Friday, September 24, 2010

Writing Sleek Sentences

I'm a college student majoring in Creative Writing, and as such, I see a lot of grammar stuff. A lot of bad grammar stuff that makes my head hurt. Some of my fellow students (and not just in writing classes, in every kind of class) write really bloated sentences with lots of thrown-in adjectives and adverbs to add description. But let me tell you...

adjectives + adverbs + extra words good description!

A lot of people also tend to beef up their sentences with extra words that mean nothing in an attempt to sound important or smart.

I'm no English teacher. I've been known to write many a clunky sentence. But I've also fixed a lot of my own mistakes, so maybe I can help you to write sleek sentences.

Let's have an example of that adjective-heavy kind of writing I mentioned above.

[talking about apple trees] Their usually crisp red fruit and radiant green leaves no longer hold their glory.

This is really pretty. You can totally visually picture it, can't you? But... I think the most beautiful part of that sentence is the "no longer hold their glory" part. By saying that the fruit is "crisp" and "red" and that the leaves are "radiant" and "green" and THEN to say that they actually aren't those things right now, I think is misleading.

My correction: The dead fruit and leaves no longer hold their glory.

By cutting out the extra adjectives, we've taken the sentence down from 14 words to just 10. If you skimmed every sentence in your work and evaluated whether or not every adjective needed to be there, you can make your novel or story a lot more concise, and no less beautiful!

Then there's the clunky, extra words that sometimes plague sentences. For example:

The rain hasn't stopped in days and today is no exception.

"...and today is no exception" is just a repetition of what was said in the first part of the sentence! Why don't we just take it down to "The rain hasn't stopped in days" or better yet, "It's been raining for days"? The meaning is intact, it's just a sleeker, more aerodynamic sentence.

So comb through your writing when you're at that editing stage. Look for adjectives and adverbs you can eliminate. Look for places where you're using multiple words instead of just one (why call it a "crisp red fruit" when you can just call it an apple?). Your word count, editor, and reader will thank you for it.


  1. I once heard adjectives referred to as "glitter" that makes "boring prose sparkle."


    It is a far more challenging feat to write a book in as few words as possible than it is to bog one down with clunky writing.

  2. I used to do this a lot when I was trying to sound like a writer. Great tip. :)