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Eliminate excess words - I understand why, but just how do you do it?

Ross at Play

I constantly hear here the mantra, "Get rid of ALL words that aren't needed", but I don't think I've ever seen an example of how to do that, or what to look for.
An author asked me to give examples of how to restructure sentences. (If they were inclined to sarcasm they might have said, "Stop telling me, show me!" :-)
In truth, I had no idea how I did it. I selected some examples from their draft that looked like candidates for eliminating glue words, or just felt awkward. (I am inclined to sarcasm, and I had labelled some of them as 'atrocities'.)
I recorded my step-by-step thought processes as I reworked these examples. It was illuminating.
* I started by breaking up (sometimes consecutive) sentence(s) into a vertical list of the smallest possible fragments.
* I kept subject-verb(-objects) together, but sometimes needed to add implied subjects and/or verbs back in.
* I deleted conjunctions, articles, and words introducing descriptive phrases (e.g. as, like, who).
* I kept prepositions with their objects, but sometimes found one simple one word that could replace a phrase.
* I suppose I mentally put pronouns in brackets as potential targets as well
* I looked for repeated words and tested ways of joining them most economically. (these were not examples of parallel structures being used for style purposes.)
* I looked for phrases with the same subject and tried joining those too.
* I started with subject-verb phrases and tested ways of adding the IDEAS CONTAINED in the descriptive phrases.

There were several different things I found in my reconstructed sentences.
- Some had been written with an introductory adverbial clause. I found several where longish word adverbial clause were not needed when the right 1 or 2 words were placed in their appropriate position. This usually resulted in a sentences which FLOWED much more smoothly, even if the word count was similar. One started as four phrases, each 2 to 4 words long, and ended as a free flowing sentence except for one 3 word parenthetic phrase.
- The process made it starkly apparent that the only problem with one example was the first word 'as' was unnecessary. (By definition ?) the subjects of both clauses were the same subject. The usual form is then subject at the start, and replace the subject with 'and' before the second clause. The sentence was a suitable candidate for not doing that, but replacing the initial verb with an '-ing' form. That form gets rid of the 'and' before the second clause as well. This sentence was 'suitable' because the action in the second clause would be completed before the action in the first. There's another benefit from using an '-ing' verb - it can be useful to give the reader a break in the middle of a series of sentences beginning with the same pronoun.
- By far the greatest cuts in excess words were achieved by not repeating the same ideas in different words in descriptive phrases. It seems much easier to see and then think 'I do not need to bring that in' than deciding 'that can be deleted because it's superfluous. That's probably because the best way of expressing the idea was selected, and is now in its best position.

I doubt I will go into that detail very often, but there are times I just know a segment of writing could be made to flow a bit more easily, but cannot see what should be changed. That's when I might decide to pull it all apart, rebuild it, and see what the new version feels like. I would VERY MUCH APPRECIATE examples how others detect and go about getting rid of excess words when reviewing drafts.

Switch Blayde

@Ross at Play

I would VERY MUCH APPRECIATE examples how others detect and go about getting rid of excess words when reviewing drafts.


Your process is much too structured for me. It's why I don't like writing software tools. Writing isn't mechanical; it's an art.

The sentence/paragraph just has to sound right to my ear. If I come across words that don't add anything to the sentence, I delete them. Some examples:

He got off of the horse (do you need "of"?)

He was very tall (most times "very" doesn't add anything).

He was a tall giant (unless you are making the point that for a giant he was tall, you don't need "tall").

But it's much more than eliminating a word here and there.

You might find you said the same thing in multiple sentences. You might find that after showing you don't trust the reader to get it so you tell them what you showed. You may find a sentence actually weakens the paragraph (it would be stronger without it).

Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

Writing isn't mechanical; it's an art. The sentence/paragraph just has to sound right to my ear.

My 'mechanical' process would only be a last resort. My question was more how does a trainee 'artist' learn what to do when something doesn't 'sound right'.
I don't think the breaking apart step is needed. What really worked was adding the essential words to a new sentence, a fragment at a time, selecting the best connectors. The right order to do that seemed to be: repeated words, subject and verb, essential descriptions, non-essential descriptions.
I was very encouraged by the results of my mechanical experiment. Details being told twice jumped out at me, demanding one be deleted; and sentences rebuilt in the right order usually flowed very smoothly.
I will make one addition to my list of potential targets to look for, thanks to your post, words like 'very', 'quite', 'almost', ...

awnlee jawking

@Switch Blayde

He got off of the horse (do you need "of"?)


I believe that usage is now considered old-fashioned, cf on to and in to.

Two more examples commonly cited are 'suddenly' and 'begin/began to'.

However the trend for minimalism is sometimes taken too far. In a couple of SOL stories recently I found examples of multi-person conversations with too few dialogue tags, and certain lines could arguably have been spoken by more than one participant.

AJ

Switch Blayde
Updated:

@awnlee jawking


Two more examples commonly cited are 'suddenly' and 'begin/began to'.


Those typically aren't "extra" words. They're usually used incorrectly.

began/started

I see this so often in SOL stories. The author writes something like "began walking" when he meant "walked." To use "began" you need something like "while" or "when" in the sentence.

suddenly

This is about "show don't tell." Don't tell the reader something suddenly happened; show it. It's one of Elmer Leonard's 10 writing tips (Never begin a sentence with suddenly).

"Then" is a word that is often an extra word. But just like "of," it's needed at times.

EDITED:

LOL Also "just" as in my previous sentence.

Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

Your process is much too structured for me. It's why I don't like writing software tools. Writing isn't mechanical; it's an art.

I actually take a different tact. The mechanical aid highlights common problems (aka. too many adverbs, too many past-perfect verbs, etc.). I then examine each flagged item, deciding whether each term/phrase is needed or not. Frankly, most of them aren't. If they are, I leave them in, but eliminating those I'd never have questioned before, I come out with cleaner text. It's more a case of unexamined vs evaluated phrasing. At NO point does the automated tool suggest what should be written, it simply highlights items which should be evaluated.

Ross asked (privately) about another issue, trying to eliminate the "to be" verbs: have, had, was and were. In general, I rate these on a sliding scale. Past-perfect verbs (had) are at one end. Technically, they're correct, but they distance the reader, creating passive text. Changing most of my "had" verbs to "were", and many of the "were" to simple "was", generally cleans the text up. The text is easier to read. It's not so much, "does this need to be deleted", as "does it add anything, and would the sentence read better without it". Readers like action, continually having someone say "I'd" makes it sound like they're afraid of taking any action (making them sound like indecisive wimps).

If it wasn't for the automated tools, I'd never examine each of those usages, since they seem natural when reading.

The same is true for filler words (that, then, just, etc.). I'll go through, checking each usage in a sentence, evaluating whether the words are necessary or are just taking up space. If they add nothing of value (i.e. they're just place fillers), then they get ejected.

Perhaps my biggest item is adjectives. I typically use a lot of them. After studying them, I end up keeping most of them, but I at eliminate the redundencies (repeating 2 or 3) and cut out 10 to 20% with no loss to the story. Again, reading through, nothing jumps out as being incorrect, but eliminating those unnecessary words makes the story easier to read, and eliminating a whole litany of unnecessary words reduces the text size significantly.

Finally, the automated approach doesn't inhibit the creative approach (i.e. I don't curtail my words initially). I'll go through a clean up a first pass, let it sit for some time, go back and revise the chapter once I know how the entire story flows (so I know what's essential and what ultimately doesn't lead anywhere), and then, as a last pre-editing step, I'll run it through autocrit, which highlights issues I should look at. It generally takes about an extra day per chapter, but it's generally time worth spending on the text.

Crumbly Writer

@awnlee jawking

Two more examples commonly cited are 'suddenly' and 'begin/began to'.

"Began" and "began to" are considered "passive" text, in that they distance the reader with unnecessary text, making the story seem like a summary report written from a distance from the events, rather than something happening right then.

However the trend for minimalism is sometimes taken too far. In a couple of SOL stories recently I found examples of multi-person conversations with too few dialogue tags, and certain lines could arguably have been spoken by more than one participant.

I've often fallen into this trap. I found myself adding attribute after attribute identifying the same person. So I started replacing each reference with "him", "he" or "they". However, my editors started asking "who the hell are you referring to, as the sentence reference two different people and you refer to "he". So I double back, ensure readers can identify who's being referred to, often restoring several duplicates. (No one ever claimed these processes were either easy or simple.)

Replies:   Ross at Play
Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

I actually take a different tact.


tact = tack
That's an error I make all the time because "tact" sounds like "tactic." But it's "tack."

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

tact = tack
That's an error I make all the time because "tact" sounds like "tactic." But it's "tack."

Thanks. It's one I often repeat, never quite learning my lesson. Luckily my editors catch it, but I typically don't use them when writing on-the-fly messages.

Replies:   richardshagrin
Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


Ross asked (privately) about another issue, trying to eliminate the "to be" verbs: have, had, was and were. In general, I rate these on a sliding scale. Past-perfect verbs (had) are at one end. Technically, they're correct, but they distance the reader, creating passive text. Changing most of my "had" verbs to "were", and many of the "were" to simple "was", generally cleans the text up.


was

This word is a red flag for me. First, it could be passive voice where I don't want passive voice. But that's not common for me.

The other case is "was running" when I meant to say "ran." It's the same as what I said before about "began." It's a matter of time (is the character still running when the action occurs?).

had

As to "had," that's not passive. It's tense (past perfect). If you're writing in past tense and you need to go back in time, as in a flashback, you must change the tense to past perfect.

A lot of "had"s is a problem, though. So when you have a long past perfect flashback, you begin it in past perfect tense, switch to past tense, and then switch back to past perfect tense near the end of the flashback to notify the reader the flashback is coming to an end.

Replies:   lichtyd
Ernest Bywater

The key is to convey the intended message as clearly as possible with as few words as possible. Often cutting words can change the meaning. You need to ensure you have the best word choices for what you want to convey, and keep the adjectives and adverbs to the minimum.

In most situations where I've seen excessive words have been where a large number of adjectives or adverbs are used when only one or two are needed to convey the message.

The other area to watch is excess sidelines in the story. Yes, you need some material to fill out scenes, places, characters, etc. but watch out for scenes that do nothing for the story, the plot, or the characters. These are often gratuitous and stand out to readers.

Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

The other area to watch is excess sidelines in the story. Yes, you need some material to fill out scenes, places, characters, etc. but watch out for scenes that do nothing for the story, the plot, or the characters. These are often gratuitous and stand out to readers.

To be fair, that's not always the clear line you imagine it to be. I recently (this year) changed my writing style, going from 10,000 to 15,000 word chapters down to 3,000 word chapters, seeking to improve my writing, and not only have my scores dropped, but so have my number of weekly readers.

I haven't figured out exactly what it is about the new style that they don't like, but along with the excessive verbiage, I cut out a lot of the subplots and character details my readers' loved. I'm trying to recapture some of that, but when no one can point out "You know what this scene needs, someone to come along and talk about their experiences in Yemin!"

Without specific advice about what to slice and what to retain, we're all swimming in a cloudy bowl of fish soup.

Extraneous detail, especially those which reflect who the character is, is vital. Cut it, and expect to see your reader satisfaction scores drop. Yet, a vital stage of becoming a better writing in learning what to cut, what to keep, and how to tell the difference.

That, plus you've got to figure out what a difference 'score nominalization' makes. Since Lazeez continually modifies scores, there's no way to know whether your readers are truly dissatisfied, whether there's just more competition, or whether the subject matter just doesn't appeal to them.

Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

Since Lazeez continually modifies scores, there's no way to know whether your readers are truly dissatisfied, whether there's just more competition


Actually, there is a way. If you click on a story under manage stories. You can see a histogram of the distribution of the raw scores.

awnlee jawking

@Ernest Bywater

The key is to convey the intended message as clearly as possible with as few words as possible.


I'm not sure the latter is true.

There's a much touted (in the UK) woman author who kept on getting rejection after rejection. After 20 years of not getting published, she had an epiphany. Her writing was too verbose. She then wrote a book entitled something like 'The Word Loss Diet'. It's self-published. Despite paring her writing to the bone, she still can't get published in the traditional sense.

I think it's crucial to write stories that people actually want to read. Pruning the occasional adverb is going to have a minimal effect. (Perhaps that's a bad example because JK Rowling goes nuts with adverbs and she's sold millions of books.)

AJ

Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

I cut out a lot of the subplots and character details my readers' loved.


CW,

I'm not saying there isn't a place for sub-plots and character details, just that they have to be relevant to the story being told in some way.

For example, story about political wheeling and dealing in Washington where a sub-plot goes into the political games about the power one of the characters has is a relevant sub-plot. While a sub-plot about the political wheeling and dealings going on in France where the main story has no interaction with France is an irrelevant sub-plot.

One case from my story Will to Survive I have a scene where Will has a mild run in with an Army officer on the outskirts of the town Arizona when the officer is leading a patrol out, and later there's a short scene on the road when they meet him returning with his patrol. The scenes show a bit about Will's attitude to the way the Army is at that time. If I had included a scene about what the officer did on the patrol it would have been gratuitous and a waste of time, so I didn't have anything about the patrol. Hope this helps to show what i mean about the relevancy to the story.

Some stories have a whole lot of sub-plots, needed in longer stories - hate to try and count the sub-plots in Finding Home

Ernest Bywater

@awnlee jawking


I think it's crucial to write stories that people actually want to read.


True, but excess wordage will also turn them off.

1. You need a Story.

2. You need a good presentation.

3. You need luck to get to a publisher.

REP
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer

I think I said it before, but two things:

1) Write to please yourself. A storyteller weaves a tale that his audience will enjoy. Normally, it means the tale flows smoothly from start to finish. Trying to tweak it to meet some perceived ideal style of writing damages what you are trying to produce. Be yourself and let the words flow. You can reduce word count or modify it afterward, if you want, but that usually interferes with the smooth flow of the tale.

2) Don't worry about Lazeez's weighted scores. Look at the story's Histogram of raw scores. That is where you will find your reader's opinion of your writing. No, not the number of high scores, but a low number of low scores.

richardshagrin

@Crumbly Writer

Someone may have already contributed the information about tack, but in the context of a "different tack" we are probably sailing, where to get somewhere when the wind is blowing against you, you need to tack the boat going right or left (starboard or port) of your objective taking different tacks but making progress toward your objective upwind. The other meaning of tack, like a nail but shorter, doesn't' fit taking a different tack, unless the first tack you used didn't hold the picture up on the wall where you wanted it.

Using Tact is being polite not making someone you are talking to or writing to unhappy about how unpleasant you are. Doesn't exactly relate to tactics which is lower level military planning than strategy which is lower level than grand strategy. Tactics is what a squad or company does. Strategy is what higher level formations do. Grand Strategy is what the political leaders or guys at the Pentagon do in planning what wars to fight, or how to organize the ones going on. Fighting in Europe before the Pacific in WW2 was grand strategy.

Replies:   Capt Zapp  Ross at Play
Capt Zapp

@richardshagrin

"different tack"


You forgot the tack used with horses and other animals. ;)

Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

nothing jumps out as being incorrect, but eliminating those unnecessary words makes the story easier to read

Thank for the descriptions of some processes you try hoping to find words that can be eliminated - when they don't just jump out you.
It is NOT obvious to new authors how to train their ear to detect such things, however obvious the benefits of doing so may be.

Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

No one ever claimed these processes were either easy or simple.

I disagree. The World is littered with failed authors :-)

Replies:   richardshagrin
Ross at Play
Updated:

@Ernest Bywater


In most situations where I've seen excessive words have been where a large number of adjectives or adverbs ... the other area to watch is excess sidelines in the story


Surely that varies a lot between different genres. What might happen if books were made into films?

If an action novelist attempted to write a romance novel, the film will not come out a chick flick, it will end up being a porno.

If a romance novelist attempted to write an action adventure, the film will not come out looking like Mission Intolerable number who cares, it will end up being something only Merchant Ivory would make.

SOME authors should use some (judiciously selected) adjectives and adverbs, and descriptive interludes from the main plot.

EDIT TO ADD: Your following post clarified what you actually meant. "Descriptive interludes" may not be wrong, but they must be RELEVANT to the plot. Is another way of saying that: if they're advancing the plot, they MUST advance the character?

Ross at Play

@richardshagrin

tack or tact

I will be tactless and tack on my opinion here :-)

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@Ross at Play

I will be tactless and tack on my opinion here :-)


Here, have a Tick Tact.

Crumbly Writer

@awnlee jawking

I think it's crucial to write stories that people actually want to read. Pruning the occasional adverb is going to have a minimal effect. (Perhaps that's a bad example because JK Rowling goes nuts with adverbs and she's sold millions of books.)

The story is always paramount. A beautifully written boring book is still boring, but a crudely written captivating book (of which there are multiple examples) does well. Unfortunately for most of us, what sells books isn't either terrific stories or beautiful writing but extensive marketing. Most book deals for independent authors come down to manipulation. Authors manipulate Amazon's rating system, arranging for hundreds of people to purchase books within a specific 15 minute period to get onto the Amazon best seller list, which then attracts the attention of traditional publishers.

The point of cutting excessive words, though, isn't to 'make an impact', it's instead to make the book easier to read. We're cutting out the unnecessary text, whether filler words, duplicate phrases, or subplots which don't advance the story. Everything you don't need should be eliminated, but as my example shows, you don't want to cut too much, though the difference is often difficult to determine precisely.

As far as raw scores go, my scores now run the gamut, from 1 to 10. The majority are 10s, but the outliers are so scattered it's hard to determine what they represent.

@Ross

if they're advancing the plot, they MUST advance the character?

Subplots, however short, should either advance the plot or reveal something about the main characters, so you care about them. Cut too much of the story, and readers won't care whether the hero saves the world or not.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

Here, have a Tick Tact.

Sorry, but that sounds ticky-tacky!

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

Sorry, but that sounds ticky-tacky!

... and you all sound just the same.

awnlee jawking

@Crumbly Writer

The point of cutting excessive words, though, isn't to 'make an impact', it's instead to make the book easier to read.


At the risk of evangelism, writing must be the only creative medium where it's fashionable to go back to a finished work and consciously remove stuff, for whatever reason (and I'm not sure 'easier to read' is in fact the reason.)

I can't imagine Beethoven revising his 9th Symphony to remove some of the instruments or secondary themes, or an Old Master revising a painting to remove some of the cherubs, or use fewer brush strokes or shades of red.

AJ

awnlee jawking

@Dominions Son

Here, have a Tick Tact.


Ticca tacca is so last decade - the current fashion is kick and rush :)

AJ

Ernest Bywater

@awnlee jawking

I can't imagine Beethoven revising his 9th Symphony to remove some of the instruments or secondary themes, or an Old Master revising a painting to remove some of the cherubs, or use fewer brush strokes or shades of red.


There are records to show where the great composers of the past had earlier versions before they ended up with the finished version, and x-rays of many great works of art show different details under the final painting.

I suspect what you really mean is writing is a creative art where the artist will put it on display and then wokr on it to make it better.

Dominions Son

@Ernest Bywater

and x-rays of many great works of art show different details under the final painting.


Not just different details, completely different paintings. Several of the great masters had a habit of painting over older works.

Dominions Son

@Ernest Bywater

There are records to show where the great composers of the past had earlier versions before they ended up with the finished version


True, but you have done nothing to counter Awnlee's point unless you can demonstrate that those earlier versions were longer than the finished work.

Awnlee didn't just say he couldn't imagine Beethoven revising his 9th Symphony, he said revising it to remove parts, just to simplify it.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Dominions Son

Was there even a concept of a "finished" work in Beethoven's day?
Was every performance (or season) expected to be as fresh and new as modern musicians performing old songs while on tour?

Crumbly Writer

@awnlee jawking

I can't imagine Beethoven revising his 9th Symphony to remove some of the instruments or secondary themes, or an Old Master revising a painting to remove some of the cherubs, or use fewer brush strokes or shades of red.

You obviously haven't noticed any design work for the last 30 years. Photo manipulation is rampant in all avenues of advertising and the artistic movement. The removal of blemishes, blurring of background, clouds, recoloring clothing, the addition of texture, etc. are all examples of 'refinishing' finished works.

This also applies to the fine arts as well. How many painters repaint patches of unsuccessful works, or add overlays to works which just 'don't pop'?

The general rule of thumb is, if you can make something better, then do it. It further manipulation will screw it up (like mucking with paint until it turns into a muddied brown), then leave it alone.

The cutoff with published works used to be the publication date. Once a publisher ran off 200,000 copies, the work was frozen in time, never to be corrected or updated until the twentieth anniversary release of a successful book. However, with independent publishing, you can make changes on Monday and republish an hour later. Why NOT make changes if it improves the story?

Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

Why NOT make changes if it improves the story?


Not everyone agrees that deliberate minimization/simplification constitutes improvement.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Switch Blayde
Updated:

@awnlee jawking


writing must be the only creative medium where it's fashionable to go back to a finished work and consciously remove stuff


How about movies? Did you ever see an "uncut" version? They advertise those as "never seen scenes," but it's just extra crap that when removed the movie is stronger. There's a reason there's an Oscar for Best Editing.

btw, I hope we're not talking about a finished story. This is done during the editing phase.

Dominions Son

@Switch Blayde

but it's just extra crap that when removed the movie is stronger.


Not always, a lot of scenes get cut, not because they are extra crap that the movie is stronger without, but because the movie has to fit a given length format.

Sometimes they will do a DVD with cut scenes that make the movie stronger but were cut for length put back in. They advertise those as a "directors cut".

Ernest Bywater

@Switch Blayde

it's just extra crap that when removed the movie is stronger.


That's the usual result, but there have been cases where a movie was weakened because a cut scene made a later scene seem a piece of rubbish because the required background material was in the cut scene.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

Not everyone agrees that deliberate minimization/simplification constitutes improvement.

Absolutely no one is dictating you should do anything. If you don't want to, that's Jim Dandy. However, the thread was asking authors to detail how THEY managed to eliminate excessive verbiage. So we're just explaining what techniques we've found successful.

Don't get so defensive about what others discuss. If you're not interested, then there's no need to dive into the discussion. As I said earlier, there are repercussion, often unintended, from doing too much. However learning that line is often a necessary process in becoming a better author.

Switch Blayde

@Ernest Bywater

been cases where a movie was weakened because a cut scene made a later scene seem a piece of rubbish because the required background material was in the cut scene.


Poor editing

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@Switch Blayde

Poor editing


Such edits are often forced by studio demands that the finished movie fit specific length parameters.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
richardshagrin

@Ross at Play

I disagree. The World is littered with failed authors :-)

How does one decide an author is failed? I suppose if his stories were never read by any one then that might be failure. Or if people universally disliked them and refused to read any more of them, but even then getting a reaction from a reader or many readers is one objective of being an author. If I had to propose a single test of author success, it would be finishing at least one story and sharing it with at least one person. You don't need to have a dead tree book published to be an author, you just need to write something.

