Why settle for sentences that are just okay?
by Andy Scheer
I could tell the writer had been rushed, didn’t know better, or just didn’t care.
I based that assessment on a single sentence. Here it is, in a Hemmings Motor News profile of the 1971 Ford Ranchero Squire (a light pickup based on a high-performance station wagon).
You could carry your sheets of plywood home in a hurry in one of these.
The sentence has nothing overtly wrong. It makes a specific visual impression, and it adds alliteration. But with a slight adjustment, the writer could have made it so much stronger.
In one of these, you could haul your plywood home in a hurry.
Here’s why I’d make those changes. As people read, they carry forward a sentence’s final phrase. In this case, “one of these.” At best, that’s bland.
But if you move that phrase to the front, the sentence can end with a much more vigorous image: “haul your plywood home in a hurry.”
Why cut the phrase “sheets of”? It’s redundant. Plywood comes in sheets. Its removal makes the sentence tighter. If you could trim two words from every fifteen, your 97,000-word novel would slim down to just 84,000.
You may say readers won’t notice the difference. In a magazine article they’ll read the rest of the piece and move on to the next article. Limited damage.
You can’t afford flabby prose—or miss an opportunity to engage readers’ imagination.
But with a novel the stakes are much higher, especially your opening pages. You can’t afford flabby prose—or miss an opportunity to engage readers’ imagination.
Once you get your story right, take time to polish each sentence. Even one about hauling plywood.