22. Streamline Your Sentences

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It's very easy to get caught up in your words as you write. You picture a scene in your head, then transcribe it into text. This is a good thing when you're chugging through your first draft and whipping out those chapters. Go you!

But when you are proofreading and editing, it's time to take a critical eye to your sentences. Are they wordier than they need to be? Can the same point come across with more brevity? Here are a few ways to figure this out...

Eliminate the DUH

What I mean is, is there something in the sentence that is stating the obvious? Here are some examples to illustrate my point:

WORDY: She blinked her eyes in confusion.

STREAMLINED: She blinked in confusion.

She can't blink her elbow or her hat, so we can leave out "her eyes". The sentence is still perfectly clear.

WORDY: He glared angrily at me.

STREAMLINED: He glared at me.

Because glaring is already an angry action, we don't need the adverb to tell us that it is. You can't glare in a sad or happy manner, so dropping the adverb tightens the sentence.

WORDY: I turned off the shower and wrung out my wet hair.

STREAMLINED: I turned off the shower and wrung out my hair

You don't wring dry hair, plus this person was just in the shower. We can gather that it's wet in there. So we can drop the "wet"adjective. These are tiny adjustments, but over the course of an entire manuscript, they add up.

Don't Beat a Dead Horse

Sometimes we're trying so hard to convey an important moment, we don't realize we're stating the same thing over and over again. For example:

WORDY: I stared out at the crowd and began to sweat. My hands shook and my jaw locked themselves tight. I couldn't breathe. My whole body started shaking. Even my scalp tingled with anxiety. There was no way I could speak. I was just too nervous.

STREAMLINED: I stared out at the crowd and began sweating. My hands shook, yet I couldn't move my mouth despite the nervous energy. My thundering heart sank as I realized I was about to bomb this.

What's happening here is, after the first two indicators of anxiety, the reader gets it. Sweating, check. Shaking hands, check. This person is nervous. Everything after that is just overkill. We don't need the tingling scalp or the stunted breathing. We get it. She's nervous. Move on. In the streamlined example, I ended the paragraph by transitioning her state of anxiety into one of disappointment as a way to move forward with the plot.

Switch From Passive to Active

When you're combing through your first draft, pay attention to passivity. Active is when the subject is performing an action. Passive is an action being done to the subject. Not only is it a weaker way to say things, it also tends to be wordier. Some examples:

WORDY: The crazy train came to a stop.

STREAMLINED: The crazy train stopped.

WORDY: The robbers were caught by the police.

STREAMLINED: The police caught the robbers

WORDY: We need to gain access to the vault of cookies.

STREAMLINED: We need to access the cookie vault.

If you're interested in reading more about how to tighten your writing by eliminating the unnecessary and restructuring sentences, check out Write Tight, by William Brohaugh.

And don't forget to vote for this chapter! :)

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