The Pyramid for Powerful Writing
By Martin Wiles
As writers, we aim for powerful writing. And as editors, we want to help other writers realize dynamic writing as well. But how? A simple pyramid will help.
Every day, I read sentences that lack zing—ones I’ve written or edited for other writers. I appeal to my vocabulary, the built-in thesaurus in Microsoft Word, Microsoft Editor, and Grammarly. And of course, Miriam Webster always avails herself. But I’m wasting my time if I don’t know the pyramid that will make the writing more powerful. My writing and the person’s devotion, article, or manuscript I’m editing will fall short.
Rather than start at the bottom and work our way up, let’s start at the top and wind down, beginning with the most important words.
The Vivid Verb
Of all the parts of speech, the verb is the most important. We must have one to have a sentence, but not all stand on equal footing. At the theater or on YouTube, the right word might not be that essential. After all, we can see what the screenwriter wants. But on paper, words help us see, and of those words, verbs sit on a glorious throne. Without vivid ones, writing slows almost to a halt.
John can walk to the store, but he can also hobble. Now, I see him with a limp and perhaps using a cane or crutches. I wonder what happened to him that put him in that position. An entire range of pictures dance through my mind.
The Specific Noun
Subjects (nouns) are also necessary for a sentence to exist. But like verbs, all nouns are not of equal value. Common nouns are persons, places, or things. But proper nouns are specific persons, places, or things.
The main character can own a large dog, or he can own a German Shepherd, Doberman, or Rottweiler. Our stories will paint a beautiful picture when the noun is specific and the verb vivid.
The Acting Adjective
Adjectives describe or modify our nouns. We won’t need many of them when we use vivid verbs and specific nouns, but they help dress up our sentences.
The Announcing Adverb
Adverbs get a bad rap—and they are frequently overused. Some are necessary, but not the ones—often those ending in ly—that we use to prop up poor verbs and boring nouns.
Adverbs that announce time and place (when, where) prove essential. However, we should replace the -ly ones that crutch a boring verb. A nurse can walk quietly into a patient’s room, but it’s better if she tiptoes.
When we start at the top of the pyramid and scale our way down, we’ll write powerful fiction and nonfiction—and help others do the same.
Martin Wiles is the founder of Love Lines from God (www.lovelinesfromgod.com) and serves as Managing Editor for Christian Devotions and as a copy editor for Courier Publishing. He has authored six books and has been published in numerous publications. He is a freelance editor, English teacher, author, and pastor.