How To Cut the Clutter and Win Readers
Most of us hate housework.
Nevertheless, even the most hopeless slobs amongst us would agree that we love having a clean, organised house. It looks more inviting. It's easy to find what you want, when you want it. If only it didn't take so much time to get it that way!
If you're lucky enough to have a cleaner, then you've solved the problem. It's someone else's job to clean up and get rid of the dust and the mess. Most of us don't have that luxury. If we want a clean and clutter-free environment, we have to work to get it that way.
It's exactly the same when it comes to writing. If you want a fresh, clutter-free piece of text - you have to clean it up yourself. Readers don't like to be surrounded by clutter any more than you do.
What Is "Clutter"?
"Clutter" in writing may be described as anything that clogs up the channel between the writer's imagination and the reader's experience. If you have a hard time identifying what is clutter and what isn't, use these points to guide you.
Gasping for air, Marcy raced through the dark green forest, not daring to look behind her in her state of raw panic. Tripping on a protruding root she half-fell, but recovered quickly and maintained her reckless headlong course through the knotted vines and lashing branches that were taking evil swipes at her as she ran. She had to get away from her pursuers.
"Ouch!" she yelped as yet another branch attacked her, the 'thwack' of its savage assault echoing through the half-light. Almost falling again she managed to recover, grabbing on to a handy nearby swinging vine to save herself. Wishing she had never set out on this trip, she decided to stop to catch her breath. Taking the opportunity to look around, she suddenly saw a strange plant, its leaves an odd mottled purple that was at odds with all the greenery that surrounded it on every side. What a strange plant, she thought.
Going over to take a closer look, she was intrigued by the way the plant seemed to be in a space of its own. No other plants grew close in the dim light of the forest; this one was entirely by itself.What's Wrong With The Above Scene?
Plenty! I'm amazed you've persevered this far. (It made me nauseous just having to write it.) Okay, I've exaggerated the problems in the above excerpt somewhat to make my point - but I've seen worse. Much worse, actually.
Here are some of the problems in the scene I created:
(c) copyright Marg McAlister
Marg McAlister has published magazine articles, short stories, books for children, ezines, promotional material, sales letters and web content. She has written 5 distance education courses on writing, and her online help for writers is popular all over the world. Sign up for her regular writers' tipsheet at http://www.writing4success.com/
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COULD YOU (not) REPEAT THAT PLEASE?
I recently read a book where everything was akimbo. Arms were akimbo, legs were akimbo. Akimbo appeared on every page. Okay every page is a slight exaggeration, but akimbo was in every chapter more than once. I started thinking of the hero in the book as Adam West's posturing Batman persona. Every writer is guilty of the akimbo type of repetitiveness once in awhile. Most of the time we're not even aware that we're echoing ourselves. How do these unconscious akimbo dittos creep into our work? The English language is so rich with descriptors, why would we rob our manuscripts of the warmth and color that this richness brings to our work? Simply put -- we're lazy. When the afore mentioned writer was feverishly scribbling away on her book, she arrived at a moment when her character took a stance, and the first word that popped into her head was akimbo. Writing akimbo was easier than it would be to stop the flow of her writing and come up with a different way of saying akimbo. The only problem is instead of going back to edit out ninety percent of the akimbos, she left them in and it became a distraction to the reader (and humorous to me, which I'm sure wasn't her intention). Don't let yourself get lazy. Go through your work and get rid of repetitive words. Especially if they're words like akimbo that are not used in everyday conversation. If you need help, go to the Georgetown Linguistics website and use their frequency index tool (see the web address below). Copy your text into the box provided and click on the "Do it!" button. This website will give you a list of every word and how many times it was used in your manuscript. I would suggest (and this is just my opinion) that if you discover that you've used akimbo more than twenty-nine times, get rid of all but one of them. By the way akimbo appears 13 times in this passage. Annoying wasn't it!
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