In this post, I discussed the What, Why, and When of Every Word Counts. The post below concludes the series.
Get rid of all of the words in the sentence that you don’t need.
Let’s take a look at the sentence above:
• “Get rid of” is wordy. Seems like we could replace it with something like “Remove.”
• The “of” after “all” is superfluous.
• Is the phrase “in the sentence” important? Aren’t most words in a sentence, and does it matter if the words are in a paragraph or on a page instead? If I get rid of it (Oops, scratch that, “remove” it), the effect is stronger.
• “That you don’t need” seems wordy. How about simply “unnecessary?”
That gives us:
Remove all the unnecessary words.
Much better, but not quite there:
• I’m not sure that “remove” is a strong enough statement. “Delete” seems more forceful.
• Why do I need “all?” It’s a waste of good bytes.
Delete unnecessary words.
There. Clear, concise, strong — exactly what I wanted.
To keep your writing tight:
• Get rid of weasel words and phrases. Almost, could, kind of, not quite — these add nothing.
• Examine all adverbs. Read the sentence without it. If the meaning isn’t changed, delete the adverb. Words like “very” that modify an amount to a non-specific degree are the worst offenders.
• Watch for extraneous words. That, all, some — these can often be removed without impacting meaning.
• Watch for extraneous phrases. If it doesn’t change the meaning of it… See, right there. What’s the difference between “meaning of it” and “meaning?” It’s as plain to see as the nose on my face. Where else, exactly, would my nose be? Get rid of “on my face.” It’s not needed at all. Speaking of which, neither is “at all.”
• Get rid of redundancies that you don’t need. Get it? Redundancies that you don’t need?
• Get rid of pleonasms (a word/phrase that, when removed, doesn’t change the meaning of a sentence). At dinner last night, I told Little Man, “Let your food cool down before you eat it.” I immediately felt like a horrible parent teaching my child that pleonasms are okay. I muttered, “What’s the difference between ‘cool down’ and ‘cool’?” I corrected my admonition to, “Let you food cool before you eat it.”
To choose the optimum words:
• Consider context, connotation, and mood for each word.
• Check out this list of feeling words. Scatter these words throughout your scene to establish emotional context.
• Be active. Words like began, started, had, and was steal a sense of immediacy from your writing.
• Specific is better than vague. Have your character drive a Honda Civic, not a car — though I’d say there’s not much difference in that example considering how generic… Never mind.
• Filter emotions not actions. You want the reader to understand what a given event means to your character from an emotional standpoint. “Joe’s eyes watered as he read the letter from his girlfriend” shows the reader that the letter produced an emotional response that is either tremendously joyful or sad depending on the context. Writing “Joe watched the mail carrier place the letter in the box” adds nothing. If we’re in Joe’s POV, we know he watched the events. Simply write “The letter carrier placed the letter in the box.”