Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Sentence and Paragraph Makeovers


Since I'm in between novels, I'm taking a break from writing. I've been doing artwork, like the mini fabric art to the right. It involves tiny scraps of material glued onto mat board. This one is 2.5 x 3.5 inches.

LIVENING YOUR SENTENCES
Face it. Some sentences are more boring than others, pretty plain and ordinary. And if you use adverbs, they can be a lazy or unimaginative way of telling the reader what's going on. Instead, try using more active verbs and shoot for lively phrasings. Consider these examples:

Before: "Get out of my room!" he said angrily.
After: He brandished his fist in her face. "Get out of my room!"

Before: Lila and May walked in the park, talking cheerfully.
After: Lila and May walked in the park, chattering like squirrels on caffeine.

Before: Jim looked curiously at the package, wondering what was inside.
After: Jim squinted at the package. What was inside--that book he'd been wanting?

HONING PARAGRAPHS
Before The Makeover
High above the crashing emerald waves of the wild, frothing sea, Rianna stood on the grassy bluff. Her thick ebony hair flailed in the wind like whipping banners as her blue-green eyes scanned the waves for a glimpse of her father's huge merchant ship. She saw no tiny scrap of sail on the horizon, no sign of a wooden hull. The wind caught at her full skirt, wrapping like a protective cocoon around her little brother who stood beside her. He shivered, his dark eyes somber, his body small and thin like the reeds that grew by the inland rivers.

Comments
1. Adjective infestation! Every single noun does NOT need to have one to three adjectives describing it. The waves are crashing and emerald, the sea is wild and frothing, etc. Do we really need to know Rianna's eyes are blue-green--especially since her brother's eyes are described, too? That detail can be worked in more naturally, later.
2. Similes galore. There are three similes here--about banners, cocoon, and reeds. It's best not saturate your paragraphs with them. You could omit one or two, turn one into a metaphor to break up the monotony, or change a simile to say "as" instead of "like" to switch things up.
3. Redundancies. Saying the sea is both crashing and wild is overkill, and a "tiny scrap of sail" is redundant in that a scrap IS something tiny. Likewise, the hair doesn't need to be both flailing and whipping. A cocoon is inherently protective, so that word could be eliminated. "The waves" are repeated in the first two sentences. "Inland" in the last sentence tells us nothing--is there such thing as a river that isn't inland?
4. Miscellaneous: Technically, the second to last sentence says the WIND wrapped like a cocoon around her brother, not the skirt doing the wrapping. Wind is the subject of the sentence, the thing doing the action. A simple adding of "it" makes the intent more clear.

After the Makeover
High above the crashing waves of the sea, Rianna stood on the grassy bluff. Her hair flailed in the wind like ebony banners as she scanned the horizon for her father's merchant ship. She saw no scrap of sail, no sign of a wooden hull. The wind caught at her skirt, wrapping it around her brother who stood beside her. He shivered, his dark eyes somber, his body as thin as the reeds that grew by the rivers.

Adjectives omitted: 13!
Words omitted: 22!
The result is a cleaner, easier-to-read paragraph. Just imagine if you did this to an entire manuscript--it would be much tighter and streamlined. (Example sentences and paragraph borrowed from one of my early blogposts.)

YOUR TURN
If you are a writer, do you also dabble in artwork or any other creative things?
When you revise are you able to slash similes, adverbs, and adjectives without mercy?
Do you catch yourself using redundancies or unnecessary words, like "tiny scrap" or "inland rivers"?


21 comments:

  1. The better I get at writing the less I find redundancies, but I do have lots of weasel words and adverbs which I slash with bloody abandon!

    I like to refurbish furniture. I don't know if it's art, but it takes an eye to see a finished product out of "junk"!

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  2. I really like your mini fabric piece. When I have down time, I love to draw.

    My first drafts are loaded with redundancies. I actually enjoy slashing and burning them during the revision process.

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  3. I love your fabric piece! I like working small with my art, too. As for the paragraph, it was wordy for sure but I got a great picture in my mind. Loved how you cut it down, honed it as you say. My first drafts tend to be wordy like that.

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  4. I'm getting better at writing. I don't have so many...but, oh boy, when I look at an old piece of work...slash slash slash!

    Great post, Carol!

