Tightening the Belt on Your Prose, Pt.3 ~
What does it mean to balance intent? Well, I suppose you could call it clarifying purpose or keeping it simple – but for me, it’s all about “balance.” It’s not just shortening what you’re saying to get to the point, it’s how you use verbs and adjectives as tools for craft to give proper weight to what’s being shown. Maybe your character thinks in complicated patterns and you don’t want to loose that trait – you don’t just want to let him ramble ad nauseam, the words you choose need to be the best ones to get across your intent – to show character trait and not sloppy writing.
Mac went down the hall to the second bedroom on the left and glanced around the oak door frame to try to get a good look at the source of the noise.
Okay. So you’re probably thinking: there’s good description here that helps the reader visualize the setting and you get a real sense of the tension of the moment.
But it can be better.
Mac slunk down the narrow hall toward the source of the clicking. He risked a glance into the bedroom.
Now, this is by no means the only way to tighten this sentence but I’d like to show you why I’ve made certain choices:
went vs. slunk – the verb slunk is stronger, giving a more powerful image to the reader
add ‘narrow’ to hall – this simple adjective takes the place of the description “second bedroom on the left” and while you can’t equate the two descriptions by using ‘narrow’ you still get the feel that Mac has an implied distance to travel before he gets to the room and you don’t clutter the building suspense with the extra words.
source of the noise vs. clicking – it can be assumed that Mac would be heading toward “the source of the noise” based on what has led up to this point. And even if your book starts with this line, by showing the sounds instead of telling the reader about it makes for a stronger, more palpable image.
to try to get a good look vs. risked a glance – right off, that’s 7 words vs. 3 and by changing the verb “try” to risked we build on the tension. By borrowing the word from “and glanced around the oak door frame” we’re still utilizing the vocabulary of the author but in a more concise and constructive way.
around the door frame vs. into – by simplifying this idea we’re allowing the pacing to help develop the tension and suspense. You don’t need the extra detail here to get the right idea across to your reader.
Finally, by turning the one longer sentence into two shorter ones we’re manipulating reader perception by quickening the pace to reflect Mac’s rising heartbeat – even though it isn’t even mentioned at this time.
For the average writer who does little to no editing as he writes, it’s important to be able to recognize where and how you can employ the use of your writing craft to better shape and balance your intent.
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