Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Lessons from Elements of Style - Part 4

It’s time for part 4 of the Elements of Style Series.  For those of you curious, here’s Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

And now the quote:

Concise.  I don’t think that’s a word that a lot of people would consider when writing.  Especially during the time of NaNoWriMo.  We’re instructed to get to a specific word count.  But what happens when we use too many words? 

Have you ever been in a class where the teacher seemed to drone on and on about the same exact topic?  And not just once but multiple classes?  I recently had that experience while going through a training at work.  Because they wanted to make sure that we understood how to use the new program, we went over the concept again, and again….and again. 

I got to the point where I wanted to bang my head against the desk.  If I understood it the first time, then I understand it the second time…and the third time.

You don’t want to make the reader want to bang their head against their metaphorical desk. 

I recently read a novel that made me feel this way.  After finishing, I commented to a friend that I felt as though it was too slow, but at the same time too fast.  It took me awhile to figure out why.  The writer focused on the same idea over and over – which made it feel slow, but skimmed over the new information. 

There was a race, or a species that was different from humans.  And every time that a new human found out about the race, they stopped to explain it to them.  By the time the third or fourth human found out, I was wishing they’d skipped over the conversation.  Why?  Because I’d already read it!

I’ve had critique partners tell me the same thing.  Never repeat information that your reader already knows.  Even if your character doesn’t know it.

As the quote says, no unnecessary words, no unnecessary sentences.  After every draft I write, I do what I call a “quick cut” revision.  I read through the entire draft as fast as I can, deleting every word and phrase that isn’t necessary to the plot. 

Word count is important, but not as important as being concise.  Never lose a reader over trying to be too verbose.