Placed for Maximum Punch

Prose writers who also write poetry know the value of each word, the importance of the placement of that word, and the rhythm words create. Look at these samples:

  • Times are hard.
  • These are hard times.
  • Hard are the times that we are living in.
  • When it comes to hard times, these are the hardest.
  • We have lived in no harder times than these.

The first two sentences are succinct. The first forces the reader to enunciate the last word and it stays in the reader’s mind. The second shifts the focus to the times. The others? More words do not equal greater clarity.

Knock out those props
Prose writers, often working fast, tend to choose the first word that comes to mind and then, realizing it is weak, try to prop it up with an adjective or an adverb. Resist! Instead, in subsequent drafts, choose robust words.

Read a sentence out loud. Where is the emphasis? The word you feel most is probably at the beginning or the end of the sentence. Certainly it shouldn’t be buried in the middle.

Sentences that sing
E.B. White wrote, “The setting of a word is just as restrictive as the setting of a jewel.” Make every word show its feeling, its strength. Like a diamond in a proper setting, each word will show off several facets.

This sentence has strength, economy of words, and a rhythm that sticks in the reader’s mind: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” If you try to rewrite that sentence or add words, it loses its punch. It is poetry in prose form.

Examine your sentences. Do you need every word? Can you rewrite to put the emphasis where you want it? Have you created a rhythm that resonates?

Good writers make sure every word works and plays off the others in a poetic cadence. Make your prose sing.

Photo: Roger PalmsRoger Palms, a long-time Guild mentor, is the former editor of Decision magazine and the author of 15 books and hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles.

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