Friday, January 23, 2009

Incorporate Word and Sentence Variety

Edit Is a Four Letter Word, con't

The letter I is for:

Incorporate word and sentence variety

“Variety is the spice of life” someone once said. Redundancy is quite the opposite, and if our lives held nothing new and exciting, they would be very boring. This is so very true of writing. We must strive for variety and not accept redundancy. Shake up your writing! Bring it to life with spice!

Word Variety:

To incorporate word variety, we must understand redundancy. Redundancy includes repetitiveness as well as excess, but it is useful for emphasis, for remembering something difficult, and for establishing a mood. Often we use more words than needed to express an idea, or we repeat ourselves unintentionally. Redundancy in oral presentations and in writing, unless needed for emphasis, is not a positive trait for an author. Using redundant phrases and words shows thinking errors, and does not ease the flow of your writing.

There are several types of redundancy, and the following situations often harbor unnecessary words that can be easily corrected.

1. Repetition of
....a. Pronouns (I, he, they, etc.)
....b. Boring verbs (is, was, had, got, etc.)
....c. Adjectives and qualifiers (really, so, a lot, fantastic, very, etc.)

2. Two words which indicate the same meaning (Tautology)*

3. More words than are needed (Pleonasm)

4. Phrases when a word would convey the same meaning

*The terminology is unimportant, but expanding your vocabulary is always important.

1. Repetition of Pronouns, boring verbs, and adjectives and qualifiers

We use the same vocabulary constantly. Often we write as we speak. It is much easier to say he did this or that; we went here or there. We are concentrating on getting ideas across to someone, but are not concerned with how we state those thoughts. We have all been taught not to say I over and over, so we do try to avoid that, but what about the other common pronouns? We don’t realize how often we use the same simple verbs or constantly say a lot, awesome, fantastic, etc. Do you every use a thesaurus?

....a. Pronouns
The easiest way to recognize our redundant vocabulary use is to circle all the pronouns in your story, and omit what you can by using names or reworking your sentences.

After Rob left the house, he stopped by Rachel’s to pick her up for the show before she left on her own.

Rob left the house in time to grab Rachel so they could ride together to the show.

Four pronouns were narrowed to one.

....b. Boring Verbs
(See the previous post: Edit by Rewording)

Word variety includes using exciting verbs rather than boring ones. Check your sentences for overused verbs that are forms of to be and exchange them for verbs which show action. Limit your use of common verbs such as had, have, get, take, etc. If necessary keep a list of the verbs you tend to use and some more exciting replacements for them.

To find these boring verbs in your writing, take a pen which differs in color from that you used to write and circle all the boring verbs. Then with another pen circle the non-boring verbs that you used more than two or three times. Now replace these verbs in a variety of ways.

You may substitute one verb for a better one.

Sam ran down the hill and came home before the storm.

Racing down the hill, Sam arrived before the storm.

You may restructure or combine your sentence to eliminate a verb.

Orin was late for school, and he was panting when he reached the room.

Panting, Orin entered the room just after the tardy bell.

....c. Adjectives and qualifiers
The over use of words which describe (adjectives) or limit a noun (qualifiers) are no different than any other redundant word: limit them; remove them; change them.

We really had a fantastic time with a lot of our friends. We always enjoy their company, and we always exchange a lot of gifts. What a fantastic night!

We had a wonderful time with our friends, enjoying their company and exchanging gifts. What a fantastic night!

In the revision, no word is repeated…except a.

2. Tautology, the error of saying essentially the same thing again in the same sentence
Many of these phrases are so blatantly used in our culture that we do not realize the inaccuracy.

Advanced forward
Future outlook
False facts
Few in number
Usual custom

He wrote his own autobiography.
Let us glance briefly at the facts.
The reason was because….5.

3. Pleonasm, having extra words in a sentence than can be deleted without changing the meaning or structure of the sentence

Deep puddles of water wrestled against….

Deep puddles wrestled against….

4. Phrases replaced by one word6.
The reason is because……….because
Based on the fact that………..because
In regard to…………………..about
Despite the fact that………….although
At this time…………………
In the very near future……….soon
Actual experience……………experience
Cancel out……………………cancel

Sentence Variety:

Sentence variety means every story needs to have sentences that vary in length and in structure. Reading short, choppy sentences does not allow good flow of ideas and events. Reading lengthy sentences gives the piece a pretentious air, makes it difficult to wade through the extraneous words. Either situation will not encourage your reader to continue through the story. A variety of short, simple sentences along with compound and complex sentences provides the diversity to keep your reader interested.

Short sentences are used to emphasis a point and to give impact to an idea. Compound sentences link together closely related ideas. Complex sentences show relationships between more important ideas over supporting ideas. Careful use and placement of the various types of sentences adds power to your writing.

Simple: He left yesterday.
Compound: He left yesterday, and he took nothing with him.
Complex: After leaving yesterday and taking nothing with him, I knew it was over.

Add details to improve the overall structure and to provide an opportunity for more exciting verbs. Do not have most of your sentences with the subject-verb pattern. Use phrases to alter the structure.

Sarah wasn’t happy at school because she had few friends.

Having few friends reinforced Sarah’s dislike for school.

Sentence Phrases
Using several phrases in your sentence allows you to alter the sentence structure. The easiest way is to develop phrases for your sentence that tells where, why, when, and how. Those phrases can then be move to various locations to determine which way sounds best.

Matt ran. (kernal sentence)
Matt ran home. (Tells where Matt ran.)
Matt ran home to arrive before the letter carrier. (Tells why Matt ran home.)
Matt ran home yesterday. (Tells when Matt ran home.)
Matt ran home quickly. (Tells how Matt ran.)

Sometimes you may wish to use several of these phrases, but seldom do you want to use them all. Often after you construct the phrases, you may wish to change the verb and alter some of the phrases.

There are three locations for any phrase: the beginning, the middle, the end. Some sound better in one place than the other. For this reason, practice moving them from place to place to determine what sounds best. Also, commas are used after a phrase that begins a sentence and sometimes if a phrase is in the middle of the sentence.

Yesterday, Matt raced home quickly to arrive before the letter carrier.
Matt raced home quickly, yesterday, to arrive before the letter carrier.
Quickly, Matt raced home yesterday to arrive before the letter carrier.
To arrive before the letter carrier, Matt raced home quickly.
To arrive before the letter carrier, Matt raced home quickly, yesterday.

As you can see, the yesterday in the fifth sentence is not smooth. Some are better than others, but this gives you some variety.

Using a gerund for sentence variety
A gerund is a verb with an ing ending. For this sentence structure, your subject must be doing two activities at the same time. Note the comma before the gerund.

Jason picked at his food.
Jason fed the dog when no one was watching.

Jason picked at his food, feeding the dog when no one was watching.

Paragraph variety:

Just like a single word or a short sentence gives emphasis to an idea, so does a short paragraph. Each of these stands out among the average size, but they all lose their emphasis if overused. Make them count where needed.

Remember: Overuse of any word or structure devalues its impact.

Next, the letter T in that Four Letter Word Edit.
T is for Take Time to Read Your Story Aloud.

Source (adapted from):
Cheney, Theodore A. Rees. Getting the Words Right: How to Revice, Edit & Rewrite, Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, OH, 1987.

6. ibid., p. 64-66.

©Aulicino 5 Dec 2008

No comments: