Monday, March 14, 2011

Keep It Short - from Katie

Recently I have gotten a barrage of tweets, DMs, and emails asking me how I always keep my posts for Red Writing Hood and remembeRED so short.

I think the interest has to do with our word limit, but I am going to pretend it's because everyone loves my writing so much that they want to be just like me.


So, the word limit.

Most of our word limits are around 600 words. For some of you, this is apparently worse than torture. For me? It's a non-issue. Very rarely do my posts hit even 400 words.

How in the world do I do this and still get my message across? Admittedly, I am not perfect at this. I rarely give myself the amount of time I would need to really get it right every time, but I try to follow these basic style rules:

1. Avoid redundancy. You'll hear some people tell you to avoid adverbs and adjectives in writing. I don't believe this is a hard and fast rule, but I do believe there is some truth in it. Many times we use adjectives ad nauseam. We add them in thinking they are making our writing all pretty, when in fact they are jamming up the gears.

Wait, you want examples?

"The long, narrow alley" - Aren't all alleys narrow? Isn't that the definition of alley? REDUNDANT! In fact, I would even take out long, but that is just me.

Another example? "Cold, hard concrete." - Concrete is cold and hard. That doesn't need to be stated.

My rule is never use two or more words when one will get the image out there to my audience. Alleys and concrete are universal images. People don't need the extra descriptors.

This is also true of describing actions.

Don't say, "she said loudly," when you can say, "she yelled".

Don't use "she ran quickly". Generally, running is quick. Now if your character is running slowly, that is worth describing, but normally, an audience will picture running as something that is done quickly.

2. Avoid Cliches. Some are obvious.

The straw that broke the camel's back.

The last straw.

Couldn't see the forest for the trees.

If it is a "saying"? That means it's a cliche, but some aren't as easy to spot. Sometimes it's a matter of just not using hackneyed sayings.

With that being said...

For what it's worth...

At the end of the day...

Without a doubt...

These phrases are old and tired and played out. Most of the time if you just cut them off the front of your sentence? You are good to go. People tack them on because they think they are making a nice little transition. In reality, they are just adding unnecessary words.

3. Unnecessary details and back story. I truly think this is the rule that makes my posts so short. I almost never give my reader back story. I assume A) you're familiar with my blog and my story or B) this post made you so interested, you want to go check the archives...or at least stick around and hope that I will post more.

The only hint of back story I will give is perhaps a link to a past post if I have given hints about this before.

But it's not the big picture I am concerned with you seeing. It's that small, particular moment.

Cheryl mentioned on twitter this weekend that she hates it when people use "I digress...", and I completely agree with her.

If you have to say you are digressing, that means you are off topic. It means you need to re-look at your post. Digression means editing. You need to cut.

Cheryl's note: I don't like it because it's like saying "I have told you about X, and now I will tell you about Y." It's unnecessary. And, frankly, lazy. Find a better, less cliched transition. And like Katie said, is the digression needed to move your story? If it is, digress all you want, but you don't have to point it out that you are, in fact, digressing. Unless you think your readers aren't very smart. ;)

Hopefully this little tutorial on style will help you better hit your word count tomorrow for remembeRED or Friday for Red Writing Hood.

Now if you will excuse me, I have a post about a fruit to write. Which you will all now be scrutinizing for style errors.

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