Techniques to Cure Wordiness

Installment 3 in this series draws me to the matter of qualifiers and intensifiers. They’re often added because we think they strengthen our writing. Beware! If they’re misused or overused, they’ll have the opposite effect.

First, let’s be clear what they are–a qualifier and an intensifier.

Qualifiers are words that hedge or limit a claim in your writing. Words like perhaps or sometimes or often, for instance. Take a sentence like “It will rain tomorrow.” That’s definitive. If it doesn’t, someone can say, “You were wrong!” And they’d be absolutely right. (Did you see the intensifier there? No worries, we’re still talking about qualifiers.)

Now, qualify that statement: “Perhaps it will rain tomorrow.” Do you see how you’ve hedged or limited the statement? No one can say you were wrong, because you never expressly promised it would rain. After all, you’re a writer, not a weather man!

Intensifiers are words that strengthen–often to bravado–a statement. “It will absolutely, positively rain tomorrow.” Not only are you promising it will rain, you’re arguing that it will rain, to the extend that anyone who disagrees with you might as well be labeled a beetle-eared naive. How dare they!

Here’s where it gets tricky: Writer, be careful that your qualifiers and intensifiers actually add to your writing. Many times (qualifier) they don’t, rendering your copy totally (intensifier) obnoxious.

“She was rather surprised by his somewhat unorthodox behavior.” Stop! Say it like this: She was surprised by his unorthodox behavior. Ahhhh! So much better! So tell me, what did the heel do?

“Never in my entire life have I ever been so grossly and totally offended by such behavior.” Say what? Try: Never have I been so offended!” Now you’re talking! Tell me more!

In those two examples, notice how the de-cluttered versions actually draw you in–wanting more detail. You’re not shamelessly building up a point, you’re inviting readers into your story.

Take a close look at your initial drafts. Slay qualifiers and intensifiers that aren’t necessary. Don’t believe that if you do you’re “slaying voice, tone and style.” Truth is, you’ll be improving your voice, tone and style–and your readers will thank you for it. When they do, tell them you heard it here.

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