Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Writing Tightly

Writing Tightly
By Paula Bernstein

One way writers can dramatically improve their work is by putting their prose on a diet. Every word must count. One bit of extraneous flab will weigh down the whole piece. That means substituting a word for a phrase, eliminating redundancies, and cutting material that doesn’t move the piece along. Common mistakes include saying the same thing in different ways; using throwaway words like “very,” “quite,” and ”certainly;” sticking in words that are understood, as in “the car’s headlights” (what other headlights would they be?); and using extra words (“some seven or more hours later” rather than “a few hours later;” “without a moment’s hesitation” rather than “without hesitation”). A quick way to check is to look for long sentences, although junk can lurk in the shortest as well. Write tightly, and all your work will seem poetic, even the most utilitarian.

Paula Berinstein, producer and host The Writing Show,
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