In English “wooden writing” means language that is stiff, lifeless, stilted and dull. Nobody ever talks about “mountain stream writing” but I suppose it’s the opposite of wooden. Good writing has the freshness, movement and clarity of clear water running down a hill.
So, how do we become mountain stream writers? Here are a few ideas.
Put movement into your writing
Varying your sentence structures is a good way to avoid stiffness. Repeating the same structures, over and over, reads like the deh-deh-deh-deh of a train. Compare these two examples to see how structure can be changed.
The red car was parked outside Julie’s house all night. Julie was worried because it looked like her grandfather’s car. He was on his holiday and he drove his car to the airport on Tuesday. The airport was ten miles away from her house. Why was his car parked outside her house?
Julie’s grandfather drove his car to the airport on Tuesday, then left for his holiday. A very similar vehicle was now outside her house and had been parked there all night, worrying Julie. The car should be ten miles away. Why was it here?
All the sentences in the “before” example are straightforward statements in the past simple tense. Possession is always indicated with “his/her.”
In the “after” example there’s a little more variety. “Had been parked” is in the past perfect passive tense. Possession is shown with “his/her” and the Saxon genitive “Julie’s.”
Modernise (freshen) your vocabulary
Be careful with formal, old fashioned words. They’re great in historical novels, poetry and for comedic effect, but not when sharing information with a general readership.
How do we know if a word is formal or old fashioned? Read your writing aloud. If a word is very long, difficult to pronounce, or never used in the speech of your intended readers, consider replacing it.
There is a wonderful list of archaic words on the Oxford dictionaries website.
Visit the Campaign for Plain English website for more about choosing words that communicate quickly and efficiently.
Shorten very long sentences when appropriate
Compare these three sentences.
It was a serendipitous happening, a marvellous occasion, an event completely unexpected in the life of Mr Smith the butcher — he had at long last been awarded a prize in the vegetable show for his gargantuan marrow. (37 words)
Mr Smith the butcher was happy and surprised because his very large marrow won a prize at the vegetable show. (20 words)
The butcher Mr Smith won a vegetable show prize for his giant marrow. It was unexpected and wonderful. (18 words)
The first sentence might be okay for fiction but is too long for something that people want to read quickly. Imagine a public information leaflet about Aussie Flu written in 37-word-long sentences. Nobody would read it!