The Clipping Gallery

Further to the recent post about jargon,  I want to suggest a solution for writers who suspect they have too much verbiage in their first draft, but don’t know what to do about it.

Maybe you’ve noticed it yourself as you read a section over, but more likely one of your critiquers noticed it, and pointed it out as unnecessarily long or boring, or both. You read the wordy section again and try to find all kinds of excuses for keeping it as it is. Maybe you even realize that it is a bit repetitious or unnecessarily dull, but you like the anecdote it relates (even if it is long and wordy). You simply don’t want to let it go.

Ask yourself:

Does keeping it move the story along?

Does it provide some essential information the reader needs to know?

Does it increase the reader’s empathy for a character?

Does it foreshadow a possible crisis?

Does it increase the tension by dropping a worrisome clue of something that may interfere with the hoped for solution?

If the paragraph does none of the above, ask yourself, “Do I really need this? Will the story suffer if I remove it?” If the section is not critical to the story, and others have mentioned that it drags the story down, perhaps you should consider making some changes.

I think I have a solution.

A friend in a critiquing group suggested that in a case like this it is good to make a folder on your computer where you can save this precious writing that you have such a hard time giving up. Call it “Clipping Gallery” (or some other name that you will quickly associate with this editing gimmick). Then copy and cut the wordy section out of your “work in progress”  (WIP). Paste this wordy section into a Word file and save it to your Clipping Gallery. You may want to have sub-folders if you have several works in progress.

Now that the questionable writing is saved in a file where you can always retrieve it and put it back into your WIP, you can relax. Your precious writing is not lost and you can change your mind any time and go back to the original version of your WIP.

I’ve agonized over losing all that perfect writing I did. Maybe I had some special turns of phrase that came out  exactly as I wanted, and I simply did not want to let go of them. So what if they were a bit wearisome to the reader?

But once I cut those wordy sections and put them in my clipping gallery, where I could retrieve them any time I wanted, I felt better. The hard work that some others found boring, but I was so attached to, would be safe and available to me any time I wanted it. And, surprise, surprise, the WIP worked just fine without the parts I had removed. I just had to be sure the transitioning was in place where I had removed sections.

Many times, I’ve put sections of my writing into the clipping gallery. Do you know how many times I’ve taken something out of the gallery and put it back into the WIP?

NEVER!

But it’s still there if I want it.

After a while, when I come to my senses, I realize I really don’t want or need the removed part anymore and I’m okay with it.

 

 

 

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Jargon

Why use ten words when two will do? We don’t want to tire the reader.

The long way:

He spends his spare time skinning animals and making replicas of them by stretching their hides over a frame.

The more sensible way:

His hobby is taxidermy.

Instead of:

He got out the game board with the black and white squares.

Just say:

He got out the checkerboard.

Instead of:

Could you please hand me one of those small rods for stirring the drinks?

Just say:

Could you pass me a swizzle stick?

If you know what you are trying to say, why give the long-winded definition of it? Just use the word.

Wordy:

In terms of organization it was a shambles, but in terms of program content it was good.

Less wordy:

The organization was a shambles but the program content was good.

In many cases, there is no need for “in terms of.”

Wordy:

He is the person who is in charge of the meeting.

Less wordy:

He is in charge of the meeting.

No need for “the person who.”

Sometimes a word can replace a whole phrase:

She had a reservation for the ferry that goes from Comox to Powell River.

She had a reservation for the Comox – Powell River ferry.

*** Keep in mind that more is not always better, especially with words.

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Clear Writing

I love flowers, but not in my reading and writing. Some would-be writers use flowery language thinking that this impresses the reader.

You know the feeling you get when someone flatters you too much and you know it’s mostly b.s. because it is so over the top. You just want to roll your eyes, turn around, and stick your fingers down your throat.

Too many unnecessary descriptors are part of the problem with this kind of language. Too many big words chosen to impress rather than to convey a message. Too much verbiage.

Here are some examples of padded language and how it could be written instead.

Flowery

Joe and I are preparing an elaborate springtime barbecue with delicious nibblies for all our wonderful friends. We would be thrilled to have your scintillating company and that  of your lovely partner when you come and enjoy a happy afternoon with the rest of our honoured guests.

Direct

We would be pleased to have you and Mary attend an afternoon barbecue with friends at our home.

Flowery

I am convinced that you will have a wonderful afternoon while the red robins and the chatty finches keep us company with their trilling melodies, a sure sign that spring is truly arriving in our little corner of the world.

Direct

We can enjoy listening to the spring birds in the afternoon.

Flowery

I can visualize the bustling scene, as animated, vociferous guests demand more bubbling refreshments.

Direct

I can imagine the busy party guests shouting for more champagne.

*****

Using flowery words and too many of them becomes a turnoff for the reader. A related problem is using too many long words when a shorter one would do. If you are trying to convey a clear message, use shorter sentences, and words that are familiar to the reader. Write the way you would talk, unless you are writing a business letter or a report. But even then, keeping the language clear and concise is important. Flowery words have no place in serious writing. The aim is to express yourself clearly, not to show how many adjectives and adverbs you can cram into one sentence.

In Robert Gunning’s book, The Technique of Clear Writing, he has a long list of words that could easily be replaced by more familiar words. Here are some:

abandon         give up, desert

abatement      decrease

abbreviate      shorten

abhorrent       hateful

venturous      bold

voluminous    bulky

Often you can substitute a more familiar word for one that sounds as if it were chosen merely to impress.

If you tend to get too wordy when something simple would suffice, consider this limerick about using too many words.

There was a young man from Japan
Whose limericks never would scan.
When asked why that was,
He replied “It’s because
I always try to fit as many words into the last line as ever I possibly can.”