Switch Blayde

@Dominions Son

Such edits are often forced by studio demands that the finished movie fit specific length parameters.


It's still poor editing, no matter what the reason.

This thread is about good editing.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Switch Blayde

@richardshagrin

How does one decide an author is failed? I suppose if his stories were never read by any one then that might be failure.


Was Van Gogh a failure because he never sold a painting?

Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

However, the thread was asking authors to detail how THEY managed to eliminate excessive verbiage. So we're just explaining what techniques we've found successful.


In my opinion, those techniques are useless without a firm understanding of what constitutes "excessive" verbiage and why, and that seems to be largely getting left out of the discussion.

As I have said before, for me understanding something is largely predicated in "why".

As I said earlier, there are repercussion, often unintended, from doing too much. However learning that line is often a necessary process in becoming a better author.


If you were truly just discussing techniques for doing X, that's one thing. When you start saying X is necessary to being a better author, that is something else.

As a reader, I am not bothered by very verbose stories. I actually find overly bare bones stories harder to read. It's not so much that they are harder to understand, but they are harder to get into and want to read.

So when you start saying things like reducing "excess" verbiage is "necessary" to becoming a "better" author I have to stop and ask.

Why?

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Dominions Son

@Switch Blayde

This thread is about good editing.


As far as I can tell, this thread is about editing for the sake of editing. I don't see why that is "good".

Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Dominions Son


As far as I can tell, this thread is about editing for the sake of editing. I don't see why that is "good".


Then you totally missed the point. I don't know any author that does editing for the sake of editing. They enjoy writing. Those who take pride in what they write edit to make their piece of art better.

Now "better" might be subjective. I consider fixing typos to be better. Someone else may not. I consider changing one word to another as better. Some would disagree, either preferring the former word or saying it doesn't make a difference. I consider restructuring a sentence because it sounds or flows better (to my ear) as better. Someone else may not agree.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@Switch Blayde

Now "better" might be subjective.


Yes, but this thread isn't about typos or flow. It's about removing "excessive" verbiage. To me, without a solid explanation of what constitutes excessive and why, that sounds like editing for the sake of editing. All you are really doing is trimming for length, like the movie editing you were criticizing.

Switch Blayde

@Dominions Son

All you are really doing is trimming for length,


Then you have no idea what we're discussing. Length is not a factor.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@Switch Blayde

Then you have no idea what we're discussing.


Unless someone can explain what "excess" verbiage is and why it is "excess" than neither does anyone else.

Replies:   richardshagrin
richardshagrin

@Dominions Son

Ex is former or previously, like an ex wife. From a visit to bing the definition of cess follows:
cess
[ses]
NOUN
1.(in Scotland, Ireland, and India) a tax or levy.
so excess is a former tax. Compare to exlax.

Exlax is a stimulant laxative containing senna, which comes from plant leaves. It is called a stimulant laxative because the senna stimulates the muscles of the bowel wall to increase contractions, and therefore move food faster through the colon. Exlax treats short-term symptoms of constipation. As with other stimulant laxatives it may produce side effects such as cramping or 'griping' pains in the stomach. It may also produce an urgent need for a bowel movement. Exlax is available in various forms and strengths. The tablet form is available in regular and maximum strength, and there is also a chocolate version.

Both excess and exlax produce shit.

sejintenej

@Crumbly Writer

an Old Master revising a painting to remove some of the cherubs,

Hitler and Kim Jong-un are amongst those where photos have people airbrushed out.

How many painters repaint patches of unsuccessful works, or add overlays to works which just 'don't pop'?

There is a painting by Antonio Verio showing Charles II issuing a charter; the oddity is that Charles appears as a courtier and also as king; his predecessor died whilst the work was being painted and Verio simply didn't change the courtier Charles.

Dominions Son

@sejintenej

Hitler and Kim Jong-un are amongst those where photos have people airbrushed out.


Perfect examples of why doing it is not a good thing.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

So when you start saying things like reducing "excess" verbiage is "necessary" to becoming a "better" author I have to stop and ask.

We're talking two distinctly different techniques here. One, the one first asked about, is how to trim the excess verbiage from sentences. That includes filler words (ex: "just", "that", "then", etc.). The other, which I introduced when reflecting on my own experience, involved trimming the story plot and reducing the number of subplots which don't necessarily advance the main theme of the story.

It sounds like you're objecting to the second technique, and not the first. If so, it's important to state that so people know you aren't advocating never editing a story.

If we're truly discussing the second, then we should start a second discussion about how much of a plot can be cut before you drain the story of life. That's an important point, and one I think I overstepped, though I still think my earlier 250,000 word books were a bit much. So there's got to be some middle ground. Unfortunately, the only way I've discovered to reduce a book's overall length is to constrain runaway subplots and endless expansion of detail. I've been utterly unable to do it by cutting back on excess wordage in each sentence.

Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

Yes, but this thread isn't about typos or flow. It's about removing "excessive" verbiage. To me, without a solid explanation of what constitutes excessive and why, that sounds like editing for the sake of editing. All you are really doing is trimming for length, like the movie editing you were criticizing.

So you're suggesting that, without extensive research into 'proven, documented' edits, there's absolutely no sense in trying to improve one's work? If so, then it sounds like we all invest in an endless array of "write better, write smarter books", which have never (in my humble opinion) helped anyone!

Instead, writing is a difficult field: not only because it's difficult to create imaginary worlds, but also because it's difficult to make the final polishes necessary, or to express yourself adaquately.

If you can determine what needs to be cut, and what doesn't, then go ahead and publish yet another "how to be successful at writing" book. But again, for all but a couple I've read in my time, they're mostly written by moderately successful authors who want to eliminate potential competition rather than an honest evaluation of what works and what doesn't.

Instead, each other has to struggle to determine what works and what doesn't. With luck, they can discover someone to take them under their wing and show them what they've learned, but those authors are few and far between. Mostly what you get, is either terrible or ineffective advice.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Crumbly Writer

@sejintenej

Charles appears as a courtier and also as king; his predecessor died whilst the work was being painted and Verio simply didn't change the courtier Charles.

I have no clue what your point here is. While an entertaining historical fact, how does this impact the discussion about whether to edit or not?

Replies:   sejintenej
Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

Perfect examples of why doing it is not a good thing.

Neither one was an artist (aside from a few crude paintings in their youth), and the removals were for reasons other than the betterment of their 'art'.

Frankly, it's a terrible example!

Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

One, the one first asked about, is how to trim the excess verbiage from sentences. That includes filler words


I read it differently. Yes, he is asking at the sentence level, but as I read it, his request goes beyond what you term "filler" words.

It sounds like you're objecting to the second technique, and not the first. If so, it's important to state that so people know you aren't advocating never editing a story.


First, misspellings and improper grammar don't fall in either category. all stories should be edited for both, as well as continuity errors.

However, I am questioning both techniques. I don't see why either should be considered an unqualified improvement.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


It sounds like you're objecting to the second technique, and not the first


Nope, he is objecting to the first, or at least wants proof why an author should bother deleting unnecessary words. He said he likes verbose stories. My suggestion is that he read Dickens and others who were paid by the word.

I'll live by what Mark Twain wrote at the end of a letter to a friend. Something like: "I'm sorry this letter is so long. I didn't have time to make it shorter."

Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

So you're suggesting that, without extensive research into 'proven, documented' edits, there's absolutely no sense in trying to improve one's work?


Not at all.

No I am not suggesting extensive research.

Nor am I suggesting that there is no sense in trying to improve one's work.

What I am suggesting is that if you don't understand both what you are editing for and why you are doing it, sufficiently to clearly describe it to someone else, than there is a high probability that what you are doing is not improving your work.

Dominions Son

@Switch Blayde

he is objecting to the first, or at least wants proof why an author should bother deleting unnecessary words.


Not quite. I am objecting to both.

No, I am not asking for prof of why an author should bother deleting unnecessary words. I am asking for a clear explanation of why the words are unnecessary.

I can't apply it to my own writing without the why. But the whole thread seems to dance around that without addressing it.

Switch Blayde

@Dominions Son

I am asking for a clear explanation of why the words are unnecessary.


Because the sentence is stronger without the extra words. "Stronger" = more impact; clearer; quicker to read (says the same thing with less words); etc.

Dominions Son
Updated:

@Switch Blayde


Because the sentence is stronger without the extra words. "Stronger"


Mere deflection. All you have done is change the terminology, it explains nothing.

Why does removing those words make the sentence stronger?

ETA: If you are going to come back and say the sentence is stronger because the words are unnecessary, that is a circular definition and a logical fallacy. If that's all you can come up with, you don't know why and you are just blowing smoke because someone else blew it in your face a long time ago.

Dominions Son

@Switch Blayde

more impact;


Circular.

clearer


It only makes it clearer if the words were unnecessary. Meaningless without an understanding of why the words are unnecessary.

quicker to read (says the same thing with less words)


Again, presumes the words are unnecessary as an explanation of why they are unnecessary, circular reasoning/definition.

Presumes with no argument as to why that quicker to read is an absolute good.

Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Dominions Son


I am asking for a clear explanation of why the words are unnecessary.


After I posted my last post, I googled it. The first article listed said:

When you're revising any piece of writing — a novel, a news article, a blog post, marketing copy, etc. — there are certain words you should delete to make the text stronger and cut your word count. When I'm writing a novel, one of my last drafts focuses on cutting these useless words. Removing them helps speed up the pacing of both action and dialogue, and makes your work more polished and professional


The author is a marketing manager at BookBub where she blogs about book marketing and publishing tips.

She lists 43 words and gives examples as to why.

http://dianaurban.com/words-you-should-cut-from-your-writing-immediately

tppm

Having eliminated all the unnecessary words, below is my story.

Ernest Bywater

@Switch Blayde

She lists 43 words and gives examples as to why.


Some of the words in the list need to be considered on a case by case basis as to the need for them in the story at that point, but a blanket removal would be wrong.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Dominions Son

Here's one from Purdue University that has wordy examples followed by concise versions. You should see why the concise ones are stronger and clearer.

https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/572/02/

Replies:   Dominions Son
Switch Blayde

@Ernest Bywater

Some of the words in the list need to be considered on a case by case basis as to the need for them in the story at that point, but a blanket removal would be wrong.


Nowhere did she say to always remove them.

Dominions Son

@Switch Blayde


http://dianaurban.com/words-you-should-cut-from-your-writing-immediately


Thank you. That was useful.

The author is a marketing manager at BookBub where she blogs about book marketing and publishing tips.


I'm not that interested in who the author is. If they author can explain the why, the authority is unnecessary. If not, it's just a logically invalid argument from authority.

Dominions Son

@Switch Blayde

Here's one from Purdue University that has wordy examples followed by concise versions. You should see why the concise ones are stronger and clearer.


Yes, for the specific examples given. However that makes no argument that more concise is always stronger and/or clearer.

Most of the examples all focus on formal business communication / writing, which has entirely different requirements than fiction.

I will concede that more concise is almost always better in formal business writing.

Fiction is a different story altogether.

The offer 5 "rules" In my opinion, only 3, 4 and 5 are cleanly applicable to writing fiction as rules.

On 5, the redundant categories, I don't agree that all of their bulleted short examples are genuinely redundant.

awnlee jawking

@Dominions Son

Presumes with no argument as to why that quicker to read is an absolute good.


Short sentences play a crucial role in setting the tempo for action scenes. But I think they needed to be contrasted with longer, more verbose sentences in between, incorporating filler words if necessary to slow the pace.

I was very unimpressed with the Diana Urban blog and, if she practices what she preaches, that would explain the less than stellar success of her books.

The Purdue University article looks better, but they've deliberately slanted their examples by going over the top with the wordiness.

AJ

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@awnlee jawking

The Purdue University article looks better, but they've deliberately slanted their examples by going over the top with the wordiness.


It doesn't help that their examples are heavily weighted towards formal business writing where you want to avoid any emotional content.

That's the problem with rules 1 and 2.

Could you convey the awe inspiring grandeur of the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone National Park writing like that? Hell no.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Dominions Son

It doesn't help that their examples are heavily weighted towards formal business writing


Take the source into consideration. It wasn't about fiction writing. But I thought the examples made their point.

I actually prioritize advice by who is giving it. My priority is: 1) traditional publishers and their editors, 2) literary agents; 3) Creative Writing/English professors; 4) traditionally published authors, 5) everyone else. The most trusted being numbers 1 and 2.

Here's one from a literary agent/editor/publishing coach: http://www.rachellegardner.com/how-to-cut-thousands-of-words/

Her goal is to reduce the size of the manuscript, but the information is good. I love "Passages that tell the reader what they already know" and "And remember, no matter how many words you're able to cut, your editor will always find more."

Dominions Son
Updated:

@Switch Blayde


I actually prioritize advice by who is giving it.


Argument from authority is one of the formal logical fallacies.

This goes doubly for language where the rules are necessarily descriptive rather than prescriptive.

That they are in a position of authority doesn't make them right. Their arguments must stand or fall on their own merits like everyone else's.

Here's one from a literary agent/editor/publishing coach:


Nothing but argument from authority.

Her goal is to reduce the size of the manuscript


An absurd goal in it's own right.

Taking some of her specific points.

Passages that are overly descriptive.


Useless drivel without some kind of criteria to say what is "overly" descriptive.

Passages that describe characters' thoughts and feelings in too much detail


Again useless and meaningless without a criteria for how much detail is too much.

Passages that tell the reader what they already know.


Mostly useless, because you can't know what the reader does and does not know out side of what you have previously said in the story.

Unnecessary backstory.


Useless and meaningless without a definition for what constitutes "unnecessary" backstory.

Over all just a bunch of meaningless platitudes.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Dominions Son


Her goal is to reduce the size of the manuscript

An absurd goal in it's own right.


It's a valid goal if you want to get traditionally published. Most manuscripts are too long. It costs a publisher more to publish a long novel. They usually won't take the chance on an unknown.

But the reason I gave that link was because it had some information about getting rid of excess stuff (even though it did it under the guise of reducing the size of a manuscript).

That they are in a position of authority doesn't make them right.


True, but they are in the business. Are they always right? Of course not. The rejections of "Harry Potter" proves that. But they work with this stuff day in and day out so they know what they're talking about.

Ross at Play

@richardshagrin

My: The World is littered with failed authors :-)
Your: If I had to propose a single test of author success

In the context of my joke, the "test of a failed author" would be one who had given up because eliminating unnecessary words and making stories easier to read was too difficult for them, not as simple and easy as they had claimed.

Dominions Son

@Switch Blayde

But they work with this stuff day in and day out so they know what they're talking about.


Even if they do, it deserves no respect presented as assertions/argument from authority rather than properly reasoned argument.

Dominions Son

@Switch Blayde

. The rejections of "Harry Potter" proves that.


It's not just the rejections of novels that ultimately succeed, they publish plenty of books that fail.

But they work with this stuff day in and day out so they know what they're talking about.


Do they? Can you quantify that out of all the books they publish, the number of successful books significantly outnumbers the failures.

I'd really love to see those numbers.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

the thread was asking authors to detail how THEY managed to eliminate excessive verbiage

TEENSIE little clarification ... if there was enough space in the heading I would have added "and improving readability". ANY EXAMPLES examples from others about how they achieve that would be VERY WELCOME.
SW said it perfectly, "it was (intended to be) about good editing". (And good writing too.)

However, I DID include in the heading "I understand why, but ..."
That is an absurd exaggeration, I am barely scratching the surface with when it is best to eliminate excess words. That was again due to the space limitation of the heading.
When it is appropriate to eliminate words is a very difficult question, but ANOTHER question.
From my perspective, as an inexperienced editor, those choices must be made by the author. I have opinions, I may suggest, but I cannot decide for them. However, I serve them best when I can offer choices, suggesting alternative wordings that require less words and/or flow more smoothly.

I would REALLY APPRECIATE some restraint by contributors to THIS FORUM, by restricting themselves to posts directly related to the question of how developing writers may improve their writing skills.

Dominions Son

The question of whether a given technique is or is not an improvement (why that technique should be used) is not only directly related to the question of how developing writers may improve their writing skills, it is vital to answering that question.

Ross at Play

@Dominions Son

this thread is about editing for the sake of editing

FOR FUCK'S SAKE!
EDITING is not just CUTTING!!! It's BETTER WORDS and BETTER WORD ORDERS too!!!
Your fond of pontificating precise definitions of words to others ... How about this one - from the Oxford Dictionary?
EDIT (verb) ... edit (something) to prepare a piece of writing, a book, etc. to be published by correcting the mistakes, making improvements to it, etc.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son
Updated:

@Ross at Play


EDITING is not just CUTTING!!! It's BETTER WORDS and BETTER WORD ORDERS too!!!


DO YOU DELIBERATELY FUCKING MISINTERPRET EVERYTHING I SAY?

I never said that editing was just cutting, and I have made no objections to any specific editing techniques other than cutting.

Of course the question of why, of is it an improvement applies to those as well.

If you don't know why a given word is better, you don't know that it IS better.

If you don't know why a given word order is better, you don't really know that it is better.

Your original comment explicitly talked about CUTTING as you put it. The very title of the thread is "Eliminate excess words" how is that not CUTTING.

Whys need to be questioned (is it an improvement or not) at the level of specific edits, not just the abstract of editing in general.

Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

I'll live by what Mark Twain wrote at the end of a letter to a friend. Something like: "I'm sorry this letter is so long. I didn't have time to make it shorter."

I'll live by that one too :-)
... when I learn how and when it's actually better.

Ross at Play
Updated:

@Switch Blayde

43 words [to cut] and gives examples as to why.

http://dianaurban.com/words-you-should-cut-from-your-writing-immediately

also:

https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/572/02/


Thanks, SB.

I will read 'should cut' as 'should often cut', but that's VERY helpful. EXACTLY the type of practical suggestions I was hoping for when I started this thread.

* * *

BTW, does anyone know of software that will examine text against a PERSONALISED list of words they want to review, and change the colour of the fond (or similar)?

Switch Blayde

@Dominions Son

Can you quantify that out of all the books they publish, the number of successful books significantly outnumbers the failures.


I don't have the numbers, but if it wasn't true they'd be out of business.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son
Updated:

@Switch Blayde

Not necessarily if the losses on each failure were small on average and the average profits on the successes were large enough.

If the average success made $1,000 and the average fail lost $500, overall they would break even (which is sustainable) with two failures for every success.

There is a built in upper limit to how much they can loose on any single failure. On the other hand, there is no limit on the up side for a success. Which means they can probably sustain a fairly high ratio of failures to successes.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Ross at Play
Updated:

@Dominions Son


DO YOU DELIBERATELY FUCKING MISINTERPRET EVERYTHING I SAY?


I am going to send a Thumbs Down to Lazeez about your posts on this thread.

I cannot figure out his criteria for barring people for posting. I HOPE it includes malicious interference with those attempting to improve the quality of writing by authors on this site.

You have made the same point scores of times - one that you damn well know everybody here is fully aware of.

I can see no reason for you to have continued on stating that point more than a few times - other than for the perverse pleasure you get from irritating others.

EDIT TO ADD: I HAVE SENT my Thumbs Down.

Switch Blayde

@Dominions Son

Keep in mind, the definition of success in publishing is making the investment back in the 1st 6 weeks. If the book makes a profit over its life, but not in the 1st 6 weeks, they consider it a failure. Weird, but that's their measurement.

Dominions Son

@Switch Blayde

Keep in mind, the definition of success in publishing is making the investment back in the 1st 6 weeks. If the book makes a profit over its life, but not in the 1st 6 weeks, they consider it a failure. Weird, but that's their measurement.


By that measure, they can probably sustain a 100 failures for every success.

Ernest Bywater

@Switch Blayde

Keep in mind, the definition of success in publishing is making the investment back in the 1st 6 weeks.


That's likely due to that being when the great bulk of the sales occurs. With many book stores they want to return a book they have to do it within 6 weeks (I'd guess they're related). Once they do they get credited for it. Thus after 6 weeks the publishers has a good idea of how the book stores (their main clients) view the book. If they don't have enough sale by then it's unlikely they'll get much of an improvement after that.

awnlee jawking

@Switch Blayde

I'm not impressed by her advice unless every point is qualified by "if it's right for your story". Everything she slates as candidates for removal adds colour to a story. The trouble is, novices reading her advice will go around deleting adverbs etc from their stories without considering the context, and the result may well be flat and anaemic.

AJ

Replies:   Switch Blayde
sejintenej
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


Charles appears as a courtier and also as king; his predecessor died whilst the work was being painted and Verio simply didn't change the courtier Charles.

I have no clue what your point here is. While an entertaining historical fact, how does this impact the discussion about whether to edit or not?


It is an example of where FAILURE TO EDIT results in an anomaly. Think of the famous painting of The Crucifixion; originally Christ was on the right (be a bit sinister to be on the left of anyone) but the Pope insisted that Christ be in the centre. Easy job to copy the face from the right onto the centre figure, add some thorns and a halo. What a pity the criminal on the right was not repainted. Sometimes editing or amending something is necessary

(OK, that is fiction created to demonstrate the point I made)

Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

However, I am questioning both techniques. I don't see why either should be considered an unqualified improvement.

So, aside from correcting typos, you're suggesting that NO author should EVER attempt to either edit or improve their story telling techniques?

I find that to be unfathomable advice for any author. In other words, write a rough first draft, do a rudimentary review for typos, and post it as is, warts and all? How is an author ever going to improve if they don't review their work, or ask for advice regarding how to improve their efforts?

It actually sounds like you've been in a terrible mood for the past couple weeks and are simply taking a contrary position to anything suggested. Frankly, I can't see any benefit to what you're suggesting. Yes, it's entirely possible that authors can overthink their stories and over-edit, but to suggest that NO author should EVER edit invalidates the advice of authors over the course of the last 2,000+ years. It's hard to balance that much advice against the word of one contrarian with nothing to back up his claim.

So I'll politely (as I can) suggest that you either put up or shut up. Either suggest an alternative (i.e. a better way of editing), or quit denouncing attempts by other authors to improve their techniques. So far, you're adding no advice, no suggestion and no contributions. Instead you're simply telling everyone to 'give up and ignore whatever might be wrong with your story'.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

No, I am not asking for prof of why an author should bother deleting unnecessary words. I am asking for a clear explanation of why the words are unnecessary.

I can't apply it to my own writing without the why. But the whole thread seems to dance around that without addressing it.

Clearly, that's because the thread wasn't entitled "Why bother editing?" Instead, Ross asked, "How can I eliminate excess words", triggered by comments by other authors (myself included) that we typically work to do just that, but had never outlined exactly the steps we undertook to accomplish it. As an editor advising others, he was looking for suggestions how he could better make editing recommendations based on what's worked for other authors.

Again, if you can't offer either explicit suggestions or objections to what's been suggested, I suggest you get OUT of this thread, since you're contributing nothing of value, and start a separate thread where you discuss the value in editing complex stories to make them easier to understand. That's a valid point, and one well worth discussing, but you're sidetracking a valid discussion here for nothing more than an abstract objection to an approach most others are already committed to.

