prepositional phrases

Here’s one of the little tricks I use when I’m editing or critiquing fiction or creative non-fiction for a friend:

Judge each prepositional phrase with no mercy in your heart.

I have had students whose work bristled with excess prepositional phrases, veritable hedgehog paragraphs that gave even courageous readers the prickles. For some reason, the worst prepositional phrase excesses tend to congregate at the caboose of the sentence. It’s as if the writer just can’t separate himself from the newly hatched thought and must stick around and pet it for a while, dressing it up just a little more before he moves on to the next thought.

My guess is that you could pick up most novels, almost any novel you’ve got hanging around and find occasional paragraphs that are infested and need treatment. Now, I am not a minimalist. I can appreciate the occasional Raymond Carver story, but in general, I don’t get the urge to reread them. So this isn’t me telling you to cut cut cut every word you can possibly do without, and some you can’t. I like prose, I like description but still: every word has to earn its place in the sentence.