WRITING CLEAN PROSE
If you're like me when you're writing, you find passages that need to be tightened (usually later). You find sentences and phrases that can be made clearer, simpler, and cleaner. Critique partners can help you find these muddy spots. Here are some things to watch out for while you're improving your prose.
USING FELT and FEELING
Felt or feeling (and seem) can be Telling words--and are also unnecessary and distancing. In the first excerpt below, these words don't add a thing. Compare these examples:
Marie walked out into the field where the horses stood. As she felt the long blades of grass whip her bare legs, a breeze sprang up. She approached a white mare, feeling a surge of excitement shoot through her body.
Marie walked out into the field where the horses stood. As the long blades of grass whipped her bare legs, a breeze sprang up. She approached a white mare, a surge of excitement shooting through her body.
SAY EXACTLY WHAT YOU MEAN
Sometimes we need to check to make sure we're really saying what we mean to say:
His eyes darted around the room. vs His gaze darted around the room.
--The case of the wandering, unattached eyeballs. I do this a lot. Trying to cut down.
Her hands placed the flowers in the vase. vs. She placed the flowers in the vase.
He pulled the keys out of his pocket. vs. He pulled the keys from his pocket.
Grandma's head jerked up to look me in the eye. (Really? Her head looked me in the eye?)
A sticky prickling washed through me like a raging fire.
--Mixed simile and not accurate; a sticky prickling wouldn't "wash" or be like a raging fire.
My father stuffed the hat into the box with a frown.
--Does the box have a frown? Better: With a frown, my father stuffed the hat into the box. Keep the action close to the noun it describes.
She didn't have time to contemplate her thoughts any further.
--Contemplation IS the act of thinking; you don't think about your thoughts. Yep, I really wrote this line in one of my novels. *headsmack*
Gayle left her mother, retreating to her desk. (Whose desk, Gayle's or her mother's?)
EXTRA PHRASES and WORDS
I approached the barn as the sun kissed the sky with a lovely red-orange at the horizon.
Simpler: I approached the barn as the sun kissed the horizon with a lovely red-orange.
Do you write unclear sentences like the ones here, especially in your first drafts?
Do you have a doozy of a sentence from your writing you'd like to share?
When you revise, are you able to clean up your writing well?
How much do you rely on eagle-eye critique partners to help you find confusing or unclear sentences?