DailyWritingTips.com recently published a guest post I wrote called 3 Things the Novelist Can Learn from the Copywriter, roughly 1/3 of which was about brevity. Let’s expand on that!
Brevity is the soul of wit. The fewer the words, the harder they hit.
You’d be amazed how many unnecessary words are weighing down your manuscript, clogging up your sentences and tiring your readers. Fortunately, modern technology has given us an easy way to trim some of this grammar fat: word search!
How do you do a word search? In MS Word, click “Edit” then “Find…” and type in the word you are looking for. If you use a different program, try typing “word search” or “find and replace” into the “Help” search bar.
Got it? Here are eight examples of word calories you can cut:
“Very” is a
very evil word that sucks the power out of nearly every sentence it appears in. Just look at how very unnecessary “very” is in these sentences from a very old draft of my book:
It would very soon become the same for her.
She vaguely remembered seeing a very bright light coming at her.
He would have to decide very quickly how much he could tell her.
Very soon. Very bright. Very quickly. “Very” is overkill – modifying modifiers.
It would soon become the same for her.
She vaguely remembered seeing a bright light coming at her.
He would have to decide quickly how much he could tell her.
Do a word search in your novel or story for “very” and eliminate all
that you can.
Not as bad as “very,” but still often unnecessary. Try eliminating this one as well.
“By” is a sign of passive voice,
which should almost always be avoided which you should almost always avoid. (Except to preserve clarity or to break up a monotonously-active paragraph.) Search “by” and reword all you can.
Passive: The ball was thrown over the fence by Billy.
Active: Billy threw the ball over the fence.
Never use an adverb when the right verb works fine on its own. “Very” is just one example; most adverbs end in “ly.” Do a word search for “ly” and pay special attention to phrases like “walked quickly.” Search thesaurus.com for the root verb, “walk.” Keep clicking words within your results to find the right one. “Trotted” is descriptive enough to replace “walked quickly” – it sounds better, too.
5. In order to
Almost always cut “in order.”
6. The fact that
Depending on the context:
“Owing/due to the fact that” – replace with “since” or “because”
“In spite of the fact that” – replace with “though” or “although”
7. The question as to whether
Cut “the question as to”
8. The reason why is that
Replace with “because”
The Elements of Style by Strunk & White gives additional word-trimming advice (rule #17, p. 23-24). This book is the writer’s bible. If you don’t already own it, read it free here.