Monday, July 12, 2010

Ramblings that sparkle your writing, spirit and soul

Word Economy

Whether you write nonfiction or fiction you need to economize words.

Why? because nonfiction writing requires it and for fiction it makes your writing sparkle.

As a journalist, word economy is essential. You need to write a story in as few words as possible. Space is premium. This is why reporters write the important information upfront and less at the bottom. If editors need space for advertising, etc., they can eliminate the unimportant details without destroying the message.

Keep this in mind if you submit a newspaper or magazine article. But you can transform these techniques to the fiction world. Characters’ actions and dialogue must move the story forward and unnecessary words will impede the readers’ interest. Successful storytelling glues eyes to the page. Unsuccessful puts people to sleep.

(1)Example: Rev. Mark German, Steve Timmerman and Gene Manning climbed the 19,341-foot mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, as part of the Nebraska Evangelical Lutheran Synod vision trip last week.

(2)Reworded: “Pole, pole,” Tanzanian guides told a Christian group determined to climb Mount Kilimanjaro ...

Which grabbed your attention? If it is the latter then you learned a valuable lesson in word economy and engaging the reader. However, economizing words also includes deleting “that,” “the,” adjectives, adverbs and prepositional phrases whenever possible.

In nonfiction work, this is a must. In fiction, it is necessary to maintain plot and peak emotions.

(1)Example: Indian Joe worked in the city jail in exchange for board and room in the back of the building.

(2)Reworded: Indian Joe toiled and cleaned the jail in exchange for a back room.

See the difference? The first sentence includes five prepositional phrases: in the city jail, in exchange, for board and room, in the back and of the building. What does this do to a reader? It makes him focus on the phrases versus the action. Additionally, the word, “worked” is vague but when replaced with specific verbs “toiled and cleaned” a new meaning emerges - one signifying “a hard worker.”

Did you catch another unnecessary word? It is “city.” Settings tell the reader where and when the story takes place so good writers avoid redundancies.

Grammar review: Adjectives describe a noun or pronoun, such as tan hat. Tan is the adjective; hat is the noun. Adverbs modify a verb, an adjective or another adverb. (1)The child speaks clearly. Clearly modifies the verb speaks. Often adverbs end in ly. (2)She is a really intense competitor. Really modifies the adjective intense. (3)She skated very well. Very modifies the other adverb, well. And, “very” is never needed either in fiction or nonfiction. Use a more precise adjective or expand your description in fiction to enhance a scene.

But how does this grammar review relate to word economy? A lot because you need to

delete adverbs and not overdo adjectives.

(1)Example: He walked very quickly.

(2)Reworded: He paced the sidewalk.

See how you can get rid of three words? walked (verb); very (adv. modifying the other adverb, quickly.)

In nonfiction, adjectives are seldom used. Why? You are relaying facts through speakers and data gathered. However, in fiction the opposite is true. You need to foster emotions and produce intriguing atmospheres. Adjectives, thus, are assets but do not overemphasize.

(1)Example: Edith pulled at the tight, high-necked dress. Her face warmed. She wrung her hands together and stared at the heavy, stout, wiry-headed clerk, creaking the windows up. The hot-steamy air circulated the room. I’ll be glad when this nightmare is over.

Eliminate words, “tight,”“heavy,” “hot.” High-necked dress denotes that the collar is tight, stout means heavy and hot is steamy. Additionally, wiry-headed clerk draws attention away from the dramatic scene taking place.

(2)Reworded: Excerpt from WIP in Sustaining Love: A Time Remembered. Edith pulled at her high-necked dress, her face warm. She wrung her hands together, staring at the clerk as the stout man creaked the windows up. The steamy air circulated the room. I’ll be glad when this nightmare is over.

Nightmares are something we want to forget but dreams are something we want to savor. Do the same with your writing. Dynamism material will lure in the reader and conciseness will propel you in the right/write direction.

About the Author: Janet Syas Nitsick is the author of the Best of Year book, Seasons of the Soul. She and her family, including two different autistic sons, were interviewed on KMTV, a local Omaha television station. Her radio interview aired on WVNE 760 am in the Springfield, Mass., area. Visit her Web site: to order your paperback or e-book by clicking the book cover on the order page or click order link for audio version. Also, posted on her Web site is her winning short story, “The Silver Lining.”

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