“I’m going to marry my novels and have little short stories for children.” –Jack Kerouac
Still. And WOW is it a great life!
It’s been three years since I swapped pulpit for pen. It’s probably time for me to update I. Am. Ghost.
I’ll tell you a secret. I’ve developed a habit on Sundays. I’m not proud of it, but I’ve come into it honestly. My own seminary training and twenty-plus years of preaching experience have rendered me powerless to avoid it–I recognize when the pastor’s message is over and I shut my Bible and put away the pen I used to take notes. It’s over! He’s done!
The trouble is, the pastor seldom realizes he’s done. He rambles on. Sometimes at burdensome length. Many times he doesn’t even close when he stops preaching, but he revisits what he believes to be salient points in the closing prayer and benediction.
Good writing, like good preaching, rests on this important principle: the start and the finish are more important than the middle.
In this post–fourth in the series–I want to tackle finishing.
In sermons, there is only one ending–can I get an Amen? Writing, however, has the potential for several endings; sentence endings, paragraph endings, chapter endings and of course, ending endings–“And they all lived happily ever after.”
Work at recognizing the importance and purpose of your endings. And then conclude them with your very best and most dutiful words.
Consider this sentence: “We need to do something about the difficulties we’re having.” To end the sentence “we’re having” adds nothing, and even misdirects emphasis. What would you want to emphasize in this sentence?
You could choose to emphasize the difficulties to make the sentence stronger: “We need to do something about these difficulties.” Or, better still, you could emphasize urgency: “We need to do something about these difficulties right now!”
Here’s the point: In revising the sentence ending, you’ve added energy, even emotion. It carries the reader forward.
Notice I trimmed the “we’re experiencing” in both improvements. Wasted words! And you know we are all about curing wordiness. When a word restates something that’s already implied in sentence and context, it is fluff you should excise. Difficulties, in the context of the example–of course they’re being experienced. The experience is integral.
“Shari and I are always looking for new restaurants to try.” Cut “to try.” Of course we’re going to try them–why else would you be on the lookout for new restaurants?
Troubles that you’re experiencing … interruptions that are occurring … mistakes that keep happening … Spare us! We get it. And end it with a bang: Troubles! Interruptions! Mistakes! Oh My! Leave your reader wondering, Where do you go from there?
Which takes us to … starts. Next time.
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.