In short, if you can't read this thread without grating your teeth, STOP reading the damn thing!!!

Ernest Bywater

@Dominions Son

Again, presumes the words are unnecessary as an explanation of why they are unnecessary, circular reasoning/definition.


mainly because they are either repetitive, redundant, or just sound stupid. Think back to a few movies where they have characters sound stupid by saying things like, "There are many, many, many things in this." - in this case two of the word 'many' are unnecessary, unless you really, really want it to sound stupid.

Replies:   awnlee_jawking
Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

DO YOU DELIBERATELY FUCKING MISINTERPRET EVERYTHING I SAY?

This wasn't directed at me, but I can answer for myself: Absolutely! Since I can't understand your specific objection, or what you're proposing as an alternative, clearly I'm misinterpreting everything you say. And three guesses why? You NEVER established your point, because your objections are convoluted, impossible to decipher, contain no central premise, and have no satisfactory ending. In short, if you spent more time editing both your words and your thoughts, you might have more success in expressing your ideas!

As for your (DS's) objection to this entire thread, I refuse to waste time with your shitting on the constructing advice of everyone else, not allowing us to trade ideas useful to us. As such, I won't respond anymore unless you establish a separate thread to discuss the value of editing in general, where the discussion is clearly focused, instead of shitting on the good work of others.

However, since you've taken over the entire discussion in this thread--killing another useful discussion (without even mentioning Hitler this time), I'll quit the entire thread, as I doubt we'll ever get it back on track after this.

Ross, if you want to discuss specific ideas, I suggest we take this discussion off-line, where Trolls uninterested in the discussion can't derail the exchange of ideas.

awnlee_jawking

@Ernest Bywater

There are many, many, many


I very very occasionally use repetition for emphasis but three seems over the top. ;)

AJ

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Switch Blayde
Updated:

@awnlee jawking


I'm not impressed by her advice unless every point is qualified by "if it's right for your story".


I've seen this objection everywhere in this forum. The advice isn't never or always. Show don't tell doesn't mean never tell. Don't use adverbs doesn't mean never use adverbs. Use active voice instead of passive voice does not mean never use passive voice. Delete redundant words doesn't mean never use redundant words (e.g., for effect).

What you are asking her to state is implied.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

So, aside from correcting typos, you're suggesting that NO author should EVER attempt to either edit or improve their story telling techniques?


No I am not suggesting that no author should ever attempt to either edit or improve their story telling techniques.

I am suggesting that authors should understand why first and above all else. If you don't understand why a particular edit should be made or why to use a particular story telling technique then you are making changes but not necessarily making improvements.

Instead you're simply telling everyone to 'give up and ignore whatever might be wrong with your story'.


No, don't ignore whatever might be wrong with your story, but rather understand why it's wrong.

Don't let someone else simply declare that it's wrong without explaining why it's wrong.

All understanding precedes from why. Without understanding why improvement is impossible.

Ernest Bywater

@awnlee_jawking

I very very occasionally use repetition for emphasis but three seems over the top. ;)


That's the point, and why it was used for humorous intent in the films. However, I've seen it done in stories, usually by amateurs who want to emphasis something.

awnlee jawking

@Switch Blayde

She prefaced her list with 'consider', true, but she also said to cut stories which were 'perfect' if the wordcount seemed too long. Seems to me like the tail wagging the dog.

AJ

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Ross at Play

This is another [really] good one: http://quilldriverbooks.com/foggy-writing-warning-get-rid-of-throwaway-words/

Replies:   Ross at Play
Switch Blayde

@awnlee jawking

but she also said to cut stories which were 'perfect' if the wordcount seemed too long. Seems to me like the tail wagging the dog.


That's because that was her intent. There are word count ranges per genre. What I hear on wattpad all the time is someone trying to get an agent interested in a 150,000 word romance novel. That might be acceptable in fantasy, but not romance (which is typically 70,000-90,000 words). It's too expensive and, therefore, risky for a publisher to produce a novel that long. So she was offering advice on how to reduce word count.

The reason I mentioned the link here is because there is useful information pertinent to the subject of this thread.

awnlee jawking

@Switch Blayde

If an author can't get an agent interested in a 150,000 word romance, it's almost certainly because it's not good enough. If the intro letter and description appeal, the agent will typically assess the first three chapters. If they pass muster, the agent will be interested and concerns like wordcount can be addressed later. Perhaps Mills & Boone would object to 150,000 words, but the cost of producing a 150,00 word novel is not that much greater than a 90,000 word novel.

AJ

Replies:   Switch Blayde
awnlee jawking

@Switch Blayde

The reason I mentioned the link here is because there is useful information pertinent to the subject of this thread.


True, but the thread has drifted into encompassing why stories should be pruned, and there's a sort of pervading atmosphere that pruning for pruning's sake is good.

For authors writing for themselves, that's clearly not true.

For authors writing for readers, the readers' views should be paramount. CW's experiments (professional editor, Singularity) don't support a culture of succinctness.

AJ

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Switch Blayde
Updated:

@awnlee jawking


If an author can't get an agent interested in a 150,000 word romance, it's almost certainly because it's not good enough. If the intro letter and description appeal, the agent will typically assess the first three chapters.


One of the first things in a query letter is the genre and word count. There's a reason for that.

Word count is definitely a factor with cost. The obvious cost is printing (paper, etc.). But don't forget other costs, such as editing.

Even if you self-publish you need to take novel size into account because the longer the story the higher the shipping costs are.

Whether you agree or not doesn't matter. She thought it mattered so she gave tips for reducing word count. As I said, I didn't list that link for us to reduce word count. I did it because there was information in there relating to the topic.

Crumbly Writer

@awnlee jawking

CW's experiments (professional editor, Singularity) don't support a culture of succinctness.

Pardon me, I said I wouldn't but when you take my name in vein I've got to step in.

"Singularity" received some tremendously positive reviews, where it fell short was on the online ratings on SOL, and it turned out most of that was due to the site's score manipulation. Before the manipulation was put into effect, it ranked at nearly a perfect 10 on Sci-Fi, ranked higher than my other stories. Afterwards, the story was among my lowest ranking. So either the score manipulations aren't unilateral, or readers are seeing the score demerits as evidence the stories are to blame.

Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

This is another [really] good one

Dare I say? Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you - for FOUR examples where you have sought to provide information that may practically help developing writers and editors, and without any ego-driven need to demonstrate how clever you are.

Needless to say ... rewind that, needed to say HERE ... I shall treat all "dictates" they contain as having an implied 'only if cuts do not detract from the sound of this sentence, and brevity is desired at the point of the story'.
Smiley, smiley, smiley, smiley.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Ross at Play

This is another [really] good one


Did my humor go unnoticed on the unnecessary word in brackets?

You're welcome. :)

Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

Did my humor go unnoticed on the unnecessary word in brackets?

Not only is it unnecessary, but it's weak and overly generic (i.e. it doesn't add anything to the sentence). "Terrific" is stronger than the two-word "really good".

Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

Yes. The humor went straight over my head, and I still cannot notice it.
Would you explain, in literal language needed by dummies?
Does "[really]" = "not really"?

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

Got it now (I hope)
"[really]" (to dummies) = "really" (to others)?

Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Ross at Play


The humor went straight over my head, and I still cannot notice it.


"This is a good one."

That sentence says it all. "This is a really good one" says the same thing.

Some here will argue "really good" is more good than "good." So be it.

Dominions Son

@Switch Blayde

Some here will argue "really good" is more good than "good." So be it.


I'm too tall to be cousin It. :)

awnlee jawking

@Switch Blayde

Some here will argue "really good" is more good than "good."


And some here will argue "really really good" is more gooder than "really good." :)

AJ

Crumbly Writer
Updated:

@Switch Blayde


Some here will argue "really good" is more good than "good." So be it.


Again, I'd argue that "really good" is only marginally better than "good", which is a middling grade, at best. If it's only "good" or "really good" I'd go with "Ahh!". Otherwise I'd go withing stronger and more authoritative, such as "tremendous", "terrific" or "captivating". Why bother describing things which are "merely good"? If it's only so impressive, why include it in the story at all?

However, if you're trying to demonstrate the character isn't particularly impressed, then "good" or "really good" (if he's trying to convince the girl he likes her boring movie) are perfectly fine.

Again, both "good" and "really" are considered "weak", overly generic words, while "dynamic" words help drive the story.

lichtyd
Updated:

@Switch Blayde

I have problems with "was" because I frequently use past tense and passive voice when I speak.

If I were granted a "One Time Only" round trip back into the past; I would use it to kick myself in the ass and pay attention in English class. My inattentiveness and laziness then, makes my writing hobby difficult. I've spent weeks rewriting sentences and paragraphs to remove "was" errors.

BTW, this topic is very informative.

Switch Blayde

@lichtyd

I have problems with "was" because I frequently use past tense and passive voice when I speak.


Writing in past tense isn't a problem. Although the current trend seems to be present tense, most novels have been and still are written in past tense.

Passive voice is used all the time in English. When to use it in fiction and when not to is the trick. And not all "was" situations are passive voice. For example, "John was running to the store" is not passive voice. But "was running" often should be "ran."

I'm like you — somehow I slept through grammar classes in school. I've been trying to catch up now that I'm writing which is why I spend so much time in this forum on grammar.

Ernest Bywater

@Switch Blayde

most novels have been and still are written in past tense.


That may be true of 20th century US writers, but not true of all novels of all time. Both past and present tense have been the preferred option at different times through history, and both are equally as valid a way to write. When you take into account all the works written for entertainment you're more likely to find present tense is the more common due to its use in plays and scripts for films etc.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
awnlee jawking

@Ernest Bywater

Creative writing courses teach that different types of stories come across better in different tenses. For example, a first person action thriller would normally come across better in the present because of the immediacy. A third person drama would normally come across better in the past tense.

My personal preference is for the past tense. I believe I have used it for all my SOL stories, although I do try my hand at present tense occasionally.

AJ

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@awnlee jawking

My personal preference is for the past tense.


If you're happy with it, good for you. I'm just a little tense about the tense issue because I've received too many abusive emails, and comments in past discussions, along the lines of past tense being the only valid way to write in as per the poster of the message. When the reality is both past and present are valid, at it all comes down to a personal preference.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
awnlee jawking

@Ernest Bywater

Yeah, I know what you mean. A supposedly reputable authority (name forgotten) advised writers to think very carefully before deciding to write in the present tense, and then choose past tense anyway. That seemed to be the pervading dogma when I took up writing again.

AJ

richardshagrin

@lichtyd

If I were granted a "One Time Only" round trip back into the past; I would use it to kick myself in the ass and pay attention in English class.


This might be an unusually short Do-Over story. Its not clear to me how the hero can kick himself in the ass. Maybe if he is a contortionist or a specialized kind of gymnast.

Capt Zapp

@richardshagrin

Its not clear to me how the hero can kick himself in the ass. Maybe if he is a contortionist or a specialized kind of gymnast.


If you can get your heel to your ass, you can 'kick' yourself with your heel. You may have to use a little extra force if you have thick muscles but no special abilities are required.

Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

I'm like you — somehow I slept through grammar classes in school. I've been trying to catch up now that I'm writing which is why I spend so much time in this forum on grammar.

Join the club. The only ones who paid attention in English class were the pretentious girls dreaming of becoming poets and writing Harlequin romances. I didn't take a single English class in my entire post-graduate years, never dreaming I'd need to know that crap.