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  5. Interesting exercise. I see more room for tightening, especially if there are stronger verbs and more evocative nouns:

    High above the crashing waves, Rianna stood on the grassy bluff. Her hair flailed in the wind like ebony banners as she scanned the horizon for her father's merchant ship. She saw no scrap of sail, no slice of wooden hull. Her wind-whipped skirt cocooned her little brother beside her. He shivered, his dark eyes somber, his body thin as river reeds.

    As you can see, I'm all about cutting wordy constructions and going for more evocative vocabulary. I write pretty tight when I draft and often have to pump up rather than trim my descriptions in revision.

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  6. Carol, I can tell that you are a good editor. I can't to place my manuscript in your hand and before your eyes as I wait for you to slash those misplaced and redundant words from left, right and center. Maybe I'm too wordy.

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  7. When writing a draft, I use a lot of adjectives and passivity. Its all sort of a word vomit. But once it is all there, I do slash to make it tighter, more active. I have to over-write to set myself a mood, or describe a setting. I prefer to edit than write :) But I rarely use similes. I'm not sure if that is a good thing or not.

    Thats a nice looking picture you created. I'm not artsy at all; I play word games or put together puzzles when not writing. But so many writers are creative in other areas, I'm a bit envious :)

    .....dhole

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  8. At the mo I'm enjoying editing my first draft. It's no surprise that it needs tightening up.

    I'm a creative person and love painting portraits, knitting, crocheting, and baking.

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  9. Great examples!

    I love fiber arts and music; I recently started taking piano lessons again and it's wonderful to be picking up new material.

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  10. Very pretty! Great use of color in your fabric artwork. It's super vibrant. :)


    "If you are a writer, do you also dabble in artwork or any other creative things?"

    I dabble in far too many creative things. Narrowing my interests and focus has always been a struggle for me.

    "When you revise are you able to slash similes, adverbs, and adjectives without mercy?"

    I could be crueler... some of those adverbs are so pretty!

    "Do you catch yourself using redundancies or unnecessary words, like "tiny scrap" or "inland rivers"?"

    "That" and "just" are the ones that tend to sneak into my sentences. I delete hundreds of "that"s upon revision.

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  11. Your fabric art is awesome!!
    Great post! I often need reminding to liven up those bland sentences and paragraphs.

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  12. Great post, Carol. I too have to slash at all the adverbs I inadevertantly use...

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  13. Nice post Carol! Your mini fabric art is beautiful and it sounds like fun. I like amateur photography, and collaging, but I don't do either that often . . .
    I can cut whole chapters of material when needed for editing, but the sad thing is that I don't often use enough description in my first drafts, so I have to add adjectives and similes. I try to avoid adverbs most of the time.

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  14. "chattering like squirrels on caffeine"...LOVE IT!

    I don't dabble in any artwork, Carol, but I try to get creative in the kitchen. Good post on sentence and paragraph makeovers. :)

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  15. I think the redundancies are particularly vexing for some, simply because they can hide. Personally, it takes me until about my 4th or 5th read before they start jumping out at me.

    Good stuff, as always!

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  16. Carol, I've been loving all the artwork you have been posting on facebook. :)

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  17. Excellent sentence and paragraph makeovers.

    I've never tried fabric art, but I'd like to.

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  18. Great post! I do watch for all that stuff when editing. And, other than writing, I like photography a lot.

    Happy Monday!

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  19. Oh, and I meant to say your artwork is super cool! I can't do stuff like that.

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  20. I think there's scope here for further adjectivectomy, or some sort of recasting; I'm struggling with "his dark eyes somber." I get that "somber" is meant to be figurative here, but since in its literal sense it's synonymous with "dark" it *sounds* like a mistake. I'd be wanting to replace "somber" with something along the lines of "troubled" - or perhaps to dissociate it from the "dark" eyes by applying it to something else, like the expression in them.

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    Replies
    1. Ha! Love your name, Tsarina of Tsocks. Well, my intent with "somber" was the OTHER meaning of it. According to an online dictionary: "grave or even gloomy in character." So thus I didn't see it as redundant. Interesting point though, and perhaps something to consider. If this were a real story and I were concerned about this issue, I'd actually probably change the "dark" eyes to blue instead, just to keep somber.

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