Monday, December 12, 2011

21 rules for stronger prose

1.      Prefer the plain word to the fancy.
2.      Prefer the familiar word to the unfamiliar.
3.      Prefer the Saxon word to the Roman (got rather than have).
4.      Prefer nouns and verbs to adjectives and adverbs.
5.      Prefer picture nouns and action verbs
6.      Knock out weak verbs. (All forms of the killer be. See list below.)
7.      Never use a long word when a short one will do as well.
8.      Master the simple declarative sentence.
9.      Prefer the simple sentence to the complex.
10.  Vary sentence length.
11.  Keep to a minimum as and -ing constructions: As she slipped out her dagger, she turned to face him. OR: Slipping out her dagger, she turned to face him. BETTER: She slipped out her dagger and turned to face him.
12.  Put the words you want to emphasize at the beginning or end of each sentence.
13.  Use the active voice.
14.  Put statements in a positive form. (“The lines squiggled” is more vivid than “the lines were not straight.”)
15.  Use short paragraphs.
16.  Avoid jargon.
17.  Write clearly, to be understood. Don’t write to impress.
18.  Avoid imitation. Write in your natural voice.
19.  “Omit needless words. Make every word tell.” (See list below).
20.  Revise and rewrite.
Unnecessary Words

·        The killer be (all conjugations of to be): is, am, are, was, were, will be, have been, has been, had been, will have been, etc. THESE ARE WEAK VERBS.
·        See if you can omit “had.”
·        “there” and “there was.”
·        Using active construction makes stronger and clearer sentences, and it skips the use of “by” and “of.”
·        modifiers: just, still, quite, so, very, somewhat, rather
·        his and similar possessives:
§  He turned to her, his eyes brimming.
§  He turned to her, eyes brimming. (BETTER)
§  He turned, eyes brimming. (BEST)
·        redundancies: hollow tube, expanding outward, brutal murder, high-powered rifle, etc.

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