Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Creative Writing for Bloggers: Power Words

Ask any writer, and they'll name dozens of ways to hone a manuscript or post--weeding adjectives, eliminating unintentional rhyme, varying sentence length (and reducing the number of words that end in "ing"). Before I publish a post, I do a little trick. I tuck a power word at the end of almost every sentence. This is called "backloading."

A power word has muscles, instantly summoning a memory, image, or visceral reaction.
 If you load a strong word at the end of a sentence, you may entice the reader to continue.

Look at these sentences. 
A. Grilling is something men like to do.
B. Grilling is the realm of men. Fire, alchemy, smoke, magic.

In sentence "A," the word "do" is weak and flabby. Sentence B paints a small, succinct picture.  Vivid words ignite the imagination: realm, fire, alchemy, smoke, magic.  
Here's another example:
(A) "My husband begs for pie once a month."
(B) "Once a month, my husband begs for lemon pie."

Sentence "A" has a noun at the end, but it's still a trainwreck. The order is confusing and stilted. Sentence "B" is clearer (though a naughty mind wonders why the husband is begging. Is he on a diet? Or hungry? Maybe the wife is tired of baking. Me, I'd like to substitute pie for something more colorful. Can you think of something?
"Once a month, my husband begs for ____)."

Maybe the wife stopped baking pies because she was madder than hell:
(A) "Last year, Nora was productive--quilting, baking pies, and digging in her garden." 
(B) "Before the skank stole Nora's husband, she'd spent the summer baking lemon pies, planting zinnias, and dreaming of murder."

Let's make it harder.

(A) "Food is nourishment, but it is also fraught with emotions."
The sentence doesn't end on a weak note; but it's vague. What kind of emotions? Spite or glee?

(B) "Food is nourishment, but it is also fraught with emotions--love, happiness, repugnance, hate."
A little better.

 Pronouns and prepositions have been demonized by grammarians, especially when a stray "from" or "to" appears at the end of a sentence. But if a vague preposition or weak noun can't be changed, don't force it. You could upset the rhythm and cadence of the whole paragraph.
Not all sentences should end with muscle. A writer's voice is far more important than an athletic word. Always, always let your voice shine through the page.
"If this isn't magic, I don't know what is."
"What is my heart telling me?" Lulu asked herself. But she already knew the answer.
Her heart said to quit being a lazy bitch and paint that wardrobe.

Even in the middle of a sentence, power words can move heavy furniture.

On the other hand, always try to end a paragraph with strength. 
When power words fit, they keep the eye moving.

"At family gatherings, Aunt Dell liked to read tabloid magazines. She'd sit on a bar stool, one leg swinging wildly. "Listen up," she said. "Elvis is alive, being held against his will in a Memphis basement."
"He's dead," my husband told her. "A colleague helped perform the autopsy."

"Many hundreds of years ago, when I was a small child in the Mississippi Delta, I ate mud pies."

"Tuck a sprig of rosemary into your husband's shoe, and he might be faithful. Then again, it might only cure his smelly feet."

Have fun with words.


  1. Oh Michael Lee, thank you for the insight into an author's magic bag of tricks!

  2. Great advice! Thanks for posting. I did get a bit of a chuckle out of "skank." Now that's a story that I want to read.

  3. Thank you so much for this post! As an avid reader and writer, this advice was very helpful.

  4. Thanks for the wonderful writing tips! I found them very helpful. I hope that you are having a beautiful week!!!

  5. Great information and advise. Thanks so much.

  6. Thanks for the tips and beautiful examples. You have a gift that I do not think I have. But I will try:)

  7. This is very thought provoking! Great tips and advice!

  8. This is just perfect. Fantastic writing tips. I'm going to practice them on my blog straight away. I know I use the passive voice too much, and now I will work hard to get those powers words in there too. Thankyou!

  9. A fun post with solid advice... However, I need to practice because as I sit here writing a comment, no last strong words or sentence order comes to mind.


  10. Will you write my next blog post? LOL
    Great advice, and I will practice :-)

  11. Michael Lee, Where can I sign up for your creative writing class? You know I've always loved how you paint a picture with your words and I'm still wondering what happened to Teeny :) I love your pretty petal strewn notebook and binder clips too. ♥

  12. Excellent tips! Reading the examples was illuminating.