“Vigorous writing is concise.”
William Jr. Strunk
We all want to write more forcefully — to ramp up the power of our prose and get “more bang for our buck” when it comes to the effect we have on our readers. Yet sometimes, the construction of our sentences and the kinds of words we choose actually weaken the impact of what we want to say. In A Writer’s Coach, Jack Hart offers some great advice in his chapter called “Force,” about how to pump up your language so that it conveys your meaning more directly and intensely. Here are a few tips:
Positive phrasing: One of the basic ways to write more forcefully is to use “positive phrasing” rather than “negative constructions.” Instead of, “…it is not difficult to spot young people who lack self-confidence,” say “It’s easy to spot insecure people.” The result is more direct and easier for a reader to grasp quickly.
Vigorous verbs: Use action verbs rather than descriptive ones: Describing the world in motion is much more exciting than defining it, says Jack. Verbs like “looked,” “appeared,” and “felt” don’t reveal much, but action verbs “capture movement and causality:” “The lightning bolt splintered the oak, toppling it into the pond.”
Active=Action: “In the strongest sentences, action flows from the subject through the verb to the object: ‘Jack hit the ball.'” The passive voice begins with the object of the action, goes to the verb, and ends with the actor: The ball was hit by Jack.” Using the passive voice can slow down a story.
Forget fillers: We’re all tempted to use phrases that take up space in a sentence but don’t really add any meaning. Fillers like “there are,” “there were” and “it is” suck the energy out of your prose, so dump them whenever you can. Instead of, “There were six ducks on the pond,” say “Six ducks paddled across the pond.”
Be bold: Go for confidence and clarity. Avoid sappy qualifiers like “somewhat,” or “rather,” which weaken what you’re trying to say and convey a lack of force.
Armed with this advice, let’s go forward boldly and write on!