Saturday, November 8, 2008

Writing and editing for energy

I was going through some writing stuff from the Nieman narrative editors conference and came across a handout from Connie Hale.*

She writes about editing out 'is' and other static verbs and offers this good before/after example of a story from Wired magazine.

Before: "It is nearly noon on a cool (temperature 66 degrees), dry (humidity 21 degrees), high-desert day. The azurescent New Mexican sky hangs languidly over a flat, antediluvian landscape. It is broken to the East by the glowering granite of the Sandia Mountains and off to the North by the shimmering hills that lie past the Rio Grande River, and mount up to the Jemez Mountains and Los Alamos beyond."

After: "At noon on a cool, high-desert day, the azure New Mexican sky hangs languidly over a low, antediluvian landscape. To the east, the granite of the Sandia Mountains flower darkly; to the north, the hills past the Rio Grande shimmer as they rise to meet the Jemez Mountains and Los Alamos beyond."

I wouldn't point to the 'after' version as an example of great writing necessarily. But focus on what happened to the verbs, and thus to the energy of the paragraph, when the two uses of 'It is' came out.

Writers, you can learn to catch yourselves using 'is' and other static verbs, which will you write less imperially and more vividly, more in the moment. Editors, you can keep an eye and an ear out for those sluggish passages and help bring life to a sentence, graf or story.




*head of narrative program at Nieman, author of "Sin & Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose."