“I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.”
Our boy Truman has a point: pruning our prose is often one of the best ways to improve it. There are so many missteps that can weaken the arrangement of words we put on a page: dull adverbs, lackluster adjectives, redundancies. Whatever we’re writing, we want it to sparkle and sizzle, not sputter and fizzle. As Jack Hart puts it in his terrific guide, A Writer’s Coach,” “Anything that doesn’t contribute to a piece of writing detracts from it. So create the strongest possible prose by eliminating everything that isn’t essential.” Strong words, but valuable advice. Here are some more tips from Jack for streamlining your sentences and adding more punch to your prose:
Question everything: Once you have a full draft, read through it slowly, mentally cutting words, phrases, and clauses. If the cuts don’t change the meaning, then keep them. If a word adds little to an essential point you’re making, then consider cutting that, too. Look closely at the words or phrases on both sides of a conjunction like “and” or “but” and make sure they each say something different and that you need both of them.
Make modifiers work: Be sure that these descriptive words work hard and add impact by making them specific. Instead of using the word “worn,” come up with something juicier and more evocative, like “rump-sprung.” If a modifier repeats a meaning already conveyed by its noun, then drop it. For example, “slowly ambled” can be shortened to “ambled,” because this implies a slow pace.
Don’t overload: Don’t intimidate your reader with convoluted sentences that are confusing and muddy your meaning. Focus on one or two main ideas in each sentence and keep working until their meaning unfolds elegantly and clearly.
Avoid creeping nouns: Avoid using two nouns when one will work. Forget “sales event” and use “sale;” dump “crisis situation” and say “crisis.” And write on!