This book is an excellent resource for everyone who is writing professionally. Based on the book, I’ve created a 28-point list that I use as a reference/reminder in my on-the-job writing and editing, as well as other types of writing. I do a quick refresher every once a while by going through all points, and once in a while I re-read the entire book or select chapters. I suggest you take the time to read the entire book.
Here is my 28-point summary:
1. Begin sentences with subjects and verbs
Make meaning early, then let weaker elements branch to the right. Place subject and verb at or near the beginning of each sentence. For suspense and tension save subject and verb of the main clause until later.
2. Order words for emphasis.
Place strong words at the beginning and at the end. Put the weakest point in the middle, strongest at the beginning and end.
3. Activate your verbs.
Strong verbs create action; save words, and reveal the players. (active voice) Avoid verb qualifiers (adverbs), use the most appropriate verbs that convey the right meaning.
4. Use both passive and active voice.
Use passive verbs to call attention to the receiver of the action. Active verbs move the action and reveal the actors. Passive verbs emphasize the receiver, the victim.
5. Watch the adverbs.
Use them to change the meaning of the verb. Do not use them if they repeat the meaning already contained in the verb. E.g. “He listened surreptitiously” to “He eavesdropped.”
6. Take it easy on the –ings. (verbs with –ings resemble each other, extra syllable, diluted effect)
7. Fear not the long sentence.
Tips: It helps if subject and verb of the main clause come early in the sentence.
Use the long sentence to describe something long.
Chronological order helps.
Use the long sentence in variation with sentences of short and medium length.
Use the long sentence as a list or catalogue of products, names and images.
Make every word count.
8. Establish a pattern, then give it a twist. Build parallel constructions, but cut across the grain.(perfectly parallel “boom, boom, boom”, with a twist “boom, boom, bang”. E.g. “truth, justice, and the American way”.
9. Cut big, then small. Prune the big limbs, then shake out the dead leaves. (Make every word count.)
Cut any passage that does not support your focus.
Cut the weakest quotations, anecdotes and scenes to give greater power to the strongest.
Cut any passage you have written to satisfy a tough teacher or editor rather than the common reader.
Eliminate every element that is not doing useful work.
Targets for cuts:
Adverbs that intensify rather than modify
Prepositional phrases that repeat the obvious
Phrases that grow on verbs: seems to, tends to, should have to, tries to.
Abstract nouns that hide active verbs. (consider vs consideration)
Restatements: a sultry, humid afternoon.
10. Prefer the simple over the technical. Use shorter words, sentences, and paragraphs at points of complexity. (defamiliarization, familiarization strategies to achieve a certain effect). Avoid using longer words where short ones will do.
11. Give key words their space. Do not repeat a distinctive word unless you intend a specific effect. (avoid repetition, unless intended)
12. Play with words, even in serious stories. Choose words the average writer avoids, but the average reader understands.
13. “Get the name of the dog”. Dig for the concrete and specific, details that appeal to the senses.
14. Pay attention to names. Interesting names attract the writer – and the reader.
15. Seek original images. Reject clichés and first-level creativity. Use straight language instead of a cliché
16. Riff on the creative language of others. Make word lists, free-associate, be surprised by language.
17. Set the pace with sentence length. Vary the length of the sentences in paragraphs.
18. Vary the length of paragraphs.
19. Choose the number of elements with a purpose in mind.
One for power. E.g. The girl is smart.
Two for comparison or contrast. Eg. The girl is smart and sweet.
Three for completeness, wholeness, roundness. Eg. The girl is smart, sweet and determined.
Use four or more to list, inventory, compile, and expand.
20. Know when to back off and when to show off. When the topic is most serious, understate; when least serious, exaggerate.
21. Learn when to show, when to tell, and when to do both.
22. Learn the difference between reports and stories. Use one to render information, the other to render experience.
23. Show characteristics through detail, scenes and dialogue.
24. Juxstaposition. Put odd and interesting things next to each other. Help the reader learn from contrast.
25. Foreshadow dramatic events and powerful conclusions. Plant important clues early. (Chekhov’s Gun: “one must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it”)
26. To generate suspense, use internal cliffhangers. To propel readers, make them wait.
27. Build your work around a key question. Stories need an engine, a question that the action answers for the reader.
28. Place gold coins along the path. Reward the reader with high points, especially in the middle. (journalists – top heavy – most interesting points go to the top). In other words, place shining pieces strategically, to engage the reader and fan her interest.
- Strengthen your verbs (frootbat31.wordpress.com)