Mood Changers

“Learn to alert your reader as soon as possible in a sentence to any change in mood from the previous sentence….Always make sure your readers are oriented.”

No, this post isn’t about mind-altering drugs — it’s about mood-altering prose!

On Writing Well by William Zinnser is one of my go-to handbooks on crafting clear, sparkling prose. And one of the things I love about it is that, just like EB White in The Elements of Style, our boy William isn’t wishy-washy. He has definite ideas about what makes for muscular, readable prose and he lets you know it. Here are some of William’s tips on using “mood changers” in your writing:

Tools of the trade — There are a host of words that do a workmanlike job of signaling to readers that a mood shift is afoot, so that they aren’t confused or surprised by your writing: “but,” “yet,” “however,” “still,” “nevertheless,” “instead,” “meanwhile,” “now,” “later,” and “today.”

Bring in the “buts” — “Many of us were taught that no sentence should begin with ‘but.’ If that’s what you learned, unlearn it — there’s no stronger word at the start. It announces total contrast with what has gone before, and the reader is primed for the change.”

Use “however” sparingly — If you find your prose is peppered with too many “buts,” William suggests strategically replacing some of them with “however.” “It is, however, a weaker word ans therefore needs careful placement. Don’t start a sentence with ‘however,’ — it hangs there like a wet dishrag. And don’t end with ‘however’ — by that time it has lost is howeverness. Put it as early as you reasonably can — as I did three sentences ago. Its abruptness then becomes a virtue.”

“Yet” and “nevertheless” are great simplifiers — “Either of these words at the beginning of a sentence — ‘Yet he decided to go’ or ‘Nevertheless he decided to go’ — can replace a whole long phrase that summarizes what the reader has just been told.”

Time-frame tipsters — “Meanwhile,” “now,” “today,” and “later”– all help to signal shifts in time frame and can save readers needless confusion. “Now I know better.” “Later I found out why.” Phrases like these help make sure your reader is oriented.

Equipped with these handy mood-altering helpers, let’s all write on!

About karinwritesdangerously

I am a writer and this is a motivational blog designed to help both writers and aspiring writers to push to the next level. Key themes are peak performance, passion, overcoming writing roadblocks, juicing up your creativity, and the joys of writing.
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