You’ve heard writers telling you to eliminate extra words, to tighten up your prose, right? It’s so easy to write with careless zeal, lassoing every word we come across, willy-nilly, just to rope it into our work. If 50 words are good, 60 must be better. There’s no such thing as too long! If we’re too strict with our word usage, our writing is going to sound prim and soulless, and who wants that?
Well, it’s true that a few extraneous words won’t hurt, but … why? Why have them around? Five extra pounds around your waistline might not hurt much, either, but it’s still better to get rid of them. (Or at least keep it to five pounds, not fifteen or fifty.) Moderation is key, even in writing.
How about a live example?
Elle was sure that Edward overestimated her ability to cope. He could know with his mind that this would be an enormous adjustment, but he was so used to being watched and criticized and judged that he did not–could not–realize how hard a transition it was for her. Maybe she was, as he insisted, suited to being “royal,” but that was very different than actually being royal. It was like the difference between being smart and being educated. She might have an instinct for this kind of life in her bones, but that did not make the living or the learning any easier.
Yes, it’s all a little flabby.
Elle thought Edward overestimated her ability to cope. He knew this was an enormous adjustment, but he was so used to being watched he did not realize how hard the transition was. He kept telling her this was in her blood, but she still felt like an imposter. Like the difference between being smart and being educated, she might have the instinct in her bones, but that did not make learning to use it any easier.
- “Elle thought” instead of “Elle was sure that.” “Thought” may not be the best verb, but it’s still stronger than the passive “was sure that”
- Same thing with “He could know with his mind that” and “He knew.” Not only was the original unduly wordy and round-about, how else do you know things but with your mind?
- I took out the triad of “watched, criticized, and judged” because the repetition and rhythm did nothing for the sentence. Same with the “did not/could not.”
- Changed “Maybe she was, as he insisted, suited to being “royal,” but that was very different than actually being royal,” to “He kept telling her this was in her blood, but she still felt like an imposter.” The original sentence also had a round-about structure (“Maybe she was, as he insisted, suited to…”), as well as a completely unnecessary use of italics and quotations. In fact, I kept nothing from the original.
- Combined the last two sentences into one, more streamlined sentence.
Is the second variation perfect? No, but for just a couple minutes’ worth of editing, it’s stronger and more streamlined. It also went from 103 words down to 76.
Easy, right? Now you just have to apply this to everything you’ve written … piece of cake!