We talked recently about Wordiness in the novel, and how to avoid it. So you’ve mastered that, right?
But yet, that pesky prose is still running away with you, and drifting on and on and . . .
What’s a writer to do?
What I’m talking about here is rambling prose, the over-described kind, which often descends into the purple, because, dang it, this is important! Profound! I want the reader to experience the feeling and will stop at no words to do so!
Funny thing about this—the more you harp on it, the less impact it has.
Don’t you hate that.
So here are 7 problems and how to lasso those runaway word-beasts.
- The same thing gets said over 2-3 sentences.
In a slightly different way, perhaps, but the effect is the same—it gets said 2-3 ways.
I know, I know—you’re trying to passionately get whatever across!
But how much more powerful it is to distill those 3 sentences down to 1. Then you’re getting the very most impact for your word buck.
- Cut every paragraph in half.
Yikes! You say. But I know of no better exercise than to distill down your words, and especially as a learning exercise.
Painstaking? Yes. But the benefits are huge.
Do this as an exercise every day, with just one paragraph. You’ll be amazed once you get the hang of it at how your prose tightens as if by itself.
- Ditto for Dialogue.
In real life, we talk and talk and only part of what we say truly counts. But that’s how we converse, right? We blather along about the most mundane (often inane) things and say them over and over, and wander to Brazil and back before we get to the real point.
So falling into that trap is easy when writing.
Just remember: Every word counts. Even the spoken ones. And you get so much more effect when the words your characters say all have meaning.
- Adverb Phobia.
Adopt it. Now that doesn’t mean you can never use modifiers, but take this as an exercise and practice it for a while.
Especially as it modifies a verb, every time you use one, take a hard look at the specific verb. Instead of a weak one + adverb, choose a much stronger verb instead.
For example, ‘walked slowly’ is okay, but ‘strolled’ or ‘trudged’ or ‘inched’ is much stronger as we get a clearer picture of how the character walked. And, it scales back your words.
- Zero-in on emotional turning points.
We want tight, concise writing everywhere but lavish word count on emotional turning points, which are crucial both to character development and the reader’s sense of story movement.
This sounds like a total contradiction, no? But here’s the one place you get extra words.
(Remember—every single thing is in service to the plot or characters or better, both.)
Now, that doesn’t mean to ramble on and say everything 3 times, but rather, to dig deeper, find the essence, and make sure it’s portrayed on the page.
If you’ve been religious about keeping the rest tight, now choose powerful words to let the impact resonate across the page.
- Do not ramble on to end a scene or chapter.
You’d be amazed at how common this problem is.
Here a scene ended with great punch. And then, the writer goes on for another paragraph of wandering words.
Which causes two effects: a), you’ve just yammered on yet again and added useless words, and b), and more importantly, you’ve lost all effect of that great scene ending you just wrote.
Just remember: leave it with the punchline.
- Finally, be ruthless with your prose.
Yes, you may have a passage that’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever written. But in the end, doesn’t fit the scene or character.
That one gets axed.
Because, let me break my own rule here and reiterate: Every single word counts. Every single one.
Take that sharpest of knives and painstakingly go through your manuscript—one word at a time. Is this one necessary? Does that one add anything? Does it add more than using the extra word takes away?
Yes, all of this sounds like work! And it is. But the most important thing to keep in mind is that this is exactly how you become a better writer. This is how you hone your voice—no matter what stage of the game you currently find yourself.
This is how you make your prose shine.
How have you tamed the word beast?