Fatty Sentences—or Reducing Prepositional Phrases by Franca Pelaccia

Has an editor recommended you tighten your sentences by reducing excess fat? Have you wondered how when you edited to the bare bones? Think again. Among other things, you may have a case of superfluous prepositional phrases. Deleting them won’t damage the beauty and flow of your well-thought and over-revised sentences or the overall plot. At the same time, your sentences will be stronger. They will flow more fluidly and help the reader better visualize the action and empathize with characters.

A prepositional phrase is a preposition + an article + a noun. Its function is to clarify or provide context. The more of them, the more long-winded or fatty your sentence.

 “In 1982 or 1983, after Zahira finished her Ph.D. dissertation on the Prophet Muhammed and the psychology of Iranian Muslim leaders,we had a falling out about several missing antiquities, and she returned to her home city outside Tehran in Iran.”

The sentence is cluttered with prepositional phrases. Most aren’t relevant to the reader’s understanding of Zahira or the story line of Moses & Mac. I can safely delete them.

“In 1982 or 1983, after Zahira finished her Ph.D. dissertation, we had a falling out and she returned to Iran.”

The sentence is streamlined. The fat was removed without any damage to the meaning.

Sometimes we use a prepositional phrase without the noun. With or without the noun, if the meaning is clear, delete the rest of the phrase.

I liked Rania’s spirit, fully agreed with her, but couldn’t deal with her now.

I liked Rania’s spirit, fully agreed, but couldn’t deal with her now.

End-of-sentence prepositional phrases that use a pronoun instead of a noun can also be omitted if the reference is implied. This applies to any preposition.

Sophie’s mother died twenty years before, but how could I explain it to her?

Sophie’s mother died twenty years before, but how could I explain it?

Did Prince Khalid expect me to sympathize with him?

Did Prince Khalid expect me to sympathize?

“So, tell us why we should be worried about them?”

“So, tell us why we should be worried?”

Avoid dangling end-of-sentence prepositions if they have no grammatical function.

The cave is where Sara put the antiquities in.

The cave is where Sara put the antiquities.

Better yet: Sara put the antiquities in the cave.

Other ways to cut prepositional-phrase fat? Rewrite those that indicate possession.

The door to the cockpit was semi-opened.

The cockpit door was semi-opened.

Or use the possessive form if possible.

“The whereabouts of the rod was sent to the niece of Professor Sara Braden.”

“The rod’s whereabouts was sent to Professor Sara Braden’s niece.”

Avoid repeating prepositions and/or articles after a conjunction if you can.

I ran to the cave and to the tunnel.

I ran to the cave and tunnel.

 If your sentence is in the passive form, rewrite it to the active for clarity and impact.

Moses’ rod was found by Sara Braden during the 1990s.

Sara Braden found Moses rod during the 1990s.

Final word of prepositional phrase slimming advice: check if you need it. And, yes, I’ve unknowingly done this in my writing.

Mackenzie held the figurine in her hand.

Mackenzie held the figurine.

(I would have told the reader if Mackenzie held it in her mouth or ear or between her toes.)

By reducing surplus prepositional phrases your sentences will be stronger, flow more fluidly, and help the reader better visualize the action. You’ll have a slimmer sentence and one very happy editor.

Moses & Mac by Franca Pelaccia

Buy this book!

On her dismal 30th birthday, unassuming Victorian scholar Mackenzie Braden receives a mysterious package from her Aunt Sara, urging her to locate Moses’ rod. The most powerful weapon in history will start global chaos if it lands in the wrong hands. Sara was an agent for the top-secret Vatican Archaeological Service. She has also been dead for 30 years and the agency dormant for just as long. Mackenzie’s only clue is a souvenir figurine of Moses, and except for hunky ex-military pilot Eoin Reilly, her allies are as inept as she is.

But nothing is going to stop Mackenzie from recharging her lacklustre life, fulfilling her mission, finding answers about her aunt, and making Eoin her birthday present. Armed with the figurine, Mackenzie sets off with Eoin for the Middle East. There she has to fend off a Ph.D. candidate turned terrorist, a dysfunctional family of treasure hunters, a fake Mossad operative, a manic former VAS agent, the underground tunnels of the Gaza Strip, and a whole lot of rocket launchers. But this is training for the ultimate confrontation with her aunt’s and now her greatest foe, a charming deposed Saudi prince with world domination on his mind.

Franca Pelaccia is the author of Moses & Mac, a woman’s action/adventure (or what some call “chicklit”) and the first book of the Vatican Ar...