Writer’s Wednesday: Describe the Positive Instead of the Negative

Lesson #7: Describe the positive instead of the negative. What does this mean?

In other words, you should state what something is rather than what it isn’t.

Instead of using negative comparisons, use positive.  Your reader is focusing on the root words in your description, and his brain is having to go the extra effort to turn your meaning around inside his head. Why not make it easy in the first place?

For example, instead of saying, “The new car was inexpensive. We got a great deal!”– Say, “The new car was economical. We got a great deal!”

Instead of describing a character’s body build as “almost pudgy,” call him “chubby.” Instead of saying a character “didn’t flinch,” say he “remained still.”

Positive instead of negative.

Your job as a writer is to do anything and everything to make your readers work less hard to get the meaning of your prose.

Happy writing!

Lookin’ up,

 

 

 

Writer’s Wednesday: Two Adjectives Are Not Better Than One

A quick grammar lesson from fourth grade: Adjectives describe nouns.*

  • They can be descriptive adjectives. This means, as implied, that they add detail or description to the noun, such as red, sweet, indiscriminate, terrifying
  • There are limiting adjectives, which specify or limit the noun. These are words such as two, every, this, some.

Some writers mistakenly treat descriptive writing like a sub sandwich. They think piling lots and lots of adjectives into a sentence– like loading up with various condiments or veggies– automatically makes the writing better. Right?

Wrong. As a writer you should strive to streamline your writing. The more adjectives (or modifiers of any kind) in a sentence, the more cluttered its meaning will be and the less of an impact those words will have.

Which brings me to Lesson #6: Most of the time, two adjectives  are NOT better than one. By all means, choose the stronger of the two and ditch the other.

One of the two adjectives will be the stronger, thus the better choice. The other oftentimes will be a tired redundancy and is already assumed elsewhere in the sentence’s meaning.

To decide which should go, leave one adjective in at a time and read each version aloud.  One will inevitably leap off the page as the keeper.

As always, there is an exception to this writing suggestion: Sometimes two adjectives will be necessary to flesh out the author’s exact meaning.

However, in everyday description, the most likely rule of thumb will be “Two adjectives are NOT better than one.”

Professional editors sometimes scribble in a margin to let the writer know he/she has elimination work to do: ” 1 + 1 = 1/2.” Meaning that 2 adjectives (or modifiers or beats, whatever the offending agent is)  halve the prose’s impact.

Try it yourself. Eliminate unnecessary adjectives in the sentences below. (AND comment below with your re-written versions):

 

1) The funny, red-wigged  clown lowered his handful of squishy, sweet whipped cream onto the metal foldaway chair, where, moments later, the unsuspecting bald man sat.

2) Playing with a wooly heathered piece of yarn, the lively tiger-striped kitten batted the strand until he was played out and quiet.

 

Till next week. . . . happy writing!

Lookin’ up,

 

 

*(For our purposes today, articles such as a, an, the  are not included in the category of adjectives because of their “invisible” properties.)

 

 

Writer’s Wednesday: The Long and Short of It

Somewhere along the way, I’m sure you heard the adage, “Vary the lengths of your sentences.”

Good advice, that. It holds true for sentences, paragraphs, chapters — any arbitrary stopping point in writing.

Why?  Because it takes conscientious manipulation of words on the page to make them visually and mentally appealing to your readers.

Here’s an analogy. If you were driving down a country road, a highway surrounded on either side with identical trees and bushes, with the same unchanging flat landscape, with no other interruptions to greet you or pass by in a very long while, what would your mind begin to do?

That’s right. Your attention would drift. Your brain would fatigue. Because the monotony of what’s ahead is just too boring to stay engaged. (Did you notice how your mind reacted to the L-O-N-G sentence above?)

I’ll go further.  Lesson #4: Long sentences/paragraphs/chapters require much more effort to read. so be wary of using them. Especially of placing one after another, after another.

There are exceptions, of course.  If you write complicated thoughts needing explanation and the format you’re using is one of a technical nature, then long sentences/paragraphs/chapters may make perfect sense for you. By all means, employ those long sentences.

Or if you write fiction and you wish to lull your reader into a deadly stupor before you interject some excitement in your story, then go for it. This is a plotting technique known as pacing.

However, if you are writing a general blog post, or an article on a more mundane level, you’re better off with this next suggestion. Lesson #5: Keep a goodly portion of sentences/paragraphs/chapters short and your reader will appreciate it.

Hands down, two clear short sentences beat a long, unwieldy one every time. (Not that you can’t slip a long one in there every so often, just to mix things up!)

In the same vein, look for logical places to break up those long blocks of black text. Bust it up! Shorter paragraphs translate into more “white space,” which is easier on the eye. Give your readers plenty of white space (within reason), and they’ll love you for it.

Next week, Lesson #6: Two adjectives are not better than one.

Happy writing!

Lookin’ up,