Writing Tip #9

Omit unnecessary words. So I was sorting through the gazillion books I have around here and found (hooray!) my copy of Stephen King’s On Writing. I cracked it open and read this in the second forward: “Omit needless words” (he was quoting Rule 17 in Elements of Style’s Principles of Composition chapter). Good rule. One of the biggies too. Sounds easy, right? Just go in and chop, chop, chop. But it wasn’t until I was muddling my way through the revisions of Baby Grand that I realized how difficult — and time-consuming — that really is. Now, here I am, several deadline extensions later, reading and re-reading sentences, scrutinizing words, construction, meaning. Am I saying this the best possible way? the most effective and interesting way? And in the end, it’s true: I’m doing lots of deleting — of adverbs for verbs that don’t need them, of adjectives for nouns that are just fine by themselves, of scenes that don’t work.

But I’m also doing lots of adding. Apparently, somewhere along the way, I left out the “necessary” words. So I’m supplementing verbs and nouns that could benefit from a modifier and filling out scenes that weren’t explored enough — a few of my chapters sort of just ended and left me feeling unsatisfied. I’m even adding new minor characters to help illustrate important points about a main character.

Remember, brevity for brevity’s sake isn’t the goal. It’s making every word count. The trick is finding the right ones.

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6 thoughts on “Writing Tip #9

  1. It always amazes me when I cut out the unnecessary words. They seem like such a good idea at the time. But typically the writing is stronger without. At the same time, leaving out unnecessary adjectives and adverbs makes the remaining ones stronger. (I love revising. :))

  2. “… several deadline extensions later, reading and re-reading sentences, scrutinizing words, construction, meaning.”

    But how long can you put off those deadlines? I’m a believer in using strong nouns and verbs that don’t need modifiers to prop them up, but I could revise and rework a piece indefinitely. I think it’s possible to edit the life out of the writing; it’s hard to know when to stop tweaking!

    • That is so true, Carol! It’s hard to explain, but I’m pretty good about knowing when a chapter is “finished” and then moving on. If you find that you’re just rearranging sentences, then you can probably go on to the next thing. But I had some serious holes and poor sentence construction that I was surprised had escaped me the first time around. I wonder if, during the next read, there will be more, but as long as I’m happy now, I’ll worry about that later. :)

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