Yay for Snoopy—I mean, hey, welcome back. It’s been a while, but I’ve got another post to share. 😎
This article is a revisit on improving conciseness in prose, or rather, an updated variant of it (I mentioned it briefly in one of my earlier posts). Concision work typically comes after the initial draft during the editing passes, so don’t worry about it too much when you draft the story.
Conciseness and precision are essential to good prose. Minimizing words used, trading weak vocabulary for a single stronger word, eliminating redundancy; these are but a few of the processes involved with concision. Not only will a manuscript read smoother and faster (your readers will thank you), entire pages may animate in unimaginable ways. Fortunately, there are a handful of nifty techniques to help. Although the result may not be crispy clean, you can bet a lot of unnecessary and nasty vocabulary are gone.
“A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.” ~The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White
That said, we’re all human beings, so perfection is only an ambition that drives our efforts (and I doubt this article is optimized). Anyway, let’s cover some of those concision techniques.
When editing your work, look for ways to shorten a phrase or set of vocabulary. Sometimes you can convert a few words into a single one. Examples of this include, but are not limited to:
- a number of → many/some
- at the present time → now/at present
- despite the fact that → although
- on a daily basis → daily
- he was going → he went (passive voice correction)
Notice how a single word or two can substitute for a whole phrase. Passive Voice (which I covered here) always violates the concision of prose, but there are exceptions for this. I encourage you to examine the hyperlink for more information.
Certain words appear ‘invisible’ to the reader’s eye. Words such as ‘said,’ ‘the,’ or ‘and’ are fillers that won’t particularly grab the reader’s attention. Their purpose is to bridge the gap between words that do matter. Regardless, if used in excess, they can cause friction in the rhythm of prose. Mix up the frequency or remove them entirely. These tools can hold significance in dialogue when using tags to denote the speaker. Sometimes you can get away with no labels at all for ideal concision.
Descriptors and pacing
While there are invisible words and prose symbols that serve some purpose, sometimes a writer can use a stronger one to enhance a sentence. You can trim down excess adverbs and adjectives into shorter, stronger versions. Often this involves a little ingenuity to mold the phrases to the tense of your written piece. Consider these scenarios:
He ran to the store quickly. → He sprinted to the store.
Marle cried loudly. → Marle bawled.
The Kraken roared ferociously. → The Kraken screeched.
He was very tired. → He was exhausted.
The use of a stronger descriptor can better highlight the action or details. Sometimes a writer will ignore this rule to highlight a particular phrase or slow the story’s tempo. It’s up to you to decide how and when to manipulate pace for the reader’s benefit.
Long paragraphs slow the pace of writing and may come off as daunting to a reader (like this one—eep!). While seldom large sections serve a function, overuse forces slower prose tempo and gives writing an unfavorable taste. Action paragraphs need to be quick and to the point. Short sentences add to the jarring sensation of battle, increasing the depth of the reader’s experience. Descriptive paragraphs are longer, slower, and more robust, similar to how human perception slows when we study or observe. Not surprisingly, scientific papers are often sluggish and detailed.
With concision and precision, a writer can delete an entire word without substitution, thereby strengthening a sentence or phrase. Some words are unnecessary, and you’re better off excluding them. Here are a few to watch out for:
Irregardless, obviously, very, almost, just, essentially, basically, totally, seriously, honestly, and actually.
Naturally, in dialogue, there are exceptions. Reread a sentence a few times and feel out the flavor of the words. Take your time with it and savor every morsel. Writers sometimes use these words in clever ways to better demonstrate a character’s speech habits.
Contractions in dialogue are another easy way to sharpen your manuscript, so don’t feel afraid to use them. From my experience, contractions rarely appear in narration for a more formal tone. Some characters may purposely speak without contractions for that flair of formality. Again, it’s up to the writer to decide how to present it.
Thank you for reading, and I hope this article helped with whatever creative projects you harbor. Love and gratitude. 😀
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Here’s a bonus: www.wordcounter.net. This website is a nifty piece of software you can use to sharpen your prose. Have fun!