On the piano, Jason and Sara show how four hands can be better than two.
If you’re inclined to string together long sentences, keep in mind that today’s audience likes “short and sweet” as long as the information flows smoothly from one action to the next.
Here are some great words from The Lake House by James Patterson
He straightened his tall body and wearily passed his hand over his longish blond hair, cleaned his wire-rimmed glasses on the tail of his lab coat, then rubbed his eyes before putting his glasses back on as he descended to the subbasement level.
What we might see for an improved version:
He stood straight and wearily brushed his fingers through the entire length of his curly hair. Using the tail of his lab coat, he cleaned his wire-rimmed glasses. After rubbing his eyes and putting his glasses back on, he descended to the subbasement level.
Logic for making improvements:
- “He straightened his tall body” is an observer’s description. If he is our point-of-view character and we want to see through his eyes, we can’t make that observation. We can only say what he can see and sense. Better: He stood straight . . .
- What kind of picture does “wearily passed his hand” create? Did he wave his hand above his head like a magic wand? No, he must have run his fingers through his hair. Therefore, the verb “brushed” is better than “passed”: . . . and wearily brushed with his fingers . . .
- “Over his longish blond hair” has the same issue. Even if he was staring at a mirror, the color of his hair is something he already knows. We need to leave out “blond.”
- How long is “longish” hair? Since it could be anywhere between three and twelve inches, the word has no ability to create for readers the same picture that the author has in mind. A stronger approach is to give readers a feel of the length through his action. . . . through the entire length of his curly hair.
- The order of “cleaned his wire-rimmed glasses on the tail of his lab coat” has him taking the action without yet knowing what he took the action with. Better: Using the tail of his lab coat, he cleaned his wire-rimmed glasses.
- All these verbs—“straightened,” “passed,” “cleaned,” “rubbed,” “putting,” and “descended”—is a lot of work for one sentence. Two sentences would be good. Three might be better, with “stood straight” and “brushed” in the first sentence, “cleaned” in the second, and “rubbed,” “put,” and “descended” in the third.
- We need the third sentence to focus on his precaution before going down the stairs. After rubbing his eyes and putting his glasses back on, he descended to the subbasement level.
When multiple words independently modify a noun, do not use a hyphen.
- The tired old man took a seat.
- The gardener’s purple and white irises bloomed every June.
Instead of two iris colors, if the gardener had just one variety, which had purple-and-white petals, we need the hyphen to create a combination color.
- For discussion, the facilitator asked open-ended questions.
- The puppy was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
Excluding adverbs, which are a special case, try leaving out one of the two modifiers. If the statement is still true, then the words modify the noun separately and no hyphen is needed. In the examples above, we don’t have “ended questions” that are open. For the puppy, leaving out any of the hyphenated parts changes the picture we have of the puppy, so the hyphens are needed.
With no hyphen, the -ly adverbs can join an adjective in modifying a noun.
- Jan held her perfectly tuned violin against her chin.
- Jack had been exposed to a highly contagious disease.
Adverb phrases that don’t end in -ly should be hyphenated before but not after a noun. In print, you may often see this rule ignored.
- The girl was well liked because of her more-aggressive personality./li>
When age descriptions stand alone they get no hyphen, but they always get hyphens when they modify a noun. The compound numbers twenty-one through ninety-nine are always hyphenated.
- John will be forty-seven this year.
- Susie was four years old when she started kindergarten.
- Seven-year-old Johnny thought recess was the best part of school.