Now, years later, we've all decided we want to write/post/publish, and suddenly we're trying to make up for lost time. However, while we all seem to lack the polished credentials, what we have are better grasps of life and story telling, rather than techniques to write the perfect sentence/paragraph, and that's much more valuable. We can learn the rest, but without decent ideas, all the techniques in the world don't amount to a pile of semicolons! :)

Crumbly Writer

@richardshagrin

This might be an unusually short Do-Over story. Its not clear to me how the hero can kick himself in the ass. Maybe if he is a contortionist or a specialized kind of gymnast.

Clearly, the present-day do-over guy gets the original olden days guy to kick his do-over ass for him. (I wonder if that hurts both guys?) :)

Replies:   Capt Zapp
Capt Zapp

@Crumbly Writer

Clearly, the present-day do-over guy gets the original olden days guy to kick his do-over ass for him. (I wonder if that hurts both guys?) :)


If both the Present-day guy and the olden-days guy are both present, wouldn't that be more of a 'time travel' scenario (ala Mayhem in a Pill) rather than a do-over?

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Capt Zapp

If both the Present-day guy and the olden-days guy are both present, wouldn't that be more of a 'time travel' scenario (ala Mayhem in a Pill) rather than a do-over?

Oops, I guess I'll do-over my do-over scenario, though technically, if the present day guy comes back as someone else, he could still have his original self kick his/her ass for him. In that scenario, I'd assume it wouldn't hurt the past version of himself for another 30 to 50 years. :)

lichtyd

@richardshagrin

My older, wiser, and grammatically challenged self would kick my younger, dumber and self absorbed self.

In my time travel stories, a paradox, is just two doctors.

Crumbly Writer

@lichtyd

My older, wiser, and grammatically challenged self would kick my younger, dumber and self absorbed self.

My problem was never that I made bad decisions when I was younger, I just never envisioned myself as an author/editor. I came to it completely by accident. I lost my career (disability), couldn't do anything else, started reading stories online because my concentration was suffering too much to read books (helped when I reduced the medication I was on), and figured, 'I can do better than this'.

However, I'd always been fairly good at expressing my eyes, and always knew enough to keep friends around who could edit my reports before submitting them to the boss. I knew the basics of communication and story telling, I just didn't know the specifics of sentence construction, what goes where and why. Thus I knew how to construct a story, but I needed to learn the techniques I'd never studied before.

One thing I learned, an author going back to relearn how to write makes for a terrible do-over story--even his he has a paradox to control his medication issues.

By the way, I live for paradoxes. A single one just won't do!

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
richardshagrin

@lichtyd

Or two places to tie up boats. (docks)

Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

I live for paradoxes


Oh, sorry, I thought it was a pair of doxies you lived for.

Switch Blayde

I just eliminated some excessive words. I really wanted to keep them in, but it wasn't needed. There's no strike-through option here so I'll put the deleted sentence in [] brackets.

That night was the second worst of my life, right behind when I had thought Jenna died. [Guilt overwhelmed me.] JoJo was surely dead and it was my fault. Why had I gotten him involved?

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

I just eliminated some excessive words. I really wanted to keep them in, but it wasn't needed. There's no strike-through option here so I'll put the deleted sentence in [] brackets.

His guilt was telling. His redemption was showing.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

His guilt was telling. His redemption was showing.


Yes, I took out the telling.

Replies:   El_Sol
El_Sol

@Switch Blayde

It's very easy,

Step 1. Read some very famous shorts stories ... Hemingway is a good place to start, then analyze what, how he says things and then absorb how much he leaves off the page.

Step 2. Write short stories... start with 1000 word flashes and move up to five page stories.

The key is to set a HARD limit but not sacrifice story, so first let yourself go without limits (but stay close), then go back in and see what you can cut.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde
Updated:

@El_Sol


It's very easy,


What's easy? Cutting out words?

That's very hard. The hardest writing I ever did was for a "Writer's Digest" contest that limited me to a maximum of 750 words. Before I even got into the story I was over 1,000. The story "Coming Home" is the result.

sejintenej

@Switch Blayde

What's easy? Cutting out words?

That's very hard. The hardest writing I ever did was for a "Writer's Digest" contest that limited me to a maximum of 750 words. Before I even got into the story I was over 1,000

I had a similar problem with a factual article being written of the Financial Times - 800+ words into 500. I succeeded, they liked it but I was unhappy with parts of the result
A nightmare

Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

What's easy? Cutting out words?

That's very hard.

That's true, but it's often the best training for how to reduce word counts. You only learn by doing, and if you only ever eliminate what's superfluous (not part of the plot), you never learn to delete to actually improve the story (i.e. make it more concise).

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

often the best training for how to reduce word counts

THEY may be the most helpful words posted in this thread in answering my original question in its title.

Ross at Play

I would like to reopen this discussion with a related but different question.

To DS: I think you deserve the first crack at this one.

I would be interested in opinions of more experienced writers on the types of situations, and examples if possible, where an over-emphasis on reducing word counts during the revision process may end up detrimental to the story.

Hopefully this is a question where there are no right and wrong responses, only lots of ideas for developing authors to aware of when seriously attempting to fine tune their writing.

Dominions Son

@Ross at Play

To DS: I think you deserve the first crack at this one.


This is my opinion more as a reader than a writer.

There are only so many ways to say something. When you are deliberately trying to say it in as few words as possible that further reduces the number of different ways it can be said.

Removing outright redundancies is one thing.

When you edit a story explicitly to increase conciseness, you are necessarily robbing the story of:

Uniqueness
The author's voice.
Emotional energy.

As a reader, particularly here, but on Amazon for my Kindle as well, unless I am specifically looking for a stroke story, I prefer longer stories.

Concise stories generally feel flat and emotionless to me and I just cant get into them.

I want a story that has color and flair and emotional energy, and that takes description. I can more easily get into stories with a vibrant well described setting than one that's all action but could be happening anywhere.

A well written story is a picture painted with words.

A concise story is a grey scale pencil sketch, a mere shadow of what it could be. It can be good in it's own way, but it will never be as pleasant to the eye, as enjoyable to look at as an well done oil painting.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Ernest Bywater

@Ross at Play

where an over-emphasis on reducing word counts during the revision process may end up detrimental to the story.


Depending on how and where you cut you can end up with important information to make sense of a later scene being cut and the story doesn't work as it should.

Ross at Play

DS appears to agree straight redundancies should be eliminated, but warns that although descriptive words may not be essential information, they ARE very often an essential component of the reading experience.

EB appears to be warning that care is needed to avoid eliminating something that really is essential information.

May I assume both are (in principle) in favour of eliminating "glue words", i.e. rewording a sentence to have EXACTLY the same meaning, usually with exactly the same root words, just the total number of words is less.

I would add a caution to eliminating glue words. I have worked on some sentences and found a way to reduce one or two glue words, but the result was a series of very short phrases. My assessment was one or two extra words was worth it to have a sentence that flowed smoothly with only one parenthetic phrase digressing from the main idea of the sentence.

I would also expand on the comments by DS. To me extra descriptive details are neither a universal good or bad thing. For example, a story where a man comes up with an idea for a new invention and decides to build a prototype. It would be essential to describe both his shopping trip to buy the materials needed and his efforts attempting to build it.

As a reader, I would want to see many descriptive details of the building of the prototype using a lot of less common words too. For the shopping trip, I would want as little detail as possible and very simple words, like walk, ask, buy and drive.

Hopefully the car park of the hardware shop is not at the bottom of the river so the author will not need to decide whether the man "drove in" or "drived into" it. :-)

Ernest Bywater
Updated:

@Ross at Play


May I assume both are (in principle) in favour of eliminating "glue words", i.e. rewording a sentence to have EXACTLY the same meaning, usually with exactly the same root words, just the total number of words is less.


In principle, yes.

One of the advantages of writing in the vernacular is cutting a lot of the formal crap out of a sentence. For example:

Formal English - Peter says, "John said that they are over in the next valley."

Vernacular English - Peter says, "John said they're over in the next valley."

...............

A certain amount of description is needed in many situations, but it should be kept to the minimum needed for the item and the scene. When i was revising Shiloh with The Scot we cut over 1,000 words out of one chapter, all of them were the way he described one room and its contents, even so it still ended up with about 400 words of description, but the original was just way to flowery.

In many of my stories I have people buying cars or vans, the descriptions of the vehicles and their contents varies between the stories. Part of that is certain aspects of the descriptions lead back into displaying aspects of the characters, so they have more detail than others where they don't. - it's a real case of you needing to decide how mush is relevant, and how much isn't.

Take my latest finished story, Mallard Heir. The house is beside a ridge, I could go into great length to describe the ridge, but only put in sufficient to let you know it's not an easy walk up it. For most of the rooms I give little more than a basic dimension, and then that's in the drawing of the house. I could've gone into detail about cupboards etc., but didn't. The same is true for all the furniture, most are a simple basic description or just a note they exist, when i could have spent a few hundred words on the colour engraving, design, etc. - not relevant to the story, so I didn't.

Take a house in a story, is the colour of the exterior important? Then it needs to be given in detail, if not it can either be given a single word mention (eg. blue house) or not mentioned at all. But, if the colour is important, then you may wish to go into more detail as to the shade of the blue and the trim etc.

edit to add: You can always go and trim out excess adjectives that don't help the story. But be sure about them being excess.

sejintenej

@Ernest Bywater


One of the advantages of writing in the vernacular is cutting a lot of the formal crap out of a sentence. For example:

Formal English - Peter says, "John said that they are over in the next valley."

Vernacular English - Peter says, "John said they're over in the next valley."

I suggest that you can safely omit the word "over". If it were "up" or "down" then it might have significance (depending on the context) but "over" does not have any implications apart from being elsewhere which is covered by "the next valley".

The rest of your entry I go with

richardshagrin

@Ernest Bywater

it's a real case of you needing to decide how mush is relevant, and how much isn't.

Take my latest finished story, Mallard Heir.


Oatmeal is relevant, I eat it for breakfast. Mush isn't. Mallard's have feathers, not hair.

Ross at Play

@Ernest Bywater

In principle, yes.

So, we have RaP, EB & DS politely expanding on each others thoughts. :-)
Maybe the second cumming will be tomorrow? :-)

Dominions Son

@Ross at Play

May I assume both are (in principle) in favour of eliminating "glue words", i.e. rewording a sentence to have EXACTLY the same meaning, usually with exactly the same root words, just the total number of words is less.


Not necessarily. Certainly not as rule that all authors should always remove such words.

If the author want's the story narration to have a very formal feel, then they should be left in for narration. If the author wants a more casual feel for the narration they should be removed from the narration. An editor should discuss with the author which the author wants.

For dialog, it depends on the character speaking and the circumstances the character is speaking in.

For example, the glue words should be included in the dialog for an English butler unless he's off duty at the local pub.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Dominions Son

@Ross at Play

I would also expand on the comments by DS. To me extra descriptive details are neither a universal good or bad thing.


Agreed. It depends on the story and how central an item is to the story.

For example, a story where a man comes up with an idea for a new invention and decides to build a prototype. It would be essential to describe both his shopping trip to buy the materials needed and his efforts attempting to build it.


If the invention itself is central to the story in some way then yes in needs to be described in detail. On the other hand if it's a background element to provide a source of wealth, it should still be given some description, but the description can be less detailed.

Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Ross at Play


I would be interested in opinions of more experienced writers on the types of situations, and examples if possible, where an over-emphasis on reducing word counts during the revision process may end up detrimental to the story.


The goal isn't to reduce word count (unless you do it for the reason stated in one of the blogs — to make the word count better fit the "norm" for the genre).

The goal is to make the story stronger.

