Generic descriptions and recurring sentence structures lead to a rather boring read. Editing with a focus on more interesting word choices and sentence structures can improve your writing and make it shine.

Are you a member of the grammar police? One of those gifted few able to spot a split-infinitive a mile away? Perhaps you’ve heard time and time again how you should be a writer because you’re so gifted with words. And you’ve listened, because you have not only a gift flair for grammar, but a great story to tell. Combining the two is a natural fit. But once you sit down to write the great American novel, something happens. The words, carefully crafted and meticulously correct, don’t seem to work. There’s something missing in your prose.

There’s a difference between writing a correct sentence and a crafting a compelling sentence. It’s what makes the editing process so powerful. Identifying and then refining your work can improve your writing and transform a good story into a great novel.

Let’s take look at this short paragraph:

Boring: John walked to the store. He bought a carton of milk and a frozen pizza. He saw Mary in the checkout line.

In the drafting stage, it’s easy to fall into the same patterns – especially when it comes to starting a sentence with a pronoun (he, she, it, they, and so on) or a character name. That quickly becomes stale and boring. Good writing has variety, a mix of sentence structures that keep prose lively and interesting.

Better: John walked to the store to buy a carton of milk and a frozen pizza. The checkouts were crowded, but he spotted his friend Mary in the last line and wheeled his cart over to talk to her.

A funny thing happened when I revised that paragraph: Changing the sentence structure forced me to add more detail. That, plus the variation in the sentence constructions, makes the paragraph much more interesting to read. And that’s what it’s all about – keeping our writing lively and our readers interested.

Here’s another example, with a focus on word choice:

As writers, it’s our job to create a vivid, detailed world for our readers. But that won’t happen if you have boring, generic descriptions in your manuscript. Generic descriptions are fuzzy, ambiguous words – words like:

  • nice
  • good
  • uncomfortable
  • pretty
  • really
  • very

What’s wrong with this sentence?

Boring: Nick watched Katie walk across the grass, thinking how pretty she looked.

This sentence tells us nothing about how Katie actually looks and uses a generic description, “pretty,” to describe Katie.

Better: Nick watched Katie walk across the grass, admiring her long, dark hair, her pink cheeks, and the sparkle in her blue eyes.

By replacing the generic description with a few specifics, the writing immediately has more pizzazz and the scene becomes clearer for the reader.

Image of spice rack via ShutterStock.com.

 

JocelynPruemer AutoCritWant to learn more about the power of fine-tuning your sentences to improve your writing? Join BookBaby and Jocelyn Pruemer (AutoCrit) on Wednesday, October 21 at 4 pm ET for a special Twitter Q&A where we’ll talk about the best ways to find the weaknesses in your writing and how to fix them. To be notified about our upcoming chats, sign up here.

 

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Jocelyn Pruemer

About Jocelyn Pruemer

Jocelyn Pruemer has written 3 posts in this blog.

Jocelyn Pruemer is passionate about helping authors write and edit smarter with the help of technology. As the owner and creative mind behind AutoCrit, her goal is to make self-editing a real and powerful solution for authors at any level. AutoCrit combines the research of thousands of bestselling novels with feedback from authors, agents, and publishers in an easy-to-use tool designed to make good writers great.

15 thoughts on “Variety Is The Spice That Will Improve Your Writing

  1. Julian says:

    thank you. good and clear advice.

  2. Mary Sadler says:

    Very true. I’ve read many a manuscript with a good enough story, but SO boring – exactly like you say.

  3. Paul Sherman says:

    I found the article very interesting, or should I say ‘I found the article contained the kind of insight and inspiration that is needed to turn a boring sentence into a much more descriptive one’.

  4. Sandy says:

    Thanks for helping us think about writing better sentences. I had a problem though with the example:

    Better: Nick watched Katie walk across the grass, admiring her long, dark hair, her pink cheeks, and the sparkle in her blue eyes.

    It sounds to me like Katie is walking across the grass and admiring herself at the same time.

  5. AJ Flowers says:

    Great advice. I attribute being very specific and detailed the trademark that won The Martian its wild success. People want it to feel real!

  6. You have made it easier for me to clean up my autobiography blog.

  7. Chris Phipps says:

    I know and try to practice all this, but have never discovered a way to avoid beginning sentences with a pronoun or character name. Certainly, you can sometimes start with an introductory phrase, but not often. Writing in deep POV makes it even more difficult. I would have liked some good, practical examples of ways to do that

  8. Not everyone on Bookbaby is American. Just sayin’!

  9. Experts have profound knowledge only when shared… Hence it’s not what we say but how we say it that counts

  10. Randy says:

    That’s a nice article, and very good! 😉
    I refuse to read boring, won’t do it, can’t make me…
    Most of my reading, are books referred by some of the best writers, and I’m never disappointed.

    Unless the reading is required for something important in life, I wont read it… (just thinking out loud) and thinking about poor Mary Sadler (post above) having to read manuscripts with a good story, and a boring writer. The only other example I could think of would be a news paper article, most notable are the local paper articles, some are suspiciously dreadful… I mean that in a funny way though. jmho 😉

  11. Amyna says:

    This is the kind of article that inspires new writers. I have found it extremely helpful. Thank you!

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