1. Macaberz
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    Macaberz Pay it forward Contributor

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    How to write snappy sentences.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Macaberz, Nov 20, 2012.

    Quick sort of tutorial here. I wonder if people use the same tricks and/or if they have other methods of making their sentences less wordy.

    I am not sure if this has been posted before (I did look) but I find that I sometimes use describing words that are inherent to the thing that I am trying to describe. I am pretty sure there is a nice, English, word for the phenomenon, I know there is one in Dutch, but I wouldn’t know what that would be.

    Regardless, I think that getting rid of those words makes sentences more snappy. Here is an example from my own writing:

    A small puff of thin particles covered his sight before they slowly dissipated into the air.

    A more simple example would be:

    The green grass.
    The blue sky.


    Another method to make sentences snappier is to move them from the passive voice into the active voice. A lot of you probably already know how to do this but I might as well post an example whilst I am at it:

    I could feel the rubber ball hitting me. Passive voice.

    The ball hit me.

    Basically what you do is you place the subject (the ball) at the beginning of the sentence. It’s one of those guidelines I try to stick to (I know I can’t possible follow all the millions of writing ‘rules’). I do find however that overusing the active voice makes it too short and snappy so adding a passive voice or a general description here and there helps keep a nice flow.
     
  2. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I don't view "less wordy" as being inherently beneficial. If one is to describe, one must use more words to do so. The key is to know when one has crossed the line from enough to too much.

    Also, why would you bother describing grass as green, or the sky as blue? I would only describe them by color when it was out of the ordinary - grass as yellow or brown (drought) or sky as grey or yellow (storm).
     
  3. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ditto that... also, that sentence isn't passive...

    passive would be, 'i was hit by the ball'
     
  4. TALLULAH
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    TALLULAH Member

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    Not to confuse the issue but wouldn't the author, genre, the situation, the character, the setting decide the type of dialogue used? Mickey Spillane vs. Edith Wharton vs. Hemingway vs. Pat Conroy? This is and has been a stumbling block for me as well. I've read articles that state watch out for alliteration and verbosity, etc. etc. However, as another example: I love to write humorous stories and know that pace and timing is everything. As a result those factors dictate how I'm going to write dialogue or text.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Eliminate redundancy unless the redundancy is the point.
     
  6. Thumpalumpacus
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    Thumpalumpacus Contributing Member

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    Write what is necessary to paint the picture you wish to place in the reader's head.

    I like snappy sentences, but it's very important to mix up the rhythm of your writing. Short declarative sentences hammering away can be just as hard to enjoy as lush, ornate sentences, when their flow is unending. Sentences themselves can serve as a sort of "meta-punctuation". Deploy them accordingly.
     
  7. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Focusing on sentences one by one is, I think, a bad move. I appreciate a well-built sentence more than most, but writing well does not simply mean writing sentences that read well when taken out of context.

    One of the best pieces of advice in Strunk and White (a guide I have many serious reservations about) is to make the paragraph the unit of composition. Sentences must vary in length, complexity, and other factors in order to hold a reader's interest, and that means they must come together to form good paragraphs. Snappiness, in an individual sentence, is not enough. Good writing requires more.

    I'm going to repeat something I've said on this forum many times before, but it is valuable: READ YOUR WORK ALOUD! If it sounds good, you've avoided a great many potential problems. And doing so will reinforce the primacy of the paragraph.
     
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  8. Macaberz
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    Macaberz Pay it forward Contributor

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    Thanks everyone for the feedback. I agree with most what is being said here. Just to clarify, I was not intending to set this as a 'rule' or guideline for 'good' writing, I was merely trying to describe what I do when my sentences get too wordy (which is a problem I used to encounter quite a lot).

    As for the passive voice example not being accurate, that's my bad. I am just going to leave it at my personal understanding of the principle which may technically be incorrect but it works well enough for me.

    Once again, thanks everyone. You have offered a lot of insights and whilst I did realize that having short sentences only does not make likeable writing, I was unaware of the term 'flow' which seems hugely important now that I have know what it is.
     
  9. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    The principle that you demonstrated with that sentence was a good one--as I see it, it's the idea that most action shouldn't be filtered through the character's senses (Joe heard X, saw X, felt X), but should just be presented as a fact. If, that is, that's the principle you meant. :)

    But the term "passive voice" has a very, very specific meaning. Using it more generally is rather like saying, "I had strep throat last week" when you mean, "I had a sore throat last week." It's so confusing that it's likely to derail the conversation entirely.
     
  10. Macaberz
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    Macaberz Pay it forward Contributor

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    Right. I really would like to edit my original post and rectify what I said. Unfortunately, I can not edit the op (I can edit other replies of my own though).

    And just to clarify, I entirely agree with and acknowledge to the fact that shorter sentences alone are not a rule of thumb to write better. It's mainly useful in action scenes where you need to convey a fast pace and urgency. Aside from that, I have learned greatly from the feedback here and I am happy to contribute bits and pieces that I feel work well.
     

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