Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Weekly writing coach: Heave these diminutives out of your writing

I listen with care to the language my personal trainers use.  Sure, their goal is to motivate me to keep trying--but they also choose words to diminish the scary stuff they're prompting me to do. It's easy to understand: If they didn't downplay what's coming next, you might never try it.

Turns out that the language trainers use to make a weightlifting move sound less intimidating are the same diminutives you should be heaving out of your writing.  Anytime my trainers says easy, little, nice, pretty, or very, I'm on alert.  (As in, "How about some nice planks?" or "This one's easy...")

I'm willing to buy what my trainer is selling, but when it comes to reading your prose, I expect more lean muscle and less fluff.  Keep in mind that these aren't just lazy adjectives, but potential signals to your reader that you may be treating the topic with scorn (even if that isn't your intent), dismissing its importance, or signaling that you're being disingenous.  (As in calling something that equals your body weight "little" when you have to lift it.)   They're all also words that may pass in spoken conversation as shorthand, but don't hold their own weight in a written sentence.  That's your heavy lifting for the week.  Why not adjust your spell-check or some other automated monitor to call you on these words as a reminder to root them out and use something more precise and substantial instead?

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