Often, if you say the same thing again, it adds nothing. However, sometimes I actually repeat a word or phrase for emphasis. Many words that should be deleted add nothing and interfere with the flow of the sentence. They simply get in the way.

As with most rules, it's not a rule. It's something in the author's toolbox to consider when writing/editing.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son
Updated:

@Switch Blayde


The goal is to make the story stronger.


Beyond a certain point, it weakens the story not strengthens it.

Many words that should be deleted add nothing and interfere with the flow of the sentence. They simply get in the way.


This is purely subjective.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Dominions Son

The goal is to make the story stronger.

Beyond a certain point, it weakens the story not strengthens it.


I repeat — "The goal is to make the story stronger."

If eliminating words does that, delete them. If repeating words does that, put them in. If description gets skimmed over by the reader because it's boring, delete it. If description engages the reader in the story, put it in.

If it was black and white, computers would write stories and authors would be extinct.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@Switch Blayde

I repeat — "The goal is to make the story stronger."

If eliminating words does that, delete them. If repeating words does that, put them in.


Without understanding why given words make a story stronger or weaker this is a useless standard.

If it's purely or mostly subjective, it's a useless standard.

If description gets skimmed over by the reader because it's boring, delete it. If description engages the reader in the story, put it in.


The same description could bore on reader and engage the next. This is almost entirely subjective, making it useless as a general sharable technique.

Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

I want a story that has color and flair and emotional energy, and that takes description. I can more easily get into stories with a vibrant well described setting than one that's all action but could be happening anywhere.

That's a valid point, but the key is rich descriptions which evoke real life, rather than emotionless generic descriptions. However, we're not arguing to drop all descriptions, just to review the text to make it cleaner. The descriptions which inform and define the characters should definitely stay, but we're hoping to eliminate the unnecessary fluff which makes them difficult to manage.

However, I've run into just this problem with my own stories. Since my earlier stories ran 150,000 to 300,000 words, I thought it excessive, but was unable to edit it down. I've been trying to change my writing style instead, being less descriptive, and I'm running into what you're describing. It's not that my descriptions aren't written as well, but that I'm writing fewer of them.

Since I'm sticking to elements which directly advance the plot, I'm shying away from those which don't. Typically, I add involved discussions to help counter short action sequences: short, fast action sequences followed by longer, detailed chapters as the characters reflect what happened. But many of my recent stories have fewer action scenes (outright fights), so I wasn't finding the opportunities to flesh out the characters as much.

Part of that is I'm now planning out my chapters in advance, rather than just writing and seeing where the story leads, which prevents me from exploring the many 'everyday' moments. But that's a story planning and execution issue, not a 'making the writing clearer' issue.

@Ross at Play

May I assume both are (in principle) in favour of eliminating "glue words", i.e. rewording a sentence to have EXACTLY the same meaning, usually with exactly the same root words, just the total number of words is less.

That's a little much. The focus shouldn't be on "fewer words" in total, but on easier to read and more expansive exposition. You want emotional scenes, but not ones which are difficult to parse.

Another important component, which is often difficult to achieve, is varying sentence length to keep the story from sounding stilted (i.e. intermix short, normal length and long sentences, rather than having every sentence ending up at nearly the same length).

@Ernest
I hate to say it, but your description of your "house" passages reflect much of the difficulty the DS is pointing out. We've discussed this before, but both you and Switch have long emphasized not including descriptions of how people appear, because readers rarely remember it. However, I find that describing characters allows me to focus on individual traits that allow me to flesh out their personalities.

In "Catalyst", I emphasized Alex's "bushy eyebrows". That's hardly an essential story element, but it emphasized his unorganized manner, and helped show how others perceived him. By pointing it out, I could also capture how he felt about the single character flaw, and how it helped define him.

Not all descriptions are bad, but we need to carefully choose which help, which don't advance the story (plot or character development) and when to utilize both.

Crumbly Writer

@sejintenej

The rest of your entry I go with

I go [over] with? :)

Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

On the other hand if it's a background element to provide a source of wealth, it should still be given some description, but the description can be less detailed.

Except, how a person approaches work often informs who they are as a person. Are they meticulous? Do they focus on the details (like the polish on the chrome) or are the overly efficient, leaving the grease on the metal because it doesn't impact efficiency?

Describing the building of new technology isn't just to reference to it (and problems with the design) later in the story, it helps to identify who the person is and how they really feel about the project. If the character cares about it, then hopefully the readers will. If he simply views it as a means to an end, the reader will likely consider it immaterial as well.

Again, cutting content simply because it 'doesn't advance the story' can leave you without much of a story.

@DS

This is purely subjective.

Which is why Switch described it as a tool which each author must evaluate on a case by case basis, rather it being a rule that "everyone must follow".

Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

However, we're not arguing to drop all descriptions, just to review the text to make it cleaner. The descriptions which inform and define the characters should definitely stay, but we're hoping to eliminate the unnecessary fluff which makes them difficult to manage.


That's the whole problem, in my mind, once you get passed basic spelling and grammar issues, "cleaner" is meaningless nonsense.

"useless fluff" isn't any better. What makes it "fluff"? Why? What makes one piece of fluff useless and another not? Why? If you can't answer these questions (in detail not generic platitudes), it's just more meaningless nonsense.

Not all descriptions are bad, but we need to carefully choose which help, which don't advance the story (plot or character development) and when to utilize both.


Unless the setting is something well known to the intended audience, developing the setting is every bit as important as plot and character development.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

Except, how a person approaches work often informs who they are as a person. Are they meticulous? Do they focus on the details (like the polish on the chrome) or are the overly efficient, leaving the grease on the metal because it doesn't impact efficiency?


It's all about how it fits in the larger story and the picture the author is trying to paint.

Dominions Son
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


Which is why Switch described it as a tool which each author must evaluate on a case by case basis, rather it being a rule that "everyone must follow".


Without an at least partly objective standard, what is there to evaluate? How are you evaluating it? why?

Why does including it make the story stronger? Why does including it make the story weaker?

Why? why? why?

If you can't answer these questions with detail and specificity, how do you know your changes make the story stronger rather than weaker?

If it's all gut feel, that's not a sharable technique that you can teach to another author.

Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

That's the whole problem, in my mind, once you get passed basic spelling and grammar issues, "cleaner" is meaningless nonsense.

"useless fluff" isn't any better. What makes it "fluff"? Why? What makes one piece of fluff useless and another not? Why? If you can't answer these questions (in detail not generic platitudes), it's just more meaningless nonsense.

D.S., you seem to be arguing for automated stories which don't rely on the 'variability' and individual choices of random authors. Most of us see writing more as an art than a science, with some better able to identify when to use one technique or another, rather than a 'once size fits all' approach.

Your approach seems to be 'if you can't Prove shorting any single sentence makes it better, then you shouldn't ever eliminate any single word, since it may not work in that one instance.

That argument is akin to saying: you should never walk outdoors, because you never know when an elephant may fall from the sky and kill you!

Instead, we're arguing that it's often a judgment call, which we sometimes get wrong, but which we more often get right.

We can't offer you any guarantees, just that we're happier with the results.

Note: Get take my objections the wrong way, as I'm trying to do two separate things, clean up my language and shorten the story. One technique clearly circumvents the other, and the two techniques aren't the same by any stretch of the imagination.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


but both you and Switch have long emphasized not including descriptions of how people appear,


In my novel, the pastor has bushy eyebrows. In fact it gave him the nickname of Squirrel by the kids. My hero has a tattoo on his forearm and black hair. My other hero has thick forearms, is short and stocky and has a barrel chest. I never said not to do that in character descriptions. What not to do is: He was six feet tall, brown hair, brown eyes, 240 pounds...

Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

D.S., you seem to be arguing for automated stories which don't rely on the 'variability' and individual choices of random authors.


That's not what I am trying to say.

Most of us see writing more as an art than a science, with some better able to identify when to use one technique or another, rather than a 'once size fits all' approach.


Instead, we're arguing that it's often a judgment call, which we sometimes get wrong, but which we more often get right.


Yet you insist on describing these techniques in terms that to me inherently imply an objective standard (cleaner, stronger, useless).

Judgement calls have to be made on some kind of standard. If that standard is simply what feels right/wrong than say so, stop couching it in terms that imply an objective standard applicable across different authors.

Get take my objections the wrong way, as I'm trying to do two separate things, clean up my language


Again, beyond grammar/spelling issues, I have no idea what it means for your language to be "clean" it simply doesn't mean anything to me.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Dominions Son

@Switch Blayde

What not to do is: He was six feet tall, brown hair, brown eyes, 240 pounds...


I don't at all understand why hair/eye color falls into the not to do category.

Height can be done if handled properly. character a is taller/shorter than character b. It's also possible to have the POV character make rough estimates of how much shorter / taller another character is.

Switch Blayde

@Dominions Son

I don't at all understand why hair/eye color falls into the not to do category.


Not hair. It's the driver's license character description.

Dominions Son

@Switch Blayde

Not hair. It's the driver's license character description.


But that's a problem of a poorly done description, not an example for descriptive information that should not be included.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Ernest Bywater

@sejintenej

I suggest that you can safely omit the word "over". If it were "up" or "down" then it might have significance (depending on the context) but "over" does not have any implications apart from being elsewhere which is covered by "the next valley".


and thus we have another example of how it can be trimmed.

Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Dominions Son

not an example for descriptive information that should not be included.


I can't take credit for this. It comes from a "Writer's Digest" article on description.

4. Select physical details carefully, choosing only those that create the strongest, most revealing impression.

One well-chosen physical trait, item of clothing, or idiosyncratic mannerism can reveal character more effectively than a dozen random images.


So everything else should not be included.

I remember reading a description of a pirate walking into a bar (maybe it was from "Treasure Island"). His description was powerful, from his wooden leg and limp to the scar on his cheek. On the other side, I read an article about a character in a Hemingway short story. The only description of her was something like, "She placed her red hat on the table."

I wish I had the quote, but a famous author once said he has a thousand versions of his novel because every reader sees his characters a little different, making them their own.

If you want hard and fast rules, take up programming, not writing fiction.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son
Updated:

@Switch Blayde


If you want hard and fast rules, take up programming, not writing fiction.


You're the one coming closest to a hard and fast rule with "Should not be included"

If you want a hard and fast rule that certain traits should never be included in a character description, it's on you and others pushing that rule to justify why it should be a rule at all.

Even if you are just pushing it as a guide line, it's up to you to and others pushing it justify why it should be consider a guideline.

without that, I can't consider it worthwhile.

What I said was how it's included / presented matters as much for how powerful the description is as what information is included. I never said that any particular information should or should not be included. So I have no clue where you come up with the idea that I am pushing for a hard and fast rule.


I wish I had the quote, but a famous author once said he has a thousand versions of his novel because every reader sees his characters a little different, making them their own.


That's his opinion, and his being a famous author doesn't make his opinion more authoritative, stronger or better than anyone else's

Switch Blayde

@Dominions Son


That's his opinion, and his being a famous author doesn't make his opinion more authoritative, stronger or better than anyone else's


He meant the reader made the story their own.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@Switch Blayde


He meant the reader made the story their own.


So, that's still just his opinion and no more authoritative than anyone else's opinion.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Dominions Son

So, that's still just his opinion and no more authoritative than anyone else's opinion.


When you talk about grammar and punctuation, you're talking about rules. Everything else is opinion. As I said before, a writer has a toolbox of "opinions" to use or discard.

I'm writing the last scene of my WIP novel. I just wrote this:

Mrs. Wayne appeared out of the darkness at the other end of the stage and strolled up to me.

"You look handsome," she said.

I tugged at the bow tie that was too tight around my neck.

