Precious words: an exercise in concision for writers 2

Words are precious! Here are some thoughts on editing and trying to be grateful for every word you can cut.

A narrative in need of shortening: The story of Jimmy and his brother in 500 words

Suggested solution: The story of Jimmy and his brother in 33 words

Here’s a link to a useful online resource to help authors practice writing concise sentences.

Video transcript follows below:

Words are precious! Words are precious! Words are precious! You should handle words the way a Scotsman handles 50 pence pieces in a charity shop!

Imagine you have a limited budget to finish your book or story, and every word you use costs a dollar. Don’t use a word unless you feel it’s definitely worth it.

And you should feel happy if you manage to cut a word! If you manage to cut a sentence you should feel delighted. Cutting a paragraph should make you euphoric. And if you can do away with a whole chapter then you should collapse in a state of delirious rapture.

If you’re one of those writers who becomes sentimentally attached to every word and sentence, try this. Keep a giant tub of cents or pennies on your writing desk. For every word you cut, take a coin and place in in a treats jar on the other side of the desk. However much you accumulate in the treats jar you can spend on ice cream, beer, Pokemon, or brass statues of moustachioed me wearing lederhosen – whatever tickles your fancy.

Here’s a wee exercise to practice concision. I like to show writers a chunk of narrative and ask them to compress it without losing any information. At the end I test their versions by seeing if they still answer a few questions about what happened in the original. The winner is whoever writes the shortest successful version. Below this video are links to a narrative in need of shortening and the best solution I’ve managed so far. Let me know if you can beat my 33 words!

Thanks for watching and good luck with your writing.

A narrative in need of shortening: The story of Jimmy and his brother in 500 words

Suggested solution: The story of Jimmy and his brother in 33 words

Here’s a link to a useful online resource to help authors practice writing concise sentences.

(The thumbnail for this video uses an image by Steve Mueller. It is covered by a Creative Commons license and you can find his blog here: http://www.planetofsuccess.com/blog/)

2 comments

  1. Excellent advice and links. A reviewer of one of my earlier books commented that I should have ‘fleshed it out’ to make it a longer read (it was a novella). I was in the middle of the sequel when I saw the review, so I tried to add more words and be a bit more descriptive. It just wasn’t me and felt so wrong, I had to scrap half the chapter I had been working on (I was almost in a state of delirious rapture). That book has turned out to be my biggest seller to date and the sequel is about fifty pages longer but not because I ‘fleshed it out’.

    Liked by 1 person

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