When You Write, Think Tight

Alright, I’m not one to speak for keeping sentences brief. I enjoy reading sentences so long they take up half of a page; let me know the color of the trees in the fall and how the leaves shine in the moonlight, pale blue and a misty white shrouding the landscape. Give me a sentence so unnecessarily verbose I don’t even know what it’s supposed to be saying; but oh, is it beautiful. I realize that most people don’t really feel this way about verbosity in prose. For many, the density is overwhelming, some sort of thick brush they cannot cut through to find the hidden treasure. For personal writing, I’ll be as verbose as I can be. But for anything someone else would actually have to read, brevity is key.

Writingproblems.net explains the issue with verbosity fairly well:

“Verbosity means wordiness. Wordy writing is bad writing. A reader faced with too many words may give up. The Internet reinforces this: if the point you’re making doesn’t fit on one screen, you may lose your reader; scrolling is too much trouble.”

And explains some common verbosity issues here:

There may be hundreds of popular turns-of-phrase that employ unnecessary words. You probably use them in conversation and in your writing. Here are examples:

Allows you tonever say this. Replace it with Lets you.

Now and Currently—very overused words. In the opening of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, you can see the folly of the word now on a sign that reads You are now in Bedford Falls. A sign reading, You are in Bedford Falls would be just as clear, and would cost less to make. A meteorologist who announces that the temperature is currently 72 degrees, wastes three syllables. You’d understand perfectly the announcement, The temperature is 72 degrees.

Absolutely certain—unnecessary overstatement. If you’re certain, then your knowledge is absolute; you can’t be more certain than certain.

At this time or At this point or the nauseating At this point in timestop using these phrases! Instead, use the word now. It’s a good word.

And proposes some solutions here:

Original Rewrite
Take into consideration that… Consider that…
As it stands right now… As it stands…
If you think that having bluebirds in your yard is a near-impossible idea… If you think you can’t have bluebirds in your yard…
Overall, the ultimate goal of Jack Plunket’s art is to show the world from the point of view that Plunket’s dog saw it. Jack Plunket’s art shows the world from his dog’s point of view.

As a writer, it can be difficult to separate unnecessary flourishes from seemingly critical details. I’ve found that stepping away from your writing for a while gives you a new perspective on what is essential to understanding the piece and what is not. Dreaming up how to write the details are my absolute favorite part of writing, but it’s important to know when those details may not work for your intended audience, and it’s even more important to know how to cut them.

Sources/Further Reading:




One thought on “When You Write, Think Tight

  1. Shane O'Donnell April 23, 2015 / 3:03 am

    Though there is certainly value to be found in cutting down on unnecessary words while writing, I think that there is also value in making sure that we keep our voice and style as well. Though taking out “currently” from a meteorologists report will convey the same amount of information, it simply sounds wrong, unnatural and forced.

    Verbose writing is bad writing, but at the same time, ensuring that the writing still flows off the page and sounds natural is just as important.


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