Peppy prose: Energetic, colorful writing with forward motion that carries readers along is exciting and engaging. But most of the time, vigorous writing doesn’t happen in a first draft — it’s the product of revision. It’s created and coaxed out through the changes we make once we have words on the page to play with and shape. In A Writer’s Coach, Jack Hart gives helpful tips for injecting energy when revising:
Get it down: Don’t worry about hackneyed or clumsy phrases in your first draft — instead, be “loose, fast, and accepting.” When you’ve finished, go back over it, locate the offenders, and come up with a fresh, more creative replacement for each well-worn or awkward phrase you let slip by.
Read your work aloud: Does it sound natural or labored and stilted? “You want to be as appealing to readers as you are to face-to-face listeners.” If you find yourself struggling with labored prose, work to make your written vocabulary more like your talking vocabulary. Strive for clarity as well as color.
Ax your biggest offenders: “Pick the three stuffiest words in your writing vocabulary and eliminate them.” We all have words we overuse to the point where we don’t even notice them, but our readers are likely to — and to find them annoying or cloying. The same goes for habitual sentence constructions — the ones that we seem to fall back on to the point where they sound repetitive to the reader. Be on the alert and ax them.
Be precise: “The most meaningful words precisely target their real-world references. ‘Dachshund’ is better than ‘dog’ and ‘dog’ is better than ‘canine.’ Trend words and cliches, on the other hand, often are more vague than the words they displace…. Precision helps create concrete images in the reader’s mind.”
Start with the subject: “A sentence that begins with a long phrase smacks of journalese. (Hoping to determine the worst offenders before any destructive acts could occur, the law enforcement agencies initiated a policy of checkpoints and random searches.) Figure out who’s doing what to whom and then describe it in just that order. “Police set up checkpoints and conduced random searches, hoping to head off violence.’)” Note to myself: this is one of my habitual constructions.
Great advice for sprucing up our sentences as we all write on!