***AuthorTube Special*** The Wordiness Conundrum: Part II
So, here we are. It's 2021, we have a mountain of writing goals for the year ahead and an arsenal of new strategies to tackle them with. Unfortunately, those of us who've tried the "new year, new me" mentality know that our worst habits tend to drizzle into January 1st from December 31st. In short:
wordy writer in 2020 = wordy writer in 2021
Let's be real. Those of us who struggle with wordiness will probably continue to struggle until extensive guidance and practice drill it out of us. But we all need a starting place, so check out Part I of The Wordiness Conundrum for my first batch of fiction word-cutting tips, and for the second, keep reading!
1. No Instructions Necessary
Imagine this: a girl sits at a table with an empty chair in front of her, when a friend appears in the room and joins her. Now, to describe this action, you could include any of the following steps:
- friend appears in doorway
- friend walks across room
- friend pulls out chair
- friend sits in chair
- friend scoots chair up to table
I've caught myself using this instruction-manual style to mention every step of an action—and not only in long phrases but in shorter ones like, "He raised his left hand to scratch his nose." Now, unless it's significant, who cares that he raised his left hand? In fact, who cares that he "raised his hand" at all? Readers are smart cookies—I'm sure they're aware that you can't scratch your nose without fingers, and since your fingers don't typically hang out at your nose, that requires raising your hand.
For basic actions, keep things simple. "A girl is sitting at a table when her friend comes and joins her." "He scratched his nose." That's all you need, so leave out the step-by-step instructions.
2. Leave Some Space Between the Lines
Similar idea, different purpose. Sometimes it's necessary to hand the reader a silver platter of pertinent facts, but sometimes it's better to let them think it out. Leaving some spaces in your prose can actually engage the reader more, requiring them to dig in, pay closer attention, and connect the dots you give them.
For example, instead of:
"I always find some excuse not to go to Lizzy's dance recitals: I dread them because they're boring and I don't care about dance. I think David feels the same way, but he never misses them because he's a very kind and conscientious person."
"I always find some excuse not to go to Lizzy's dance recitals: I dread them. I think David feels the same way, but he's never missed a single one."
The reader can glean more than you think from this sentence. They learn that Lizzy's dance recitals aren't that enjoyable for some reason. They also learn that David must be a very kind and conscientious person if he always attends these recitals even though he doesn't enjoy them. Therefore:
space between the lines = inferences for the readers to make = more engaged readers
3. Worldbuilding: When to Tell It Like It Is
Sometimes I try so hard to deliver worldbuilding details in creative, roundabout ways that I tack on a bajillion extra words, bog the story down, and sacrifice clarity for creativity. There are times (many, actually) when effective worldbuilding means integrating details inexplicitly, but sometimes it's better to just explain things head-on.
Brandon Sanderson does a great job of this. His worlds are VAST, and if he tried to explain every facet of them in clever underhanded doses, his books would be 20 000 pages long instead of 1200. Plus, the reader would be exhausted from trying to piece every little thing together. Sometimes we just want the author to say, "This is the way things are, and this is why. Moving on."
4. Be RUTHLESS (especially with adjectives/adverbs)
For real, y'all. If you don't need it, cut it. If it's not an earth-shatteringly amazing word/phrase/bit of dialogue or a load-bearing wall for an action, plotline, or character arc, consider demolition. Start with adjectives and adverbs. Do we need to know that she laughed "delightedly"? Or that he slid her a "furtive" glance? Can't context tell us that her laughter is delighted and his glance subtle—*gasp*—without the adjectives?
I'm not telling you to send a wrecking ball into the whole project (of course not!!) but a little precision jackhammering can make your prose far more streamlined.
I hope you could gain something from this moderately wordy batch of wordcount-crushing tips! Need more? Variations of these and more can be found on this great website, which features 21 tips for manuscript revision, right here.
I'm so glad you stopped by. Feel free to join the newsletter for just one monthly hello! from me, and I hope to see you again in a few weeks, all!
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