Monday, January 25, 2016

The Evolution of a Sentence

In my Beautiful People's post, you might have noticed my first two sentences, which introduced the linkup. If you didn't notice them, here they are:
 
"Beautiful People is a monthly linkup for writers hosted by Cait at Paper Fury and Sky at Further Up and Further In. This month's questions relate to writerly resolutions for the New Year." 

I'm willing to bet five invisible unicorns that you didn't notice those two sentences. Why didn't you notice them? Because I edited them to be unnoticeable.
Those two sentences started out like this:

"Beautiful People is a linkup hosted by Cait at Paper Fury and Sky at Further Up and Further In designed to let authors answer questions about their books and characters. Since this month's questions are all about writing resolutions for the New Year, I thought I'd join in to give you all a taste of what I hope to accomplish in the coming weeks!"

Both "before" and "after" contain two sentences and relate the same information—that Beautiful People is a monthly linkup for writers hosted by Cait and Sky—but one is clearly the superior. How did I get from five lines of text to three, and still manage to keep all the information?

In his book On Writing Well, William Zinsser says, "Writing improves in direct ratio to the number of things we can keep out of it that shouldn't be there... Examine every word you put on paper. You'll find a surprising number that don't serve any purpose."

I could tell that my sentences were too wordy, so I changed, "I thought I'd join in to give you all a taste" to "I thought I'd share with you," and, "...of what I hope to accomplish in the coming weeks" to "...of what I hope to accomplish in 2016." I de-cluttered the second sentence by eight words AND got rid of a cliché phrase ("give you all a taste"). Now my sentence looked like this:
 
"Beautiful People is a linkup hosted by Cait at Paper Fury and Sky at Further Up and Further In designed for authors to answer questions about their books and characters. Since this month's questions are about writing resolutions for the New Year, I thought I'd share with you what I hope to accomplish in 2016!"
But it was still too wordy. What else could I take out? Well, the blog post itself insinuates that I'm sharing what I hope to accomplish in 2016 with you, so that bit could be deleted.
 
"Beautiful People is a linkup hosted by Cait at Paper Fury and Sky at Further Up and Further In designed for authors to answer questions about their books and characters. This month's questions are about writing resolutions for the New Year."
After that, I couldn't decide whether or not to put a comma between Cait and Sky's information and the word "designed," so I split the sentence in two.

"Beautiful People is a linkup hosted by Cait at Paper Fury and Sky at Further Up and Further In. It was designed for writers to answer questions about their books and characters. This month's questions are about writing resolutions for the New Year."
Now, however, all three sentences were nearly the same length!
After several minutes of intense thinking, I decided that my readers didn't need to know that the linkup was "for writers to answer questions about their books and characters" when the much simpler "for writers" would do. I added the word "monthly" and my introductory sentences were complete:

"Beautiful People is a monthly linkup for writers hosted by Cait at Paper Fury and Sky at Further Up and Further In. This month's questions relate to writerly resolutions for the New Year."
Qapla'! (Which in Klingonese for "success.")

My sentences were reduced by almost half, resulting in an easy-to-read and unobtrusive introduction to my Beautiful People post. It wasn't because I'm a naturally talented writer, but because I am learning to be a deliberate writer.

Let us return to On Writing Well for a closing quote:

"Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it's because it is hard."

6 comments:

  1. I love helping my students overcome wordiness and pare down their sentences. Whoops, those last five words are redundant.

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    1. Hee hee, I won't report you to the Department of Redundancies Department.

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  2. This is great and really mirrors what I've been learn the last six months or so. It's great that you're learning these lessons early on. I wish I had known them back when I started!

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    1. That's cool! It's an important lesson (though I have to say that I feel like I'm learning them a little late, too. I have to keep reminding myself that I'm still young and have many years to fine tune my writing).

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  3. This would be great for me to work on. :) Becca is always getting after me for my wordy writing.

    On a different note, I thought I was following your new blog, but then when I checked it yesterday, there was all these new posts I hadn't seen! So I have a lot of catching up to do! :)

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    1. It's kind of fun to get rid of unneeded words :P

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