Eliminating prepositional phrases

I’m in the process of editing my current novel and looking for ways to make my writing better. One way to reduce words and clarify meaning is to identify and eliminate as many prepositional phrases as possible.

For example, in the above sentence, “in the process of” is a prepositional phrase. I could just as easily say, I’m editing my current novel.

When writing, I listen to the voice in my head, putting words down as I hear them. That doesn’t make them golden, or darlings I’m reluctant to kill. That makes them patterns of speech I hear in my head. My job as a writer is to edit those patterns for clarity.

One way to spot prepositional phrases is to look for the following words, which are often used in prepositional phrases:

about                       below              in spite of                  regarding
above                       beneath          instead of                  since
according to           beside             into                             through
across                      between         like                              throughout
after                         beyond           near                            to
against                    but                   of                                toward
along                       by                     off                              under
amid                        concerning     on                             underneath
among                     down               on account of         until
around                    during             onto                         up
at                              except             out                            upon
atop                         for                    out of                       with
because of              from                outside                     within
before                      in                     over                          without
behind                     in front of      past                          with regard to

Here are some examples from the first chapter in my current novel.

Herb’s stomach could no longer handle food. Just the thought of it sent him to the refrigerator in search of another beer.
Better: Just the thought sent him searching for another beer.

The residents of Aspen Grove don’t talk.
Better: Aspen Grove residents don’t talk.

We can sit in front of the fire and make snowflakes.
Better: We can sit by the fire and make snowflakes.

Rows of fat becomes fat rows. The decision of Abbie’s mother becomes Abbie’s mother’s decision. In an efficient manner becomes efficiently.

As you eliminate prepositional phrases, you’ll discover verbs and adverbs become stronger. For example, Abbie responded to the allegations with vehemence becomes Abbie responded vehemently to the allegations, resulting in less words to wade through and a clearer picture of Abbie.

In Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us, Jessica Page Morrell describes too many prepositions as “the carbohydrates of writing.” She gives the following examples to streamline your work:
went up in flames: burned
at a later date: later
drew to a close: ended
in the vicinity of: near

You get the picture, simple and concise. Too many prepositional phrases put distance between important words and dull your writing.

The next time you sit down to edit, besides looking for ly words, to be, and redundant sentences, keep an eye open for excessive prepositional phrases. You’ll be surprised how much better your story will be.
-Bonnie Dodge

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