seducing readers & lovers, one good line at a time:
Not every writer is a natural temptress on the page. However, the secret to potent prose, is not a mystery, and with intense focus and a lot of hard work, anyone can learn to compose lines that will leave readers lounging in bed for hours.
During my twenty-plus years in book publishing, I have read hundreds of fiction and non-fiction manuscripts that can barely breathe, because their narratives are strangled by feeble plain-jane lines such as:
"She got off of the bus and made her way home."
This entire sentence lacks "visual" and emotive impact. The vague and abstract phrase, "made her way (home)", in particular, is painfully unrevealing... like a first date who hangs onto your every word, but says nothing about herself.
Is "She got off of the bus and made her way home", a bad sentence?
Maybe not....but it is far from a charmer. The lack of visual detail and dramatic presence in the line will leave readers stoical, and literary agents and publishers, impotent.
Fiction or non-fiction that relies on semantically weak and inexpressive language such as, "She got off of the bus and made her way home", is destined for a lonely drawer.
Within every limp line there are thousands of powerful alter egos, so I summoned my inner Ty Pennington for a sentence make-over.
To begin, I asked questions:
a- How did she get home?
b- How far away was her home?
c- What kind of weather did she experience as she 'made her way home?
d- What surrounded her as she 'made her way' home? City blocks? Fields and pastures?
e- What was she feeling as she 'made her way' home'?
Answering those questions inspired this makeover:
"Still wearing her interview heels and clutching her purse, she got off of the bus at dusk and began the long walk on the trail through the darkening forest to her home, avoiding the stones and pockmarks along the way with the measured steps of a geisha".
As a reader, agent, or editor, I'd like to know a little more about this girl. She is much more interesting than the one who simply got off the bus and made her way home.
Many writers whose work languishes alone and unloved have succumbed to the myth that the writing process should be 'inspiring'. That belief is as debilitating, as it is untrue.
Sentences that "flow" from a preference for inspiration, over hard work, will skim blithely along the surface of language and life, and are destined to join an ever-growing congregation of life-draining lines, such as 'She got off of the bus and made her way home'.
William Styron once described his work day as 'successful' if he wrote one good paragraph; and the following work day as even more 'successful' if he revised the same paragraph, and made it better.
The secret to writing a powerful sentence is this: become a connoisseur of precise vocabulary and vividly descriptive phrases. Write slowly and selectively.
Don't dash off a ton of lines without looking back. The much-touted experience of "writing in gushes" and "capturing an exciting storyline on the page without interruption!" is highly over-rated, even fatal.
Instead, return often to what you have written, and review every word, and every sentence, to make sure they are as visually-rich and meaningful as they can be.
Above all, treat each line as though it were the last one you will ever write.