It’s Tuesday again, which means it’s time for another Tuesday Tip. Going back to the editing checklist, let’s take a closer look at style.
photo provided by instyle
Not that kind of style–writing style.
The trouble with giving advice about style is that it’s subjective. What one person likes, another won’t. However, writers tend to prefer styles that are clear, concise, and easy to read.
Style is simply how something is written. Everyone’s personal style varies. Your writing will convey your voice and personality. Everyone’s voice is different; everyone’s style is different, so how do you know if your style is good . . . or bad?
1. Passive Voice
Passive voice is not grammatically incorrect; however, many readers prefer books written in the active voice. Sentences contain nouns and verbs, subjects and actions. A sentence is considered passive when the action comes before the subject doing the action.
Passive: The chair was sat on by the boy. (action comes before subject)
Active: The boy sat on the chair. (subject comes first)
Technically, the first sentence is correct, but the second sentence is easier to read and understand. That is the problem with passive voice; readers get confused trying to decipher the meaning of passive sentences. For clarity, use active voice. To identify and eliminate passive sentences, highlight all to be verbs in your sentences (are, am, is, was, when). Make sure actors come before actions.
2. Too Wordy
Good sentences are clear and use strong, concise wording. Wordy sentences can bore, challenge, or confuse your reader. To cut the clutter, you first need to identify why your sentence is wordy.
- Too many qualifiers–or what I like to call filler words (very, often, hopefully, mostly, practically, extremely, somewhat)
- Prepositional phrases (on, in, for, of, from, with, about)
- Redundant wording (advance warning, 7 a.m. in the morning, a brief moment)
Now that we’ve identified some problems that might be weakening your style, let’s look at some ways you can improve your writing style.
1. Sentence Variety
Instead of rewriting or paraphrasing, please check out my first Tuesday Tip, which was about sentence variety. To read that post, click here.
2. Clear Concise Words
Choose your words deliberately. Use specific words, nouns, and verbs instead of vague or wordy ones.
Example: He is aware that his dog is sleeping on the bed
Correction: He knows his dog is sleeping on the bed.
3. Connect Images, Ideas, Chapters, and Sentences.
When you think of connecting sentences, commas and semi colons probably come to mind. There’s another way to connect your sentences, paragraphs, even chapters. You’re not connecting them with commas, but images. Repeating ideas and images will help your sentences flow and improve your writing style. Before you start the next sentence, look at the last one. Do this with your chapters as well. Look at the last four sentences of your chapter. What is the image, theme, message? Carry this image in the next chapter. Think of it like the transition of a movie. Have you ever seen a West Side Story? Before the dance, Maria is spinning around in her room and the camera blurs on her dress. When it refocuses, she’s spinning in a ballroom. In A Christmas Story, a bathroom scene cuts as the boy opens the toilet lid to the boy or mom opening the lid to a pot of red cabbage. Repeated images make transitions less jarring and help scenes flow.
Example: Your chapter ends with a fire or a character blowing out a candle. The next chapter starts with a sunrise.
Example: You end the chapter with someone screaming. You begin the next chapter with someone singing.
See how these images or ideas repeat. Look for these connections in the book you’re reading or the movie you’re currently watching (when you should be writing). You’ll start to notice the transitions aren’t random.
I hope you found these tips helpful. Choose your words and connect your sentences wisely so your writing style will not go out of style.