Eliminating Additional Extras III and IV
By Annette Rey
Writers are faced with many challenges in producing work, and with post-production issues. The life of the writer is a perpetual state of learning – or should be. To address, in part, both of these issues, today’s subjects in the Ridding Your Work of Redundancies series are verbosity and prolixity.
Let’s look at what publishers would like NOT to see in our work.
My dictionary tells me verbosity and prolixity are similar in meaning. Verbosity means containing more words than necessary, wordy, impaired by wordiness. Prolixity means unduly prolonged or drawn out, too long, marked by or using an excess of words. Theodore Cheney, author of Getting the Words Right says “prolixity is the mention of things not worth mentioning.”
Let’s face it. Writers are human beings. They fall into habits influenced by family, culture, schooling or lack of it, life experiences, any number of things. What feels right for one may look glaringly wrong to another. Feelings and habits aside, your work must be constructed properly to be acceptable on the market.
And who defines the market? Readers. So you must write to the reader. If you go on and on with superfluous facts of your story, they will lose interest. Publishers will put your work aside. You have probably heard to cut words that do not move your story forward. Well, that may include whole scenes, pages, even chapters.
Writers fall in love with their words, so cutting them can draw emotional blood. But you must do it. There is no success without sacrifice (my motto).
You have probably known a person who seems to talk to hear himself speak. You probably were in an audience listening to a speaker drone on. Interestingly, one of the definitions of drone is the male bee, with no sting and gathers no honey. How disinterested are you when there is no sting and no sweetness to the words you are hearing?
You don’t want to lose your reader by throwing at him every fact about each character or every ounce of backstory. Some of your characters are only in your book a brief period of time. Let’s say your shamus purchases a pack of cigarettes from a one-time appearing shopkeeper. Unless the shopkeeper gets shot, spend little time describing him. Maybe the shopkeeper burns incense, is dressed in a soiled t-shirt, long hairs from his chest protrude from the neckline of his shirt, he has a mangled toothpick between black teeth, he passes the cigarettes through the secure glass window with a grunt. Is all of that necessary to mention? Yes, those details help set scene and mood. But, if that character does not move your story forward, the grunt will do. An unimportant character should be considered one not worth spending a lot of words on.
And consider. Does mentioning the purchase of cigarettes move the story forward? Does creating that scene help with describing the world in which the shamus moves? Every word must matter.
The problem with the author is: he sees a beautiful world (even if an evil world, it is beautiful to the author) and he so wants to include all the details. He is liable to use too many words throughout his book. Even an article can get quickly off-target. If the writer digresses into a branch of the subject and doesn’t focus on the prime reason he is writing the article, the reader can be left out on a limb (so to speak).
A great method to prune wordiness is to set your work aside after you think you’ve done all you can do to it. Days later, if you have that luxury, go back to it. Read it slowly. Read it aloud. Are you drawn into the story? Or do you find yourself wandering, even briefly? Aside from grammar, punctuation, etc., you will get an emotional feel when you are in the groove. When the words seem just right, something tells you. Then look at that example. What makes it just right? Every word should be pertinent, every meaning clear. There should be cohesiveness. Your words should be achieving your readers’ goals!
Can you tell me your experiences with wordiness in your writing? How do you deal with it?