Wednesday, August 1, 2007

2.7--Clutter I: Verbiage gone wild

A. Here’s the problem:
This is one of my top three lessons for you to practice. Writers learning their craft waste words. It’s as simple as that. You fill sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph, with unnecessary verbiage. Sometimes you’re trying to camouflage the fact that you haven’t quite decided what you want to say. Sometimes you can’t quite find the best way to say what you mean. You’re surrounded by a culture that wastes words and obscures meanings. You’ve fallen into some bad habits that need to be rooted out like weeds in the garden.

B. What to do:
William Zinsser says, “the secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components.” This piece of advice means as much to me as anything I’ve ever learned about writing. Go through your sentences bracketing words that add no meaning. Remove who, which, that, and thing whenever possible. Turn verb phrases into simple, present tense verbs. Cut down on adjectives and adverbs. Once you cultivate the habit of pruning your prose, you’ll find many ways to improve your writing.

C. Example: [In] Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, [Jane Austen creates somewhat of a mockery] of 19th century customs,[ manners, and general lifestyle].
Corrected Version: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice satirizes many nineteenth-century customs.

D. Now you try—write corrected versions of the following sentences.
1. Jane Austen specifically focuses the majority of her novel on the issue of the consent of marriage.
2. Austen’s realism creates England to be portrayed as a place concerned with stature and wealth.

E. For more information or additional practice, check the following sources:
Zinsser, pp. 13-19
Strunk & White, pp. 23-25