Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Creative Words for Creative Writing

Last time I left you with the instruction, "never use two words where one will suffice." Or, you could think of the cliché, “Less is more.” Economy of words is one of the things that separates a professional writer from an amateur. I may be the wrong person to preach this point, since this is one of my weaknesses. The fact is, though, anyone can use lots of words and say nothing. The real test of a good writer is the ability to use the fewest possible words to communicate the largest possible message.

If you don’t believe me, try this: without doing any research, write 400 words about jumping rope for weight loss. Even if you don’t know anything about it, you’ll probably be able to flesh out your 400 words without any problem. Now, think of the person who’s influenced you the most, and reduce their life story to 400 words. Which is more difficult? I’m going to bet you had more trouble fitting more into fewer words. Yet, if you actually did the exercise, you’ll find the 400-word life story contains far more substance than the jump-rope description. “Less is more.”

This skill goes far beyond weeding adverbs and adjectives from your writing. It means choosing the premium word for each thought. As I’ve said before, that doesn’t mean you have to pause in the middle of a creative rush and flip through your thesaurus. If you’re anything like me, you’d never get anything done. It does mean going back through your writing and making sure you’ve packed as much meaning as you can into every single word and phrase. Use action verbs and concrete nouns. Find ways to cut out words by rephrasing. If a phrase doesn’t advance the plot, news story, poem – whatever – at all, take it out (we’ll talk more about advancing the plot in a later post).

If you forget (or ignore) everything else from this post, remember this: make every word count.

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