Say it with Fewer Words

I, Katy Lee, am a woman of few words.  I don’t talk much.  Those who know me might even say they don’t know me.  However, when it comes to my writing, I am the complete opposite.  Maybe that’s why I picked up the pen in the first place.  All those thoughts in my head could finally come out.

And boy did they ever!  My first manuscript ended at 135,000 words. I talked so much, I over told the story.  Whole beautiful scenes, whole flowery paragraphs … whole pain-staking chapters had to come out.  Ouch! I worked hard on those words.

As much as it hurt, though, in the end, the story is better, more concise and easier to follow.  But most importantly, marketable.

The publishing industry has set standards for word count.  And they don’t keep these a secret because they expect the author to follow them.  An editor can tell immediately the difference between an amateur and a professional writer just by how well they say it with fewer words.

So, in reality, I and my few words should be a pro at this.  Except, I’m not.  It’s hard to cut back words without losing the story, but there are other ways to slice-and-dice word count other than the deletion of whole scenes.

A big way is the use of stronger verbs.  You can say so much more with a single word.

For example:  The report gave an analysis of the accident.  Vs.  The report analyzed the accident.  Three words cut. BANG!  Now try that with every sentence.

Another way to slash is to say what you need to say only once.  There’s no reason to repeat your thoughts. This one made me laugh because I don’t like to repeat myself when I’m speaking.  My kids can attest to that.  But apparently, I didn’t mind repeating myself in my writing.  I found many places where I made the same point just in different words.  You know, just in case the reader didn’t understand the first time.  (FYI…Readers are smart people. But I’ll save that topic for another blog.)

Now redundancy doesn’t always occur so blatantly.  Sometimes it is back to back, right in front of your nose and you don’t see it.

For example:  ATM machine. Get rid of machine. Readers know what an ATM is.  BANG! Word gone.

The 17th century French theologian, Francois Fénelon, said this, “Genuine good taste consists in saying much in few words, in choosing among our thoughts, in having order and arrangement in what we say, and in speaking with composure.” But he also said this, “The more you say, the less people remember. The fewer the words, the greater the profit.”

And I don’t know about you, but a profit sounds good to me.

QUESTION: Do you have any advice on chopping word count and saying it with fewer words?

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About Katy Lee of KatyLeeBooks.com

Katy Lee is an award-winning inspirational-romantic-suspense author, writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Suspense line and for Soul Mate Publishing. Her next novel, GRAVE DANGER, will be out May 1st. For a complete list of Katy's works and to see what she is up to, check out her social sites at www.facebook.com/katyleewriter and Twitter @KatyLeebooks and her personal website, www.KatyLeeBooks.com
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6 Responses to Say it with Fewer Words

  1. jannashay says:

    Great post. I’ll have to try your word slashing methods, because I tend to elaborate too much. I agree with you, it is very hard to pare down a manuscript after all the hard work, even though it becomes more concise and marketable.

  2. Casey Wyatt says:

    These are great tips Katy. Another way to cut word count is to use strong verbs and an active voice! Personally, I start page flipping if an author starts waxing poetic about decor, clothing, and even food. I say use just enough words to set the tone and leave some room for the reader’s imagination to take flight! :)

  3. Jan Nash says:

    I’ve tagged omitting words as a wordectomy. Removing the clutter hurts, but once it’s gone everything just seems to flow!

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