Friday, October 31, 2014

Style Tricks

Hi! It’s Kelsey again. How are you enjoying your autumn? Is it inspiring you to write? I’m certainly feeling the lyricism of cool wind, falling leaves, colored trees, and migrating geese as I edit and add scenes to my nearly finished novel. As I work, I realize how editing is all about improving your writing. You’ve already done the most creative part—filling lots of blank pages with your story—but editing is creative, too, and for some of us, almost as much fun. You’re honing your words, touching up your painting, smoothing your carving … finishing your creation to be the best it can be.

Are you like me and always looking to improve your way with words? Sometimes it takes editing to do that, but if you’re aware of some tricks ahead of time, you can incorporate them into your style as you create! Here are some generally accepted tips I’ve gleaned about telling your story in words that people love to read:

Passive voice, as opposed to active voice, is when the subject of the sentence receives the action instead of performs it. It slows down a narrative, which can be a good thing, like when you want to be thoughtful or give your story or character an old-fashioned feel. You also might need it to emphasize the subject that’s being acted upon. But at other times, it tends to lessen impact and hamper readability. So, instead of “Carols were sung by the children” say, “The children sang carols.” See how the second sentence moves faster?

Speaking of slowing things down, I come across quite a few sentences beginning with “there” when I edit my writing. I don’t know why it’s more natural for me to say, “There were four chairs surrounding the table” instead of, “Four chairs surrounded the table.” The second sentence reads better and stronger simply by putting the subject first! Of course, you’ll want or need to write sentences the first way from time to time, but it’s worthwhile to see if the other sounds better.

Sometimes all you need to do to improve the flow of a sentence is to rearrange its words or phrases. Placement makes a difference in emphasis—it can be subtle, but subtlety is often part and parcel of excellent writing. Words at the end of a sentence tend to stand out, so if you put your most important thought at the end, your sentence will have the impact you intend. This is especially a good idea when your sentence is extra significant!

Another thing to consider with your sentences is how they flow together. Varying the length and structure of sentences that follow one another makes a smooth, continuous stream; your readers won’t get hung up on repetitive rhythms. “The dog is black, and he lives in a red house. The house is spacious, but the roof leaks. The dog gets wet when it rains because the roof leaks.” Now, this can be fine if you’re drawing special attention to these sentences; but if you want sentences that simply flow from one subject to another, vary the length and structure: “The dog is black and lives in a spacious red house. Though the house is spacious, the roof leaks, so the dog gets wet when it rains.”

Knowing these tricks about good composition makes writing easier for me, so I hope they do the same for you! What tricks or rules have you learned that made a big difference in your writing?

Kelsey Bryant is an author, blogger, and copy editor who loves the Lord. She revels in many things: the beauty of God's Word, the music of English, the wonder of nature, the joy of creativity, the freedom of motion, the richness of literature, the intrigue of history ... and much more. To learn more about her, visit her website or blog


  1. I hope your editing is going well, Kelsey!

    Revising scenes tends to be a bit of a chore for me, but it's important work. Starting out with a good first draft is a bonus, and the points you mentioned can really help to streamline the process :) Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you, Caitlin! It's slow but sure. : )

      Yes, I tend to try to get things close to right the first time---"streamlining" is a good term for it. Editing and revising later become much less laborious!

      Thanks for commenting!


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