How to write sharper sentences

For a lot of people, the hardest part about writing is getting their thoughts on paper. And really, it sometimes can be a challenge to transfer precisely what you’re thinking into words. Communicating succinctly takes some effort and a lot of practice, but above all, it requires patience.

One secret to writing well is paying attention to words—make each one count. Of course when you write a first draft, whether it be a book, a paper or a blog post, no one expects perfection. (After all, that’s why second and third and tenth drafts exist!) But once you’ve written all your thoughts down in the form of an initial draft, you should go back and do a more thorough inspection of your words by ensuring each sentence is using the best, most sharpest ones possible.

What do I mean by sharp? I mean the words that do the best job of communicating your meaning. And doing this isn’t difficult at all. In fact, it’s a rather easy process.

First, be specific with your nouns. Instead of “The dog barked up the tree,” you could say “The collier barked up the willow.” See how such a subtle change makes such a vast difference in the picture that the latter sentence paints? See how much more vividly you envision it? How the change helps define the setting? Whereas the former leaves you…well, guessing?

Next, pay attention to your verbs. Don’t write “bark” if you mean “growl.” And beware of the boring “to be” verbs like was, is, am, were, etc., when more colorful/appropriate ones can replace them. Why, you might ask. Well, because each word carries its own meaning—even words that mean exactly the same thing (otherwise known as synonyms). Think about talk versus babble. One is simply the act of conversing while the other carries a rushed, almost incoherent quality.

To be a super clever writer, you should use nouns and verbs to your advantage in conveying emotion, setting or mood. For example, in a scene where a wife gets a phone call saying her husband has been shot, instead of saying “She sat down on the sofa,” you could (and should) paint a more powerful picture by saying “She collapsed onto the setee.” Notice how we alter both the noun (sofa) and verb (sat) to create a more vivid description of both setting and emotion. Collapsed indicates devastation and settee adds detail that helps you better envision the room. If we said she collapsed into a loveseat or bean bag, you (and your reader) will envision different settings based on these descriptions.

So go back through your writing, choose your nouns and verbs wisely, and I promise they’ll work even harder for you. Not great with vocabulary? No problem—start with an online Thesaurus like For the more commonly used words, be on the lookout for my synonyms cheat sheet—to be released soon!

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