I once kept
this quote near my writing desk to help me overcome wordiness. Clarity is essential in writing, where communicating through body language isn’t an option. Wordiness muddles your manuscript and confuses readers.
Using filler words, passive voice, redundancy, run-on sentences, negative constructions, unnecessary sentence beginnings, and over-reliance on adverbs and adjectives contributes to wordiness.
These party-crashers masquerade as invited guests in your sentences. Examples include that, just, really, very, literally, and simply. You can omit a filler word without changing the meaning of your sentence.
Casting a sentence in active voice expresses its idea with more clarity.
Words that say the same thing, like ‘completely finished,’ slow pacing without adding anything to a story. Duplicating information, except as a quick reminder later in the story, is another kind of redundancy.
Asking readers to hold onto more than one thought at a time increases the chances of confusing them. Where possible, it’s best to break a long sentence in two.
Inserting the word, ‘not,’ in a sentence can add words. Casting a sentence from a positive angle makes it less convoluted. Here’s an example:
- I would rather not go with you.
- I would rather stay home.
Unnecessary Sentence Beginnings
Adding an extra phrase or clause at the beginning of your sentence can be a literary form of throat clearing. in the wordiness example, below, I demonstrate how recasting fixes this. Other examples, from my own hit-list:
- In actual truth
- In point of fact
- I think that
Over-Reliance on Adverbs and Adjectives
I happen to love adverbs and adjectives, but in their place, which is not front and center. A strong verb or noun often needs no modifying.
The first paragraph of this post looked a little different before editing. I lined through the words I removed and put parentheses around the ones I added.
For many years, I (once) kept a copy of this quote near my writing desk to help me overcome wordiness in my writing. Clarity is essential in any form of communication but particularly in writing, where (communicating) the use of through body language isn’t an option. Wordiness contributes to reader confusion muddles your manuscript and confuses readers.
Some Final Thoughts
Clarity in a manuscript is important but please don’t become so slash-happy while editing that you remove all personality. Trust your instincts and make the decisions that are best for your story.