"Leave it alone," she said. "Don't fiddle with it. It looks fine."

I pulled the jacket tails away from my body and said, "How 'bout this thing? Is it on right?"

"That thing is called a cummerbund. It goes with the tuxedo. And it's also fine."


Did I describe his nervousness? Nope, I implied it with the tightness of the bow tie. He was uncomfortable, but not from the tie. Did I describe his tuxedo? Like satin lapels, black, white starched shirt with those pop-in buttons, etc. Nope. I'm not sure I should even have her say "tuxedo" and may take it out. Then again, since my target readership is YA I may leave it in.

Is how the tuxedo looks important? Nope. Is it important that he's wearing a tuxedo? Yup. So I only described the pertinent parts of the tuxedo to make my points.

Dominions Son
Updated:

@Switch Blayde


Nope, I implied it with the tightness of the bow tie.


Actually, it would better imply nervousness if you had him fidgeting with the tie without saying it was tight. Mentioning that the tie was tight leaves it ambiguous about whether he is uncomfortable because the tie is tight or he's nervous.

However, nothing that you have said shows why including height (aproximate), hair color, or eye color is necessarily weaker than leaving them out.

Is how the tuxedo looks important? Nope.


Actually, it could be important depending on the larger story. For instance that it's a well fit bespoke tuxedo could add to character development. It does say something about the character that he actually owns a custom tailored tux.

Of course, in your example, the fact that he doesn't even know what the cummerbund is, itself implies a rental since he obviously isn't familiar with wearing a tux.

Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Dominions Son


Actually, it would better imply nervousness if you had him fidgeting with the tie without saying it was tight.


As I said, I had just written those words. When I was reading the post I came to that same opinion and took the "tight around the neck" out. I originally had it because it's from his POV and because he was nervous it felt tight.

Switch Blayde

@Dominions Son


Actually, it would better imply nervousness if


And the latest version is... (which will probably be changed again)

Mrs. Wayne appeared out of the darkness at the other end of the stage and strolled up to me.

"You look handsome," she said.

I tugged at the bow tie around my neck.

"Leave it alone," Mrs. Wayne said. "Don't fiddle with it. It looks fine."

Spreading the jacket out to the sides, I asked, "How 'bout this thing? Is it on right?"

"That thing is called a cummerbund. And it's also fine. See how nice it is to live in Woodland? No place to rent a tuxedo here."

"Is my hair okay?" I patted the side and then the back.

"Cory, everything's fine. You look fine. Do me a favor. Take a deep breath."

I did.

Mrs. Wayne chuckled. "And let it out."

Whoosh!

She laughed again. "Better. You were turning blue."

Replies:   Dominions Son
Ernest Bywater

@Dominions Son

That's his opinion, and his being a famous author doesn't make his opinion more authoritative, stronger or better than anyone else's


This statement also applies to other things, such as what is promoted by certain style manuals which are the opinions of the editors of those manuals. The sad thing is how some people and educators see the manuals as handed down by God and promote them as hard and fast rules.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Dominions Son

@Switch Blayde

the latest version


Nice. I'd guess a wedding, but then the types of men likely to get married on a stage would generally be more familiar with wearing a tux.

Ernest Bywater

@Switch Blayde

Is how the tuxedo looks important? Nope. Is it important that he's wearing a tuxedo? Yup. So I only described the pertinent parts of the tuxedo to make my points.


which is how it should be for effect. If you went into the fine detail of all the clothing the fact it's a tuxedo is lost and not emphasized.

The hard part is to decide what detail is important and what isn't, then choose the right level of detail and what to mention. Mind you, I'm the guy who gives a lot of detail on certain projects to show some of the decisions and actions being take in the work on the buildings.

Ernest Bywater

@Dominions Son


Nice. I'd guess a wedding, but then the types of men likely to get married on a stage would generally be more familiar with wearing a tux.


He could be the best man, but I'd probably guess, from that scene alone, he's the MC for an event of some sort - probably a fund raiser for something he supports or believes in.

Switch Blayde

@Dominions Son

Nice. I'd guess a wedding, but then the types of men likely to get married on a stage would generally be more familiar with wearing a tux.


LOL You'll have to read the 80,000+ words preceding this scene. He's 17. It's backstage, behind the closed curtain, in a high school auditorium.

Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

Again, beyond grammar/spelling issues, I have no idea what it means for your language to be "clean" it simply doesn't mean anything to me.

Clean: Not as confusing as it would be otherwise. Easy to read, with a clear meaning.

I don't at all understand why hair/eye color falls into the not to do category.

He means, don't just list a series or random facts. Hair color is okay in the right contexts, but height, weight and bra size are novice errors.

nothing that you have said shows why including height (aproximate), hair color, or eye color is necessarily weaker than leaving them out.

Okay, here are some. Few people can accurately guestimate height or weight. Hair color is okay, but doesn't add much of value to a description. What percentage of humanity is brunette? Eye color is something few notice until they get right into your face, so why mention it unless it's a love scene?

Nervous ticks, things that define someone (because they're self-conscious or proud of them), or that reflect their state of mind are more worthwhile.

Replies:   Dominions Son  Capt Zapp
Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

This statement also applies to other things, such as what is promoted by certain style manuals which are the opinions of the editors of those manuals. The sad thing is how some people and educators see the manuals as handed down by God and promote them as hard and fast rules.

Uh, in case none of you have noticed, writing has NO rules. They can't revoke your creative license for putting in an extra comma. Style guides are suggestions, however, if you want to be published by someone, or you work with a given university, then your work is required to conform to the appropriate style guide. That IS a hard a fast rule, otherwise they simply won't publish it (though even this has a lot of wiggle room).

More than anything else, style guidelines point out 1) what's commonly accepted, and 2)what's likely to get you into trouble. In most cases, you can violate them all you want, but you should understand why the standard exists, so you realize what the risks are.

Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

Style guides are suggestions, however, if you want to be published by someone, or you work with a given university, then your work is required to conform to the appropriate style guide


Exactly, CW, and the guides have no application outside of a publisher wanting them used on the stories they publish. Sometimes they'll accept a story and have their editors make it conform. Which is why I don't like it when someone says a thing is an absolute rule of writing in English, especially when the first reference to using the style mentioned can only be found in a certain style guide meant for publishing in an academic situation not that many decades ago.

Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

More than anything else, style guidelines point out 1) what's commonly accepted,


What you should say is 1) what's commonly accepted by some publishers.

Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

Hair color is okay in the right contexts, but height, weight and bra size are novice errors.


Sure, just flat out stating them all at once, especially if done for every character, but that's not the only way to do it.

Few people can accurately guestimate height or weight.


I generally agree on weight and don't use it in descriptions.

As to height, a lot depends on what you consider accurately and how the description is worded. I think at least from a close encounter, say arms length, could get within +/- 3 inches.

A lot depends on what you mean by accurately and how the d

Hair color is okay, but doesn't add much of value to a description.


It doesn't take anything away, and it can add to the value of a description if someone has a rare natural hair color (red-head, white) or dyes their hair an unusual color.

Eye color is something few notice until they get right into your face, so why mention it unless it's a love scene?


A character's description doesn't have to all be stacked up in one place Why not mention it in a love scene.

Or maybe in a more general scene, another character has a thing for green or blue eyes and notices.

Nervous ticks, things that define someone (because they're self-conscious or proud of them), or that reflect their state of mind are more worthwhile.


People can be self-conscious or proud of their height and / or weight and that does affect their state of mind.

Look, I'm not arguing that height or anything else must be include in a character description. My only point is that I do not agree that it weakens the story if it's done right.

Example:
Sally was walking down the hall to her next class, daydreaming, not paying attention to her surroundings. She turned the corner at the end and ran into something.

She snapped out of her daydream and focused on her surroundings. She was face to face with a boy. Well not quite face to face, her eye's only came up to his chin.

She looked up at him. God, she though, he must be over six feet tall.

He looked down at her...

---

Brad was standing near his locker talking with a couple of friends when a girl came around the corner of the hall and ran straight into him.

She barely came up to his nose. He brushed her blond hair out of his eyes. Her head tilted back to look up at him. He looked down at her. Their eyes met and he was mesmerized by the most amazing green eye's he had ever seen.

Capt Zapp

@Crumbly Writer

Eye color is something few notice until they get right into your face, so why mention it unless it's a love scene?


Unless it is something unusual. I once went to speak with a girl because she had green eyes that I could see from 10 feet away. It turned out they were contacts, but they sure got my attention.

Ross at Play

@Dominions Son

If the author wants a more casual feel for the narration they should be removed from the narration. An editor should discuss with the author which the author wants.

For dialog, it depends on the character speaking and the circumstances the character is speaking in.

Absolutely agreed for dialogue ... NO RULES there except what sounds right for the character (& situation).
For narratives, also yes. Writers may prefer a particular (more formal) style, and that may be quite different for different stories. An editor should respect a writer's prerogative to make such choices, and do their best to help achieve the writer's vision.

Ross at Play

@Dominions Son

For example, a story where a man comes up with an idea for a new invention and decides to build a prototype. It would be essential to describe both his shopping trip to buy the materials needed and his efforts attempting to build it.

If the invention itself is central to the story in some way then yes in needs to be described in detail. On the other hand if it's a background element to provide a source of wealth, it should still be given some description, but the description can be less detailed.

NOT WASTING MY TIME ON NIT-PICKING SHIT LIKE THIS!

Replies:   richardshagrin
sejintenej

@Switch Blayde

Dominions Son

I don't at all understand why hair/eye color falls into the not to do category.

Not hair. It's the driver's license character description.


As always it depends on the context. 50 chapters later this stunning blonde blue eyed jailbait might be described as a typical black eyed, black eyed ugly latina bitch.

Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Dominions Son


I don't at all understand why hair/eye color falls into the not to do category.


Now that I've finished my 1st draft, it's time to edit. Guess what I came upon in Chapter 1?


The left side of his head was shaved, starting where a part would be. The rest was long, swept to the other side and hanging over his ear. It was blue.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
REP

@Ernest Bywater

I enjoyed Mallard Heir EB. However, there was at least one bit of detail I felt it was missing - what was in the boxes and trunks that were in the attic.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
richardshagrin

@Ross at Play

I suspect you are not a big fan of Howard Faxon's stories, which go into exceptional detail on how to make things, etc.

awnlee jawking

@Switch Blayde

I've heard of glue ear but not blue ear. Science fiction? :)

AJ

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@awnlee jawking

I've heard of glue ear but not blue ear. Science fiction? :)


I guess the "it" pronoun could be confusing. Thanks.

awnlee jawking

@Switch Blayde

What not to do is: He was six feet tall, brown hair, brown eyes, 240 pounds...


BMI 32.5 - obese :)

If you had been writing a stroke story, details like hair and eye colour, weight, bra size etc are de rigeur. Horses for courses.

AJ

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son
Updated:

@awnlee jawking


BMI 32.5 - obese :)


Not necessarily. BMI is not diagnostic by itself. Muscle is denser than fat. A lot of body builders and other athletes, with < 5% body fat would be considered obese looking only at BMI

This is why it's so hard to estimate weight and I don't normally use weights in my stories.

Ernest Bywater

@REP

I enjoyed Mallard Heir EB. However, there was at least one bit of detail I felt it was missing - what was in the boxes and trunks that were in the attic.


Frank and Eric get them down and they got mixed in with the lot from the basement while Sven was there. In the sub-chapter Wednesday the boys bring the trunks up for Jenny to go through in the kitchen, at the end of the 2nd paragraph it says ... Then the boys bring the trunks and boxes down from the attic. From that point they're part of the group Sven looks at.

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