Day five: Resist Overstating
The next topic on our agenda has to do with the author’s inherent urge to overstate. We love words, or we’d probably choose a different career/hobby/obsession. Unfortunately, when we wax too poetic, too flowery or too elaborate it can hurt the pacing, and the meaning we’re trying to convey. Writing tight isn’t about writing short. It’s about making every word count, trimming redundancy, and reserving our poetry for just the right moment, where it will stand out and have the most impact.
We often balk at the concept of judicious cutting, trimming, and paring down of their manuscripts. Each slice may feel a bit of the insult, stealing the magic or the art inherent in their well-wrought prose.
Well, tight does not mean devoid of life and art. Rest assured. Cutting correctly will not weaken the well written manuscript. It will not suck the life from your prose. What it will do is allow you to say more in the same amount of space.
Imagine it this way: you have seven thousand words to get a story across with. These are your tools, your pallet so to speak, and the picture you paint will depend on how well you use them, how you can stretch that limited pallet to its fullest extent. And so by using each word, each phrase and each sentence to its maximum effect, with the greatest economy, you are actually able to tell more in less space.
You are adding to what you can say, but trimming how you say it.
The economical writer, who uses his seven thousand tools to the max, will have breadth and scope that another author will be unable to squeeze into so small a space. (this is particularly true when writing to a market deadline with a word count cap)
And as to your artful description and waxing poetic, these too can benefit from tightening the entire manuscript. If used willy-nilly, flowery writing becomes static, white noise that the reader will not notice and may become frustrated with. But, if the entire manuscript is tight as a drum, then the author can use a flowery passage, a poetic description, or a clever twist of phrase as a dash of spice. It will stand out far more. It will have a stronger effect than if it swims in a sea of similar excess.
I promise you, tight is might. It is artful, it is beautiful, and overstating, repetition and excessiveness often eliminate a story that might be stellar otherwise.
Tight writing should never rob you of your voice. It isn’t about losing your best words. It’s about using ONLY your best words.
At first, cutting can feel like a loss, but as the writer grows it becomes a tool like any other. Make space in your book for your best words. Cut out the things that aren’t necessary, that repeat, that explain too much, and you’re left with the exact words you need.
These words, the ones you choose with intent, the ones you select specifically for their desired effect and function will sing so much louder if they aren’t lost in the white nose of overly wordy writing. The right words, the tight ones, will amp up the impact of your prose.
Train yourself to see excess. Get hungry for that trimming, and you will find your story singing louder and stronger than before.
Tomorrow we’ll address three major culprits of overstating: repetition, unnecessary directives, and rampant fanciness.