A blog on reading, writing and life

Monday, February 2, 2015

Sound Awarness in Sentence-Level Revision

People often talk about sentence level-revision in really vague terms. I write a lot of sentences that have strong action verbs and no unnecessary words, but still sound flat. I went searching and found this pretty interesting style guide on Necessary Fiction.
  • Value nouns and verbs over adjectives and especially adverbs.
  • Value consonants over vowels.
  • Value hard consonants (e.g. k) over soft consonants (e.g. g).
  • Value words of one syllable over words of two syllables over words of three syllables, etc. Though precision is important, and sometimes the right word is the longer word.
  • Each sentence should include more stressed syllables than unstressed syllables (a la Lish).
  • A sentence with a masculine ending (stressed syllable) sounds stronger than one with a feminine ending (unstressed syllable).
  • Avoid using the word was when possible. A lot of this has to do with using the right action verb.
  • Avoid introductory clauses (e.g. Closing my eyes, I smiled) except when used as time or location markers (At five o’clock, When I got back from the store, In the supermarket).
  • Using common words, or colloquial words, in new ways, is more interesting than using uncommon words in normal ways.
  • Avoid “begin” or “start” or intermediate actions (e.g. I began to sing. He started walking. He got up from the couch and went to the door. Just write: I sing. He walked. He went to the door.)
  • Value consonance and assonance over alliteration.
  • In almost all instances, use “say” or “ask” instead of other dialogue tags.
 While I've heard many of these before, (use "say" as often as possible for a dialogue tag, avoid the word "was"), the advice on stresses and consonant sounds is new to me. I'll have to try revising with these things in mind. 


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Nice blog. :)

    Yeah, I agree with what you said about "phonetic syllabification" not being a common guideline. I've read before that fricatives and plosives are to be preferred psychologically, but I'd be skeptical about casting every sentence with such in mind along side countless other standards, versus trying to edit a work once over with such in mind after it is done, and then for example editing it again with other rhetorical devices in mind. The latter seems a lot more intuitively practical.

    I liked what they said about alliteration, as well. Like with any literary device, human expectation should be a defining tool with which a writer crafts a story.