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When grade school teachers explain the difference between poetry and prose, all too often, they give the impression that economy with words is only critical when it comes to poetry. Not so. The more words you use in your writing, the more effort it will take to read. Good prose shows respect for readers’ time and brain cells by packing as much juicy goodness per word as possible.
Here are three tips to help you pare your work down:
1) Economize On Description
When it comes to describing characters and their surroundings, readers don’t need everything spelled out. All you have to do is give them a scaffold on which to hang the appropriate schema, and toss in a detail or two to make the scene come to life. “A drifter” may conjure up a mental image of a man in shabby clothes. In the mind of the reader, he might take on specific colors, and speak in a particular voice. Perhaps he’s in need of a shave, a shower and a haircut. Maybe cigarettes and booze have taken their toll. Unless the specifics are important, though, you don’t need to control them.
Now throw in a detail that an average person probably wouldn’t come up with on her own. Maybe the guy smells like hotdogs, or he’s missing an arm. A drifter who smells like hotdogs will play his part every bit as well as one whose every feature is described in painstaking detail.
2) Don’t Write The Boring Parts
If you’re finding a scene tedious to write, it’ll probably be tedious to read. This is your cue to gloss over material that people would be tempted to skim. For instance, if, after plotting a murder, your characters conclude their conversation by planning their prosaic contributions to the church potluck, just say so instead of finishing the entire dialogue. Now you can get on with writing the scene where they try to kill someone.
3) Eliminate Useless Words
When it comes time to give your work a final polish, look at each sentence and ask yourself whether it contains words that don’t need to be there. Could something be taken out without changing the meaning of the sentence? If so, delete it. Certain words such as “just” and “anyway” are commonly superfluous. You can also look at your dialogue and remove dialogue tags when it’s obvious who is speaking even without them. When only two characters are conversing, you can usually go back and forth a few times without having to remind the reader who is speaking.