Whittling Words

“Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say ‘infinitely’ when you mean ‘very.’ Otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.” C.S. Lewis

Wordy writing — we’ve all been guilty of it: We are carried away with a description or an idea and before we know it, our prose become pudgy. I’m dealing with this right now in the latest revision of my children’s novel. I’m making major structural changes that involve building up some of my characters and well, some of my paragraphs are getting overstuffed. Right now, I’m just steaming ahead, but sometime soon, I’m going to have to trim it down.

When I do, I’m going to turn to Gail Radley, an English teacher and the author of 23 books. In “Cut the Fat: How to make your writing lean and mean,” a recent article in The Writer magazine (July, 2017), she offered some helpful tips:*

Don’t cut prematurely: “Targeting and removing excess is an essential revision activity — but worrying about it as you compose can choke the flow of thoughts.”

Cut in Waves: “Because we are used to speaking, seeing, and writing excess, it usually takes multiple passes to notice and cut the fat from a manuscript. These passes are best done over several days, so each scan feels fresh. If you can set aside the manuscript for a month, all the better.”

Adhere to a word count:  “Having to adhere to a strict word count is helpful as it forces you to question each word and phrase (So, by the way, does writing poetry; I recommend it as an exercise even if it isn’t your preferred genre.)”

Cut strategically and incisively:  “Cutting excess may allow for more ideas. Even if you don’t have a word limit, challenge yourself to cut 300 words from a manuscript of 1,000 without losing content.”

Use words, not phrases:  “Make it a rule to substitute a word for a phrase.” Example: Change “You and I see the same movie” to “We see the same movie.”

Revision is challenging, but the leaner our prose is the easier it is for our readers to absorb our ideas and keep moving through our stories. Write on!

* For more helpful revision tips, check out the full article, “Cut the Fat” in the July 2017 issue of The Writer.

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About karinwritesdangerously

I am a writer and this is a motivational blog designed to help both writers and aspiring writers to push to the next level. Key themes are peak performance, passion, overcoming writing roadblocks, juicing up your creativity, and the joys of writing.
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