BrianWFoster’s Ninth Law of Writing

Ninth Law: Every Word Counts

One difference between an amateur writer and someone who has studied the craft is that the expert relentlessly eliminates unnecessary words.  You won’t see “all of the” in his work.  Redundant phrases are tossed out.  Sentences are rearranged to promote economy of expression.  Each and every word pulls its weight.

A difference between the master and the expert is that the true wordsmith not only utilizes brevity but chooses perfect expressions to set mood and develop character.  He considers emotional connotation.  His character might say “all of the,” but the inclusion of “of” tells the reader something about that character.

This principle is one of the reasons writing is so difficult to master.  Power of the Mages will consist of around 120,000 words.  It’s hard to string together the perfect sentence, much less an eighth of a million words.

I do not in any way, form, or fashion claim to be a master or even an expert.  I’m just someone who is striving to improve.  From my experience, I can tell you that the more I concentrate on my word choice, the better my writing becomes.


4 thoughts on “BrianWFoster’s Ninth Law of Writing

  1. “if [my students] fail to bring a rigorous, thoughtful sensibility to these critiques, there is surely someone waiting out there who will feel no similar reluctance. And it’s sad day for the author if that person happens to be a Times reviewer.”

    I think about this a lot while I’m editing. It can be hard to be ruthless with your own work and cut it down to just the truly important words, but its so darned important.

  2. I believe each writer struggles internally with instinct vs. rules of the craft. We have an innate understanding of the flow of English. If a phrase is stilted, we can tell. If it’s awkward, we can tell. If it’s dry, bland, or carries intonation that contradicts intention, we can tell. Maintaining a balance between brevity and the art of grammar is difficult and is a facet that separates the masters from the merely competent.

    • The trick is to turn our understanding of the rules into instinct. The more I learn and practice, the more developed my ear becomes. Certain “incorrect” usages of words that I never used to pay any attention to now make me cringe.

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