Sunday, March 2, 2014

Short and Sweet: Don't Seem... BE!

The word "seem" can be very useful when you want to distinguish between appearances and reality. Often, however, the word "seem" just weakens the sentence, as if the writer is not really sure what to say. Especially if you are writing fiction, you are the omniscient creator, and your readers are depending on you to know what is really happening — not just what seems to be happening.

So, check for any usage of the word "seem" in your writing and make sure you really need it. You might also check for the word "appear" too! Here are some examples to look at; you can see that without "seem" the sentences are stronger, and it reduces the word count by about 20% as well.

BEFORE: After a while, he seemed to calm down. (8 words)
AFTER: After a while, he calmed down. (6 words)

BEFORE: It seemed that later that night, the monster returned. (9 words)
AFTER: Later that night, the monster returned.  (6 words)

BEFORE: The four elves seemed to cower under the table. (9 words)
AFTER: The four elves cowered under the table.  (7 words)

BEFORE: The nice pigeons seemed to help Cinderella finish the housework. (10 words)
AFTER: The nice pigeons helped Cinderella finish the housework. (8 words)

BEFORE: The deepness of his voice seemed to resonate with prophecy. (10 words)
AFTER: The deepness of his voice resonated with prophecy. (8 words)

BEFORE: He seemed to be trying to intimidate me with his gaze. (11 words)
AFTER: He was trying to intimidate me with his gaze. (9 words)

BEFORE: The warriors were very skilled and seemed to move about like shadows. (12 words)
AFTER: The warriors were very skilled and moved about like shadows. (10 words)

BEFORE: Jacob seemed to shiver from excitement, while Wilhelm continued to look skeptical. (12 words)
AFTER: Jacob shivered from excitement, while Wilhelm continued to look skeptical. (10 words)

BEFORE: The crowded room seemed to fall silent when the singer began his song. (13 words)
AFTER: The crowded room fell silent when the singer began his song.  (11 words)

BEFORE: Ravana seemed to be attacking Rama with every possible supernatural weapon, using all twenty arms. (15 words)
AFTER: Ravana attacked Rama with every possible supernatural weapon, using all twenty arms. (12 words)


For more strategies to use in reducing your word count while improving your writing, see this list: Short and Sweet Writing Strategies.








2 comments:

  1. Funny. I just pointed out something along these lines to someone. They had written "Through the window, he saw the figure of Satia walking across the field." (Obviously, this is not verbatim.) I told her to delete "the figure of" because he saw the person, not a figure of the person. Unless we're talking weeping angels moving and then, c'mon, they don't move when you're looking at them. :P

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  2. Yes, exactly... there are so many ways in which that kind of wordy vagueness can suck the life out of a sentence! What's been hard about writing up these blog posts has been trying to find generalizable ideas that can be applied as a kind of litmus test sentence by sentence. I want to write up something on "don't hedge your bets" (qualifying something with "somewhat" or "a type of" etc. - and this "the figure of" is a related phenomenon I think... avoiding the thing itself as if you were on safer ground by not being direct!).

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