Saturday, November 21, 2015
Building, and improving on, great sentences
Recently, on the Southern California Writers Conference Facebook page, I asked the group which of the following sentences was more compelling:
"She looked at the burnt shell of the house she'd once lived in, remembering how she'd once played dolls on the porch and swung on the tire swing."
"Looking at the burnt shell of the house she'd once lived in, she remembered how she had once played dolls on the porch and swung on the tire swing."
"That burnt shell was a house she'd once lived in—played dolls on the porch, swung on the tire swing."
The group agreed with me, almost unanimously, that the third choice was the clearer and most powerful sentence of the short list. And, no, I don't think any of the sentences are brilliant, they were written by me to prove a point.
I also posted the question on tsu.co on my group page (still in beta) of writers that aspire to write great memoirs and adventure travel books and essays—if you want to join tsu, click here http://www.tsu.co/jsilvaredmond
The point of this exercise was to show that writers use too many "filter words" like "look" or "looked," and too many "thought verbs" like "remember" and "remembered" in crafting their sentences—the building blocks of all writing. These filter words and thought verbs only serve to set us apart from the action of our stories.
For more on filter words and "filtering" click here for a short piece on Scribophile, and for more on thought verbs, read my posts here on JennyRedbug or read this tough-love post by Chuck Palahniuk.
Writing is a craft, and writing well takes hard work. And the more work you do on removing words that don't help your story—words that are not visual, visceral, and clear—the less work an editor will have to do to help your story succeed.
Why do I want writers to self-edit their writing better, thereby making less work for me? Because then I can, as a content editor, concentrate on their manuscript's story structure, and, when line-editing, on finding small errors and typos that might otherwise be missed. There is never enough time to look at a manuscript before it is published!
If you are interested in improving your craft as a writer, I would suggest that you join a writer's group—if you can't find one, start one. Also, you can attend SCWC at their two yearly conferences (in San Diego and Irvine), and join me on my tsu group. I hope you will keep following this humble blog, as well.