Monday, October 19, 2015

A Simple Exercise To Improve Your Prose Style

Today's post is for gonnabe writers and, to a lesser degree, new writers.  My apologies to everybody else.

Let's take a cold, hard look at your prose.  It's not as good as you wish it were.  Otherwise, you wouldn't be bothering to read this.  There are a lot of complicated and/or difficult ways to improve it.

Here's a simple one.

Print out a full double-spaced page of something you're currently working on but unhappy with the sound of.

Done?  Okay.  Get out a highlighter, the kind that you use or used to mark up textbooks for purposes of study.

Got it?  Great!  Now mark every word in your text which refers to something tangible, something that can be touched or seen, or even smelled.  "World" or "lemon" or "bathtub," but not "beauty" or "concept" or "feeling."

The brighter your page, the more vivid, the more tangible your prose.  The dimmer, the duller.

Here's the thing:  Primary words move us.  Secondary and tertiary words do not; their purpose is basically structural.  Words like "and," "or," "however," and "since" are like lumps of clay.  They hold the bright words together but, like the grotting in a tile floor, do not excite our admiration.

Nor does a phrase like "excite our admiration" catch the eye like "pour honey on golden toast."  It may be necessary for the sense of your passage, in which case it should not be discarded. Clay has its uses, as does grotting. But it's the primary words that will bring your prose to life.

And, yes...

You can do this exercise with verbs and adjectives.  But that's only if the first exercise is of use to you. Not every exercise is of use to every writer.  Seek out those which are of use to you and disregard the rest.


My apologies for posting this so late in the day... as always, I was on the road.


1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thank you. This one really works. Though my test page came up quite colorful I often give workshops for beginning writers and this is a case of seeing is believing, kind of what do you prefer? a stretch of immaculate snow or a field of glowing sunflowers?