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Friday, September 11, 2009

Five on Friday: Getting Wordy

Words. I love 'em.

I really like to write so very much that at times I just exceed my word count and end up with a story headed for the chopping block.

My current rewrite of Violets & Violins is nearing completion, but I've been too wordy. I'll wield the scalpel soon. Naw. Better make that the meat cleaver.

I'll seek unnecessary scenes or even entire chapters that don't move the story forward and slice them. Will the process hurt? Some, yes. After all, those words flowed from my fingertips.

However, one thing I've learned about myself over the three and a half years I've been writing fiction is that I can produce more and even better work the second, third or seventeenth time I revise a portion of a story. Knowing that has eased the pain of pruning my prose.

In addition to removing large portions of text, I'll seek words that add nothing to my story. Although small, they add to my word count. Out they go.

And what are some of my most overused words? Here are five:

1) so

2) just

3) very

4) really

5) headed

I can generally eliminate the first four without altering the sentence. The last word may not be on your list, but my characters head everywhere. Why, I don't know. It just happens. I replace many of the occurrences with more descriptive words.

In my opening, I used all five words on my list in one l-o-n-g sentence. Here's how it reads post pruning: I like to write but at times exceed my word count and end up with a story destined for the chopping block.

Words and motivational sayings cover my office walls. One phrase I could use but haven't yet found is "Write Tight."

Perhaps after culling words I carefully crafted, I'll learn that less is often more. I'd really like that so very much. Er. That is to say, I'd like that.

• • • • •

My fellow writers, do you tend exceed your word count or come up short? Why do you think that is?

What unnecessary words worm their way into your work?

Readers, have you ever read a book in which certain scenes seemed to slow the story and could have easily been cut? Do you notice when a writer has gotten wordy?

20 comments:

Jessica said...

I tend to come up short. Partly I think it's because I'd trained myself to prune when I wrote 300 word articles for two years. I think that made me look at my sentences and really cut them. But I also think part of my problem is too little setting. I tend to forget to add in details about where my character is, sensory stuff, etc.
And I have my crutch words too. LOL "just" is one I use SO much, it's not even funny. LOL

Cindy said...

I have a lot of spots where I could be less wordy in my novels. Now that I've learned more, I understand what it means to tighten up sentences, scenes, and chapters. I'm working on that for a story I hope to submit later this year. I've already gone through it two or three times but since I've been in a critique group, I've learned so much and now I have a better idea what to look for. And what to cut.

Words I use a lot: Like, just, really, was/wasn't, and I write way too much about eyes. I'm working on more descriptive verbs. It's a challenge. Have a great weekend!

Eileen Astels Watson said...

I'm wordy too. I guess I just like typing too much. LOL.

You're right though, with every editing pass, I see improvement in my prose. That makes the cutting much easier to swallow.

Donna M. Kohlstrom said...

I tend to come up short because I've been used to writing advertising copy, newsletters, flash fiction and short stories. My first adventure in writing a book last year found me having to go back and "pump up" the word count.

sherrinda said...

I cannot imagine cutting whole chapters, Keli! I have much to learn, because I will definitely have problems cutting.

Oh...and my characters head everywhere too!!! lol

Keli Gwyn said...

Jessica, I didn't remember that you'd written articles. How cool. Have they been published? If so, where?

And I hear you on just, which is just one of many words I just love to drop in whenever I feel it is just the one needed. :)

Keli Gwyn said...

Cindy, how great that your CPs are helping you see places where you could tighten.

Was and wasn't? Oh, my. They take such heat, but just today I read a comment by a multi-published author on one of my loops who said sometimes they are the best words to use. She said attempting to do away with all of them can make our writing sound strange and lead to oddly structured sentences.

I'm all for eliminating passive voice, which "was" can reveal, but I use "was" when my characters are speaking or thinking because it sounds natural.

Keli Gwyn said...

Eileen, it is fun to see our writing improve as we revise and remove, isn't it?

As to the wordiness, I tell my husband I was born in the wrong century. Dickens was paid by the word. If that were my case, I'd be better off than my lean writer counterparts. :)

Keli Gwyn said...

Donna, sounds like I could take lessons in brevity from you. You must have lots of published pieces. Do you have links to any you can share?

Keli Gwyn said...

Sherrinda, I'm sure your dad will give you great advice about where you can add and what you might consider removing. I'll not kid you. The first time I cut my story, I felt as though the knife dug deep in my heart. As time went on, I realized I was making my story better.

I consoled myself by saving what I cut in a separate file so I could use it later if I chose. One scene I loved wound up in a different book where it worked much better.

Terri Tiffany said...

I am used to writing nonfiction pieces 750 words or under so I write pretty tight and that's my probably now that I am writing fiction. I am trying so hard to write longer books!
I learned a few years ago to cut "that" and "just" out so I'm pretty good there. Headed sneaks in a few times.

Keli Gwyn said...

Terri, sounds like you've mastered writing tight and avoiding unnecessary words. Have any of those non-fiction pieces been published? Are they for magazines or newspapers?

Jody Hedlund said...

So hurry up and get all those edits done so that you can start sending out your MS to agents! You are so ready! Can't wait to hear the news that you've landed an agent. . .I'm sure it will be soon!

Anne Barton said...

LOL, Keli. I didn't notice extra words in your opening sentence on my first read through. What kind of CP am I?!

Some people think it's easier to cut than to add, but I'm not so sure. I love your approach to the whole thing though.

Good luck with the pruning!

Keli Gwyn said...

Jody, nine days from now a new chapter of my life will begin. My husband and I will move our one and only into her dorm, leave the college campus and return to our Empty Nest. I will dive into my writing, get the revision of Violets & Violins finished and in the hands of my awesome CP and move on to the next story. Once I input the changes, I'll embark on my search for the agent God has for me. Until then, I'm doing my best to experience joy on the journey.

Keli Gwyn said...

Anne, you are the awesome CP who was kind enough to leave a comment after her full and demanding week. You're also the CP who will get the pruned version of V&V from which I've removed as many extraneous words/paragraphs/scenes/chapters as I can. Wouldn't want anyone to see it as is. Soon though. :)

Diane said...

It seems kind of sad after you've been on a roll pumping out words that you have to go back and remove so many. I'm glad you are in the home stretch with your book. :O)

Keli Gwyn said...

Diane, I used to cringe when I cut, but I've seen how much better my stories are when I remove the excess. If I'm fond of a particular passage, I'll save it to a deleted scenes file so I could use it elsewhere or have it available for a future story. That helps when my finger wavers over the delete key.

Robynn Tolbert said...

My most overused word is "still," either as an adverb or an adjective. I suspect I got it from all the English writers I followed in my youth. I don't see much of it in American works.

Keli Gwyn said...

Robynn, thanks for visiting my blog. I love the spelling of your name.

Isn't it interesting how certain words wiggle their way into our work? I've removed a still every now and then, but you're right. It's not a word I encounter that often.