Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Simplifying Your Writing Style

Do you tend to overly describe your stories to the point they become too wordy for words? See what I mean? Do you consider it your style or just an oversight? Back in the days, describing scenes or characters in great detail was the norm. However, things have changed in the writing industry, not to mention our readers’ taste.
Consider the following when revising your work:
1. Use uncomplicated language.
Using simple words (whether verbs, nouns or adjectives) help you avoid ambiguity. Try to use less sophisticated words and more readily understandable ones.

2. Cut down long sentences.
Divide a long sentence into two or more shorter sentences. By doing so, you’ll keep the meaning clear. However, you must examine and decide how to keep a balance between short sentences with longer ones, as well as how to use sentence variety.

3. Avoid redundancies.
This is a major faux-pas in writing. Redundancies can be tiring, not to mention “amateurish”.

4. Trim unnecessary qualifiers.
Using qualifiers in excess diminishes the essence of your story (A qualifier is word or phrase that precedes an adjective or adverb, increasing or decreasing the quality signified by the word it modifies, e.g., very, quite, rather, somewhat, more, most, less, least, too, so, just, enough, indeed, still, almost, fairly, really, pretty, even, a bit, a little, a (whole) lot, a good deal, a great deal, kind of, sort of.)

5. Use active voice.
Active voice helps the story move along faster. The passive voice slows it down by using too many words. Consider the sentences: She unwrapped the gift, vs. The gift was unwrapped by her.

6. Go easy on the adjectives.
Too many adjectives can be cumbersome and distracting.

7. Limit the use of the verb “BE”.
Using any form of the verb “be” can slow the action. Use action verbs instead.

8. Use parallel forms.
Parallel structure is using two or more words, phrases, or clauses that are similar in length and grammatical form. Elements alike in function should be alike in construction.


  1. Great post. I recently read a book that did the opposite of all the things you described. It really slowed down the book and made it hard to read. Sometimes, less really is more.

  2. Thanks for these handy tips!

    They're always worth remembering when revising written work. I still cringe when I remember my very early stories. I didn't have these points to guide me and by golly these stories were stinkers! LOL! take care

  3. I have read a self-published book this week and the writer was having problems with a lot of these rules. Notably 1-4-6. They always looked a little abstract to me, but now that I have seen the damage it can do to a story who would've been otherwise good, I understand.

  4. Thanks for the tips! I understand howthe market s changing...I love to read, but I do not love reading descriptions.


  5. No one ever writes about parallel forms. That is an 8th grade California state standard. Thanks for including it because parallel structure is so important!

  6. Hi Angelina,
    Thanks! Too bad you spent all those hours reading a book that was not so enjoyable. Yep, I agree, sometimes less is more. :)

    Hi Jennifer,
    Don't be so hard on yourself. When I go back, which is hardly ever, and read my first stories, I laugh at myself. However, I like to keep them as a reminder that I've improved and I am still making progress. Hooray! :)

    Hi Ben,
    Isn't it great we're able to spot weak point in other people's work? That's our editing eye. Pat yourself on the back, you're also an editor!

    Hi Carla,
    Right on! Too much description can be distracting, thus, making a story a bit dull.

    Hi AllegedAuthor,
    My first mentor taught me about parallelism in my short stories. I am so grateful to him for showing me the basics of writing ;)

  7. Complicated language, long sentences, redundancies and an abundance of adjectives. It's almost as if you have read how I write, Claudia. I just found out I am an "old school" writer. But all of the pointers make sense for the end result of creating a clear, concise and uncomplicated delivery to the reader. After all, that is our goal: to keep our reader on track and to avoid confusion. As for "parallel structure", I had to look that up and found it here:

    At least I don't use qualifiers. Least I don't much think so.

    I am both discouraged and enlightened.

    Excellent article nonetheless and an eye-opener for me.

  8. I think I'm too much the other extreme - I tend to write sparsely and then fill it out as I go along.

  9. Hi Vasilios,
    Don't feel discouraged. We're here to learn. I used to write very long sentences and decorated them with too many adjectives. Everything I know, I owe it to my mentors. They helped shape the writer I am now ;) I am still learning. I want to learn more so that I can become better at my craft. So I hope you do the same. Apply what you learn and be proud that you're doing it. :)

    Hi Talli,
    Oh, that's okay. As long as you go back and edit. We all have different ways of editing. Hope you get your blog back! Crossing my fingers. ;)

  10. Claudia, thank you for finding my blog and giving me the excuse to read yours which I would otherwise not have found. I'm looking forward to exploring it. All the points you've made are the kind of points 'I know' but at the same time the kind of points you can never read too often to keep the writing sharp

  11. Hi Mike,
    Thank you for joining my blog. Welcome!
    Reminders are always good. I know I need them from time to time. ;)

  12. All excellent points Claudia. Fortunately, if you write often, these things become second nature. For those who are new to writing, this list deserves a place on the fridge, or on the desktop of the computer. That's what sticky notes are for.

  13. Great tips, Claudia! I've read a few published books that had so much description in them that I was bored. I need the author to move on the the action.

  14. Hi Chris,
    Thank you! Yep, writing and applying what we learn becomes second nature like everything else in life. Editing your own work and your peers' work helps you hone this skill. ;)

  15. Thank you for the reminder, Claudia! I took a university writing course that totally made me aware of all of this, especially the economy of words aspect...years later I still fall prey! This is why I love writing mentors. If you think you don't need a writing mentor, chances are that you do!

  16. So true. That's why being part of a writing community is invaluable.

  17. *sigh* The more I read your articles, the more I realise I have a mountain to climb, and I haven't even reached base camp yet!