Instead, I’m referring to the structure of sentences and paragraphs. I know. A bit boring.
However, writing science research papers taught me the process of clean writing—manuscripts free of too many useless words. "Just the facts, ma'am." As a result, my first fiction manuscript was a failure. The editor said my writing sounded like a textbook. That sort of hurt, but the statement opened a floodgate of words that's still gushing. I could use adjectives! And adverbs! And descriptions! But also…too many useless words and phrases.
Still, I absolutely love to embellish sentences with adjectives, adverbs, and well…a long list of writing errors. If I remove the useless words in the previous sentence, I think it reads like a textbook. Where is that fine line?
AVOID USELESS WORDS: We consider good writing concise, vigorous, and active. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, as a machine should contain no extra parts. Fine idea. But an automobile is a machine.
I do agree, though, certain useless words or phrases need to go.
1."there is no doubt but that" should be "no doubt" or "doubtless"
2."this is a subject that" should be "this subject"
3."the reason why is that" should be "because"
4."owing to the fact that" should be "since" or "because"
5."he is a man who" should be "he"
(Hint: One quick way to clean a ms of useless words is to highlight the word “that” throughout. You’ll learn it usually is an unnecessary word, in addition to showing other useless words.
AVOID USE OF QUALIFIERS: A qualifier is a word or a word group that limits the meaning of another word or word group. The worst offenders are rather, very, little, and pretty.
"I should do pretty well on the exam, for I am a rather brilliant student, but if I make very many mistakes, I'll try to do a little better."
AVOID LOOSE SENTENCES: A loose sentence is one consisting of two clauses, the second introduced by a conjunction or relative. Too many loose sentences in one paragraph will sound mechanical and singsong. The compound sentence is the framework of writing, when used wisely and sparingly.
How NOT to:
"The last concert of the season was given last night, and the hall was filled to capacity. Jane Doe was the soloist, and John Smith accompanied her on the piano. She proved to be quite capable, while he performed admirably. The concert series has been successful, and the committee was gratified. The committee will plan for next year's programs, and they will offer an equally attractive program."
Blech! Recently, I tried to read a book written exactly as this example. Pages and pages of compound sentences. Notice, I tried to read the story.
Today's subject reminded me of edits on one of my early contemporary novels. A kind editor—in so many words--told me: You begin too many sentences with well, now, so, or why. (She had counted how many times I began a sentence with “well.” Ninety-seven times. I was embarrassed, but learned a lesson)
In some cases, these words are acceptable, especially when included in dialogue. Southern people talk this way, but in narration, use sparingly.
This made sense, because when I talk with a friend—on-line or face to face—those little words pop up all the time.
"What did she say when you said her hair was orange?"
"Well, first she stared. Then her eyes sort of bugged out, and before I knew it, why, she started bawling."
"Oh, my goodness. Now, here's what you should have said, darlin'. You just do not want to make her any madder."
"So, what should I have said?"
And so, well, I need to bring this post to a halt. I need to make a little lunch, because the fact is that my husband is mowing this morning, and he'll be starving. There's no doubt, though, that he won't say an unkind word to me if lunch if just a little late.(If you can edit this paragraph, you will receive an A+)
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Celia Yeary-Romance...and a little bit 'o Texas