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Help! My Writing Needs Oomph!

by Sally Jennings

Are you struggling to make your essays, stories, or newsletters more interesting?

Want to add some zing and dash to mediocre writing?

Need to refine your tone to suit your audience?

Want to get a better grade on the next essay you write?

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Suggestion One
Use specific, precise verbs and nouns whenever possible. Use adjectives, as necessary and appropriate. This will tighten up your writing.

For example, suppose your essay is about a growing police presence enforcing traffic safety laws. More drivers are being ticketed and fined, especially when there is evidence of "road rage"; when the driver uses his car as a type of weapon.

Compare the sentences:

a. "The cops tried to do something about people who got angry when they were driving and did bad things with their cars."

b. "The police tried to deal with the problem of drivers and road rage."

c. "Law enforcement measures were taken to address the issue of road rage."

Sentence (a) is too loose and too informal. Sentence (b) is better, but still too wordy because of the structure "the problem of ...and..." Sentence (c) is good, but would be better if it were not in the passive voice.

Active voice would improve the sentence:
d. "Law enforcement authorities took aggressive action to address the issue of road rage and its devastating effects."

What has happened to the tone? If has become much more formal, mostly because of the words chosen, not because of sentence structure changes. The language has become stronger and less ambiguous. The level of diction has changed to a higher level from a lower, through word choice.

Let's look at how the verbs and nouns changed from version to version:

"cops"
---> "police"
---> "law enforcement"
---> "law enforcement authorities"

"tried to do something about"
---> "tried to deal with"
---> "measures were taken to address"
---> "took aggressive action to address"

"people who got angry when they were driving and did bad things with their cars"
--->"the problem of drivers and road rage"
---> "the issue of road rage"
---> "the issue of road rage and its devastating effects"

In (d), notice the precise adjective "aggressive." The wishy-washy weakness of "tried to deal with the problem" is gone, and the words more closely match the events. Likewise, the word "devastating" adds a specific judgment to the word "effects". This could now be a lead-in to a sentence describing the effects of road rage in detail, or the aggressive action of the authorities.

Finally, the writer of sentence (d) sounds far less bored with the subject than the writer of sentence (a). Sometimes just showing evidence of enthusiasm for your topic will earn you extra marks.
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Suggestion Two

You can add spice to your descriptions with sensory words, longer nouns phrases, specific adjectives, and possessive noun phrases.

If you are having trouble finding different verbs for the same action, try parallel noun phrases hanging from one main verb instead.

Compare the sentences:

a. "My father's dream in life was to return to the wilderness he loved; to fish and hunt; to live in a log house; to sit beside a wood stove and rest safe from the cold winter."

b. "My father's heart was drawn back to the wilderness; to fly-fattened trout and berry-fed moose and deer; to a rustic log home; to the nourishing warmth from a glowing hearth cloistered from winter's chill."

Sentence (a) is okay. Sentence (b) is better, and much more specific. The dream is stated in concrete terms. Words which stand out are mostly adjectives: "fly-fattened", "berry-fed", "rustic", "nourishing", "glowing". Add the two verbs "drawn to" and "cloistered" and the possessive noun phrases "father's heart" and "winter's chill", and the dream is fleshed out.

How have the words and structure changed? Ineffective verbs were deleted, making "drawn back to" the main verb phrase which supports the cluster of noun phrases.

"My father's dream in life was to return...he loved"
---> "My father's heart was drawn back"

"to the wilderness"
"[drawn back] to the wilderness"

"to fish and hunt"
---> "[drawn back] to fly-fattened trout and berry-fed moose and deer"

"to live in a log house"
---> "[drawn back] to a rustic log home"

"to sit beside a wood stove and rest safe from the cold winter"
---> "[drawn back] to the nourishing warmth from a glowing hearth cloistered from winter's chill."

Notice how the word choice centers around "wholesome" words. The trout, moose and deer eat natural foods. "House" becomes "home," the "hearth" is "nourishing." Notice the religious overtones to the word "cloistered": called apart, dedicated to a solemn task, physically secure.

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Finally, in your quest to write well, there is no substitute for reading examples of fine writing. Find a piece of writing you really like, and tear it apart piece by piece until you unravel what the writer has done. Remember, you are looking for effective pattern in grammar, combined with appropriate word choice.

Copyright 2005-2016 Sally Jennings www.speak-read-write.com

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