Thursday, May 19, 2011

Get Smart, Get Short or Go Home: Creating Succinct Sentences

“Jesus wept.” John 11:45

There you have it. The Bible, with a raw and beautiful declaration. John got it. Sometimes there’s great power in a succinct sentence. It possesses a rare ability to drive home a point.

Before this Jesus wept verse we are given context, we are rooted. Jesus is saddened and moved by Mary’s reaction to Lazarus in the tomb. John didn’t describe his reaction as so:

The tears Jesus shed slid down like rain, dampening the mud caked on his sandals. He flung his hands to his face and cried a river (cry me a river, isn’t that a Justin Timberlake song?).

John didn’t give us any of that (thank you, John) because he knew the two words “Jesus wept” would not only suffice, but reach deep.

As long as we don’t overdo it and string short sentences together like popcorn Christmas tree decorations, we’ll find that a well-placed clipped sentence will make our readers snap to attention. We might even get a nod or a “Yes” from them while they read.

One of the best pieces of editing advice I’ve received has to do with this point: Get smart, get short or go home. In other words, if you have two words in a sentence that mean relatively the same thing, i.e. “Her voice was layered with hints of deception and dishonesty” cut one word. This sentence would read sharper as “Her voice was layered with hints of deception.” Bam. Done. All she wrote. Second word not needed. You might even wish to simply stick with “Her voice was layered with deception.” Kill those words off like moving ducks at a fairground game.

What about you, do you find ways to get smart and get short so you can stay out and play?
*photo from Flickr


Heather Sunseri said...

Very nicely said, Wendy!

Joanne Sher said...

Great advice, Wendy! So hard to find the balance sometimes.

Mary Vee Writer said...

I agree with you Joanne, balance is difficult. Thanks for calling this to our attention, Wendy:)

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Hi Heather, This was a fun one to write.

Joanne, Absolutely. Variety is good. Mixing it up. I tend to add two similar words and often one can easily be cut.

Mary, I do so appreciate a well-placed clipped sentence. It really grabs me sometimes.

They are fun to play around with...those short sentences.

Thanks for adding your thoughts.
~ Wendy

Sarah Forgrave said...

Wow, powerful example, Wendy! Love this.

Anonymous said...

I LOVE short sentences!

Faith said...

Great post! And John 11:35 is one of my brother's favorite verses!

Anonymous said...


Angie Dicken said...

The run-on sentence is my specialty! My critique partner is great at helping me tune into places where I over do it! I love that story in the Bible, and that sentence. It's really easy to memorize too! HA!
Good post, Wendy!