Every Word Counts Pt 1

Consider this two-part series a slightly better than rough draft version of a chapter from my upcoming book on writing. I’d love feedback.

Every Word Counts

What

Every Word Counts is my way of expressing two fundamental concepts of good writing:

1. Keep Writing Tight – The process of removing unnecessary words and redundancies from your writing.
2. Choose Optimum Words – The process of considering context, syntax, emotional content, and connotation for each word.

Why

Every reputable author and editor whose advice I’ve read advises keeping writing tight. This reason is insufficient to provoke change in your writing. An author should understand the root cause of an issue in order to incorporate it. However, it is useful to know you’re going to get feedback of “not tight enough” as a complaint and “your writing is tight” as a compliment.

If you send me a work for critique, I’ll mark through unnecessary words and phrases. A lot of writers will say, “Those extra words are my stylistic choice. Don’t cut them just to follow some obscure rule.” While I sympathize with that writer, the truth is I won’t notice those words if the piece works. The fact I’m commenting on the problem means it didn’t work.

Remember the only absolute rule of writing: You can do anything you want as long as it works.

The corollary is: If it doesn’t work, follow the relevant rule.

More important to understanding why you should use this rule is the theory behind it.

1. Concise writing conveys information more efficiently than loose writing. Fewer words mean you get your point across in less space.
2. Readers today have less patience and shorter attention spans than readers of the classics. Verbose prose risks losing them.
3. Tight writing allows the reader to immerse themselves in the story rather than paying attention to the writing.
4. Tight writing improves clarity. A scene is often a step by step set of instructions leading the reader from one important point to the next. Unnecessary words detract from the reader’s ability to discern those points.
5. Optimum word choice subtly guides the reader to the correct emotional state.
6. Optimum word choice adds depth to your writing and develops a sense of trust in your readers. If they see the care in which you picked each word, they’re more willing to give you the benefit of the doubt as to where you’re leading them.
7. Editors charge by the word ().

When

Every Word Counts should be your default technique. Use it unless you have a reason not to.

The beginning author must master this technique. I’m not saying you can’t experiment but becoming proficient at writing tightly and choosing optimum words will benefit you in the long run. It is not a horrible idea for you aggressively to pursue choosing better words and getting rid of words you don’t need.

While choosing the correct word (since “correct” takes into account a wide range of considerations) is always the best decision, the intermediate writer should consider a more nuanced approach when it comes to tight writing. You might want to use more words for the following reasons:

1. Pacing – Long sentences equal slow pace, and short sentences fast pace. In a fight scene, you’ll want to keep your writing extra tight. You can be more verbose when writing description.
2. Putting space between important points – While tight writing helps your reader keep points mentally organized, plot developments can lose impact if placed to closely together. A few extra words can heighten impact by adding space.
3. Unique voice – The downside of tight writing is that it leads to homogenous prose. Sometimes, it’s advantageous to have a character’s dialogue, first person narrative, or viewpoint scene stand out as unique. While a stoic character tends to be terse, a bureaucrat may tend to use more words.

Remember the fundamental concept behind straying from a guideline: the benefit you gain must be greater than the problem you create. Consider whether creating that space makes your writing better considering that it risks loss of understanding. Does that unique voice add layers to your characterization or does it distract the reader?

Now that I’ve convinced you, hopefully, that you need to follow my advice with Every Word Counts, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to learn how.

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2 thoughts on “Every Word Counts Pt 1

  1. So far it reminds me of the time I went to the doctor and said, “I need to lose weight.”
    He glanced down at me with 3 words of advice, “Diet and exercise.”

  2. Pingback: Every Word Counts Pt 2 | Brian W. Foster

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