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Keep It Simple

Streamline your writing style by keeping your language simple and placing your story center stage.

One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple. — Jack Kerouac

As writers, words are our tools. The goal of any story, essay, or poem is to express something to the reader. If we choose words that are flimsy and vague, the story loses its potency. By cultivating a strong, sturdy vocabulary upon which we can build our tales, we make our voices that much more powerful.

Years ago, an English teacher of mine asked us to compare two sentences:

I’m thirsty.

I thirst.

Which, he asked, was more gripping for readers? The entire class agreed that I thirst carried with it a sense of urgency and desperation. I’m thirsty meant the same thing, but it didn’t draw such a clear picture. By removing filler words and flowery language — as much as I’m a lover of floral embellishments in my own writing — the meaning of each statement is expressed in a way that is that much more clear and precise to the reader.

For inspiration this week, simplify. Crack out the (virtual) red pen and remove any extraneous language from your post. With each sentence, ask yourself: what would make it stronger? Apply a philosophy of minimalism to your language, whether it’s in a poem, essay, or personal blog post. Cut away the overgrowth and show us the heart of your message.

How do you go about streamlining your sentences? Are there any fillers you especially try to avoid?What tips do you have for editing and cutting down on embellishments?

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  1. While I agree that brevity is an art in itself, isn’t it fun to unleash a salvo of literary devices that enhance your original points?

    My thesis guide doesn’t agree though, haha.

    Liked by 9 people

  2. I work in an Italian language environment, and I feel it weighs sometimes on my written English. I’ve been told to read Hemingway (not crazy about him) and to cut out adverbs.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi. Could you tell me how this works? Do people just click on your blog and read or do they have to follow you? If you have no one following can no one see the writings but you?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi there! People can just click on the link to your blog and read on. Once they’re on your site, they can also sign up to follow your blog either in the WordPress.com Reader or via email so they get updates every time you publish a new post. 🙂

        Liked by 3 people

  3. There is greatness is simplicity, without a doubt, but I do love crafting complex sentences from time to time. There is such power to be found in diction and syntax, and the unique voice of a writer only adds to that strength. This post poses a nice challenge for me to tackle with my own writing!

    Liked by 10 people

    1. We’re on a similar page here. Simplicity is valuable, but if simple sentences supplant complex and compound sentences, complex thinking is often the victim. Complex thought is not done in short sentences. My high school English teacher, Mrs. Seamor, insisted we move beyond simple to complex. I’ve since re-learned the simple sentence but not at the expense of the others.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Of course. Writing composed entirely of simple sentences would be boring and lacking depth, while a piece made completely of complex sentences would be difficult to grasp. Balance and rhythm – that’s what creates beautiful syntax.

        Liked by 3 people

  4. I completely agree. I find myself wanting people to just get to the point! Words are awesome and having a good vocabulary establishes a sense of authority to talk about certain things, but when you go overboard the first thing I think is: “Wow they are trying way too hard.”

    Liked by 9 people

  5. I’ve read writing that worked both ways. Your purpose, your style, your message all play into what words you choose and how. I have writer friends who eschew all adverbs, but I love a good adverb.

    One good rule to making writing more alive is to not use passive voice/verbs. Here’s a link with lots of help, http://jerz.setonhill.edu/writing/grammar-and-syntax/active-and-passive-verbs/, but here’s an example. Instead of saying, “I had learned how to…”, use “I learned.” Don’t say, “The ball was thrown by Jean.” Use “Jean threw the ball.” You now have both brevity and action.

    janet

    Liked by 6 people

  6. Less is more. Brevity is powerful. It might seem less impressive than flowery prose, but writing isn’t about proving an ornate way of communication; it’s about sending a message. One of the most powerful books I ever read was Night by Elie Wiesel. His short, to-the-point delivery still painted a picture in my mind of surviving a concentration camp. Wordiness would have taken away from the narrative.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I began blogging my story a few months ago. I found blogging it has helped me cut out extraneous words as I want to keep the posts at no more than 500 words. Perhaps this would work for you?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. My story is being blogged 🙂 it is on my site Cryptic Fables. Thanks though for the help. Though with my story the minimum word count for a chapter is around 1k. However, I hope to eliminate unneeded words to make my story more enjoyable to read.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Definitely will be practicing the minimalist approach in future posts. Some posts, more than others, could use this “minimal” mindset. As for other posts, it’s fun to see how much flows out your noggin and onto your page.

    Liked by 5 people

  8. If I find myself using “very” then I find a stronger word and eliminate the “very.” The most beneficial thing for me has been blogging my story, which requires short and sweet; my writing is generally long-winded.

    Liked by 5 people

  9. I find subject matter really dictate you style and imagine dealing with a deep subject like existencial crisis or deap otherness and split personality in pedestrain language or talking about love without a lot of adjective😉

    Liked by 4 people

  10. I love good descriptive phrasing, but am learning that every word counts. If the floral design of my sentences distracts the reader rather than inspiring further interest in the story, then I’ve failed in my mission.

    Liked by 4 people

  11. Great, great tips here. I have always strongly believed what Audrey Hepburn or Coco Chanel said about fashion: “Simplicity is the keynote to elegance.” Whichever one said it, I agree with you on this, for everything in life! You don’t need all this glamor to be truly priceless and golden. You need on keynote, and you’ll be set. ^_^

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Being Irish, I have the “Gift of the Gab,” and I do tend to write long sentences. I do not think that is necessarily a bad thing though. As long as every word counts towards moving the story along.

    Liked by 3 people