by Kat Zhang
*dials up LTWF central*
Hello? This is Kat. We have a problem. Seems like all our readers have disap—
Well, alright. Here’s the article of the day for all you guys out there who aren’t reading MOCKINGJAY right now! I’ll keep it short, I promise.
In fact, this whole article is about “keeping it short.” I’m talking about your sentences here. Today, we’re delving into the world of micro-writing. Great stories aren’t just made up of great characters and a wonderful plot—they’re composed of well-chosen words and clear, beautiful syntax.
We’ll cover a few basics today, starting with this: Generally, the longer a sentence, the weaker it comes off.
Version A: All speech and all conversation slammed to a halt as a yellow tray soared through the air, smashing into the white walls, sending splotches of food flying in all directions.
Not bad, not bad. But I think this makes it tighter and stronger. And since this is an “action” shot, that’s especially important.
Version B: A tray smashed into the wall, sending splotches of food flying in all directions. Conversation slammed to a halt.
Now, yes, Version A is more descriptive, but in my mind, it has two problems. The first I’ve already mentioned: it weakens the action described in the story by being too long. The important bits of information (tray smashing into wall; conversation slamming to a halt) are buried under all the extraneous words.
Also, Version B changes the order of things. Version A tells you about “conversation slamming to a halt” before telling you about the tray smashing into the wall. Version B inverts things. That way, the last thought/image ringing in the reader’s mind is the deafening silence.
Okay, now on to point number two: present your information as clearly and concisely as possible.
Version A: The doors to the bathrooms were shut, but little panels declared in bright green: “Unoccupied.”
Version B: The bathroom doors were shut, but little panels declared Unoccupied in bright green.
There’s not a huge difference between the two versions, but I do think that B reads more smoothly. It paints a better picture in my mind. “Bathroom doors” and “the doors to the bathroom” mean the same thing, but the former saves you three words!
Which brings me to my third point: if a word can be cut, cut it.
What do I mean by “can be cut”? Well, if the sentence still makes sense without it, and you’re not losing any stylistic form you were going for, then say bye-bye.
Version A: At eight, I jerked while Adie was bringing our dad his morning coffee.
Version B: At eight, I jerked while Adie brought Dad his coffee.
Not only did I change the “was bringing” to “brought,” which cut out the passive voice, but I got rid of “morning,” because it served little to no purpose to the scene. When I say coffee, you’re probably thinking “morning” anyway, and in this case, it didn’t matter whether you were or not. So out the window it went!
Honestly, I love doing line edits. To me, it’s like cleaning up a sketch. You get rid of all the extraneous marks until all you have left is the sleek, silver form.
Of course, we’re only looking at one or two sentences here. In a story, you need to vary your sentence structure, so if you have a paragraph with a bunch of very short, simple sentences, you do need to throw some longer ones in there to balance things out.
I’ll leave you guys with one final note: try reading your work aloud. If you stumble, then you might want to think about rewording things.
Now get back to that MOCKINGJAY reading! 😀
Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She spends most of her free time either querying HYBRID–a book about a girl with two souls–or pounding out the first draft of her work in progress. Both are YA novels. You can read more about her writing process and books at her blog.