# Writing

# Nuts and bolts

# Branch to the right

Begin sentences with subjects and verbs, letting subordinate elements branch to the right.


  • "Rebels seized control of Cap Haitien, Haiti’s second-largest city, on Sunday, meeting ..."
  • "Police officers and armed supporters of President ..."
  • "A reporter writes a lead sentence with subject and verb at the beginning, followed by ..."
  • "The tide goes out imperceptibly."

If the writer wants to create suspense, or build tension, save the verb until the end.

# Use Strong Verbs

Use of active verbs - always have the subject perform an the action on the verb.

  • Bond climbed the few stairs
  • He looked at his watch
  • Bond gave a shuddering yawn

Avoid the verb qualifiers:

  • Sort of
  • Tend to
  • Kind of
  • Must have
  • Seemed to
  • Could have
  • Use to

# The Voice of Verbs

The “voice” of verbs (active or passive) has nothing to do with the “tense” of verbs. Tense defines action within time, when the verb happens. Voice defines the relationship between subject and verb, who does what.

  • Active verbs move the action and reveal the actors.
  • Passive verbs emphasize the receiver, the victim. “The night was loaded with omens” rather than “Omens loaded the night”
  • The verb “to be” links words and ideas.

# Beware of Adverbs

Adverbs can dilute the meaning of the verb or repeat it.

  • "The blast destroyed the church office." vs "The blast completely destroyed the church office."
  • "The cheerleader gyrated before the screaming fans." vs "The cheerleader gyrated wildly before the screaming fans."
  • "The accident severed the boy’s arm." vs "The accident totally severed the boy’s arm."
  • "The spy peered through the bushes." vs "The spy peered furtively through the bushes."

# The Period as a Stop Sign

Place strong words at the beginning of sentences and paragraphs — and at the end. Any word next to the period says, “Look at me.”

For example: Begin with a good quote. Hide the attribution in the middle. End with a good quote. “It was one horrible thing to watch,” said Helen Amadio, who was walking near her Hampden Avenue home when the crash occurred. “It exploded like a bomb. Black smoke just poured.”

# Parallel Lines

If two or more ideas are parallel they are easier to grasp when expressed in parallel grammatical form.


  • With my stick and my knife, my chalks and my brown paper, I went out on to the great downs.
  • So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania! Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado!

By breaking the pattern, you give even more emphasis to the broken element.

"Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California! [That follows the pattern.] But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia! Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!"

# Cut big, then small

Brevity comes from selection, not compression. That requires lifting whole parts from the work. Cut any passage that does not support the focus of the story. Cut the weakest quotations, anecdotes or scenes to give greater power to the strongest.

# Resources