In my last post, we saw the importance of Showing and Telling, and how adding the right amount of details for the right reasons can help immerse the reader in your story. I would like to follow this lesson by taking a look at the principle of Word Economy.
I found this quote on the subject, which I felt was appropriate:
"So the writer who breeds more words than he needs is making a chore for the reader who reads." ~ Dr. Seuss
I will admit needing more practice when it comes to wording my thoughts. My case can probably be accounted to the fact English isn’t my first language, causing me to occasionally create length in my descriptions from lacking of a better word. My wife (bless her patient heart) will also testify that I can be long winded when retelling stories. So I will be taking this lesson seriously, in the hopes to improve my writing.
Word Economy is essential in places where size limits are in effect, especially in the likes of newspapers and magazines, where space is charged by the letter. Authors thinking of self-publishing may also wish to take this into consideration, as cutting back a few pages means saving on production costs.
Working with restrictions.
The point of Word Economy is not to cut back on what you are trying to say, but to reduce the amount of words needed to convey the same message. By being more concise, your writing will not only be easier to understand, but will be less of a hassle for the audience to go through, therefore increasing their interest and sense of immersion.
In order to avoid being too verbose, there are two areas an author can edit their text: content and wording.
In regards to content, if you find cutting a paragraph, page or chapter has no impact on the overall story, then odds are it needs to be removed. When editing your work, remember what the point of the story is and judge if the content leads the readers to it, or drags them away. Seeing your hard work hit the editing room floor is never easy, but is often necessary in the bigger picture.
Sometimes merging content can help reduce the size of your work. In my case, my book had six main protagonists which I managed to bring down to four by merging three of them. The final result was one solid character, as opposed to three weak ones.
In regards to wording, the point is to tighten one’s writing by eliminating unnecessary words. Using embellishing details may enrich the subject matter, but adding too much will cause the point to be lost in the verbiage. An author’s goal is to get their ideas across by employing the appropriate vocabulary while making their work as concise as possible.
Professionals recommend not worrying about Word Economy while writing your first draft, as it simply slows you down and stress over details. Concentrate on getting the writing done, then go through it for editing purposes. Common issues linked to improper wording are listed below.
- Vague Expressions: Avoid using lengthy descriptions instead of one precise word to explain a concept. Examples:
- He said in a low, soft voice / He whispered
- Recurring multiple times / Recurring often
- Happened on a few occasions / Happened occasionally
- He walked on unsteadily / He staggered on
- Redundancies: Avoid using words that have the same meaning or communicate the same effect. Examples:
- Safe Haven
- First Priority
- Broken Shard
- Join Together
- Clichés: Avoid using familiar expressions when individual words will suffice. If a cliché is required for your story, try modifying it to fit your theme. Example:
- Rendered null and void / Negated
- It was a step in the right direction / It was progress
- The results left much to be desired / The results were unsatisfactory
- These are a dime a dozen / These are cheap
- Strong Verbs: Avoid using the passive tense when possible. Try replacing passive verbs with active ones. The right verb can properly describe the action without the need of an adjective or adverb accompanying it. Example:
- He was taught by the teacher / The teacher taught him
- The cargo was loaded by the workers / The workers loaded the cargo
- The building had been completely destroyed by fire / Fire had ravaged the building
- The dog was verbally punished by his owner / The owner scolded his dog
- Excessive Clarification: Avoid using obvious, over-specific descriptions. These can often be spotted containing “of the” within them. Examples:
- The door of the car was open / The car door was open
- It fell through the window of the house / It fell through the house window
- Employees from the film agency / Film agency employees
- He is responsible for the filing of the taxes / He is responsible for filing the taxes
- Exaggerated Embellishing: Avoid using an abundance of descriptive words or it will bog down the text. Leave some interpretation to the audience's imagination. Example:
- The blue sky and green fields were a beautiful sight / The sky and fields were a beautiful sight
- The young teen was extremely hungry for his snack of choice / The teen was ravenous for his favorite snack
- We clumsily rolled down the old, creaky stairs / We tumbled down the archaic stairs
- The old soldier gave a big, warm smile at the young child / the veteran gleamed at the infant
- Filters: Avoid using words that serve to announce an action, otherwise known as a filter. In some cases, we do not need to broadcast an event, but simply to let it happen. Example:
- John felt something touch his leg / Something touched John’s leg
- Ana began researching on the subject / Ana researched the subject
- Carter started running to the exit / Carter ran to the exit
- Vivian looked at the rising water level around her / The water level was rising around Vivian
- Intensifiers: Avoid using words whose only purpose is to increase the value of another word, without adding anything to the description. Most common offenders for this are “very” and “really”. Example:
- Very Loud / Deafening
- Really Big / Huge
- Very Fast / Quick,
- Really Slow / Lethargic
- Literary Crutches: Some words are deemed meaningless, as they are viewed as the written version of a verbal pause (i.e. “ummm”). We hear these words every day, but never really thought about how to get around without using them. The most common ones are “that”, “could” and “there”. Example:
- I believe that is true / I believe it’s true
- He could feel the knife in his back / He felt the knife in his back
- There is a room beyond this door / A room is beyond this door
- It was nowhere that it could be seen / it was nowhere to be seen
By mastering the Show don’t Tell technique from my previous lesson, along with today’s Word Economy lesson, I believe I will be on the correct path to improve my writing to a much more professional sounding degree. I hope this post helped you in some fashion.
That is all for today, until next time.
(edited February 10th, 2016)
(edited February 10th, 2016)