Monday, May 31, 2010

Editorial Tip of the Week: Lost in the Perilous Thicket, Part 2

Last week's tip followed Susan Bell's advice, editing away our prose to "see how the scene plays spare."

There may be a writer who gets it right with the first draft. The rest of us have to look at our work later, preferably when the glow of creation has faded.

It helps to review the smallest book on a writer's shelf: Strunk & White's The Elements of Style. For example, here's one of the reminders in "Section V: An Approach to Style."

4. Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs. The adjective hasn't been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place. This is not to disparage adjectives and adverbs; they are indispensable parts of speech. Occasionally they surprise us with their power.... In general, however, it is nouns and verbs, not their assistants, that give to good writing its toughness and color.

I applied this reminder to last week's strangled sentence:

The intrepid explorer hacking a sinuous path with her sharp and trusty brush hook—a well-worn heirloom from her sainted mother—exhaled soft whispers of shocking profanity with every breath as she severed the stout stalks and sharp brambles that barred her way through the sinister thickets of dank green and crimson weeds.

And came up with this:

The explorer swung her brush hook as she cleared a path. "Damn," exhaled on the down swing. "Bastard!" the blade sliced through the tough stalks, "Yes," a sigh as she turned the hook to lift and pile the fallen brambles to open her way through the thicket. She paused for minute to catch her breath. She stretched her fingers, running them along the time-smoothed grain of the handle; her hand, her mother's hand.

Strunk & White’s Elements of Style at

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