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Don't Waste Your Words On Wasted Words!
By Steve Dempster
The short story market often demands tight word counts
from the writer. Here are some tips on how to keep that
word count under control!
Short stories written specifically for inclusion in
weekly or monthly magazines are a lucrative source of
income for any writer. The pay rate per word is often
high and the returns are good for the length of time
devoted to any one story.
Yet this market has its own disciplines and one cardinal
rule that aspiring writers must obey is the word count.
This is the required number of words demanded by magazine
editors for any story submitted and, whilst there may be
some leeway, it generally isn't great. For 'five minute
fiction' type stories it may be as little as fifty words.
This discipline is often found by new writers to be one
of the hardest to master. They write a story - and it may
be a very good story - then find it is two or three
hundred words 'heavy'. I've done this myself many times
when I started writing fiction and articles. It can be
very disheartening to complete a story, sit back in
satisfaction and hit the word count button only to see it
ring up several hundred words 'over the limit.'
How, I asked myself at the time, can I possibly reduce my
story by that sort of length? Let's face it, a 'five
minute fiction' type story may only have a word length
requirement of 1,000 words - to try and cut 1,300 down to
1,000 seemed to me, at that time in my writing career, a
stark impossibility. How to do it?
That's when I began to learn about things like wasted
words. Although in this article I certainly don't have
space to discuss every aspect of this subject, at least I
can list some of the worst culprits that new writers seem
to use time and time again - like I did!
Many words and phrases rarely add anything to a sentence.
Avoid these whenever you can. A very short list of some
of these offenders:
Quite, very, extremely, as it were, moreover, it can be
seen that, it has been indicated that, basically,
essentially, totally, completely, therefore, it should be
remembered that, it should be noted that, thus, it is
imperative that, at the present moment in time.
These are fine in their place, but they often find their
way into your writing with the sinister purpose of
tempting you into the sin of padding your sentences.
I am convinced that the habit of padding sentences has at
its root academic and, in particular, bureaucratic
writing. Never have I seen one of these types of prose
without the most outlandish and rambling sentences
included - you probably know the sort of thing I mean.
Such horrors as 'It should continuously be remembered
that' and 'Morover and not withstanding anything to the
contrary, it has been previously indicated' abound.
Since such letters are read by people in our ever-freer
reading society, the tendency is to think that they are
not only correct but also desirable within any sort of
writing. Rubbish. Unless for effect, they should be
excluded. Short stories are lean and fit, not bloated and
So - how to 'lean-off' your story? Firstly check for any
of the phrases above in the 'list of offenders'. Strike
them out. Next read through your story and ruthlessly
delete any and every word that you can whilst still
preserving grammatical sense. I guarantee that you'll be
amazed at the number that go.
Check in particular for adverbs and adjectives. I'm
talking about sentences like 'How would I know?' he asked
angrily. Much better is 'How the hell should I know?' The
second sentence (without the adverb) implies anger in its
use or words and is much stronger anyway - and shorter.
In the same vein, 'a very light wind' should be 'a
breeze'. Not only are you saving wordage by adopting this
correcting tactic, you are strengthening your writing.
When you have finished these tasks read your story again.
If my own experience is anything to go by, not only will
you have dumped those excess words to bring your story
into its wordage 'window' but also you will almost find
that it reads a lot better. Congratulations - you have
just mastered a basic facet of self-editing!
In conclusion, just remember these few points:
- The adjective is the enemy of the noun. (choose a
stronger noun instead of using an adjective.)
- The adverb is enemy of the verb. (Try to
convey meaning via word usage instead of using an
- Do not use any of the list of 'wasted words' above.
- Never use a long word, or two words, when a single
short word fits the bill.
Keep these four points in mind and watch your short story
Steve Dempster writes fiction and informative articles
for the web. Learn more about how to kickstart your
writing career here http://www.howtobeawriter.co.uk
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