain ole "said" would do. Said's a great word; it doesn't draw attention to itself. Readers skip over it and concentrate instead on what's being said. Other examples:
Mix it up
Good writing has flow. One sentence rolls into the other, creating an ebb and flow of words. Stop the flow and you get writing like this:
Don't worry about punctuation and grammar
Big deal if you don't know the difference between who and whom, or when (or when not) to use a colon. Most of us don't, which is why books on punctuation and grammar abound. Use them as you need them.
Hot tip: Find three books written in a style even you understand. When you get stuck, say, on split infinitives, glance through all three for guidance. You'll find that three angles are better than one and almost always provide the guidance you need.
BTW-According to one of my grammar books, split infinitives are acceptable when writing informally. My other two books say no, no, no. Here, I defer to the minority.
© copyright Beth Mende Conny, 2002