Writing With Concision

Cut Your Babies

By Annette Rey

Many writers want to meet a word count and fear they won’t be able to reach that objective. So they spew. That’s not a totally bad thing. Their problems arise when they find they have over-extended and need to eliminate words for the sake of their word count. Their words are their babies. “But I like the way it sounds now!”

Word count be damned, put concision in position one. You will find that if you focus on concision, clarity follows.

Start by looking for word offenders: have, have had, had done, had finished, had eaten…

I have found that…
I discovered…

I have had…
I had…

He had done a bad job…
He did a bad job…

I had finished work for the day…
I finished work that day…

I had just eaten my breakfast…
I ate breakfast…

These are simply constructed sentences for sake of example. Remember, all of your sentences should not start with I and He, etc.

When I had finished the job that day, Bill had just walked in.
Bill walked in as I finished the job.

Which sentence sounds better to you? I hope you see that the second sentence is the better of the two. It flows. It allows the reader to keep moving, to get straight to the bone of your story. Besides had and had just, that day was also cut from the first sentence.

You can see how unpredictable words like that day can arise. Those words are not target words to find like the words have and had. That day – in the example given – are superfluous words.

You must edit to make each word say the most it can say.

That is not to say I don’t write long sentences. I do. But because I weigh the value of each word, my long sentences paint an intense visual image that immerses my reader in the scene I prepared for him to experience.

The last sentence above has 30 words in it.

I could cut that sentence and stop at the word image. Why? Because the remaining words say something that should be already understood. What words you leave in your sentence depends on the audience to whom you are speaking. The additional words in the above sentence would be appropriate if I were speaking to very new writers.

So, know your audience.

You must employ the many interconnected techniques to write well. This short piece touched on just a few of them – concision, clarity, and knowing your audience.

Write a paragraph without using the words have or had.

Preview: The next bug-a-boo I will cover is the word was.

I was taken to the hospital by my friend.

Instead: Angela adroitly maneuvered her rickety-rackety Subaru and deposited me at the Emergency Room entrance.

This message adds more technique – specificity (Angela instead of my friend, Subaru instead of car), picture/action verbs – maneuvered instead of drove, deposited instead of dropped), picture adjectives (adroitly, rickety-rackety).

See you then!

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