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Reduce Word Count and Improve Clarity

Reduce Word Count and Improve Clarity

The most important aspect of your writing is your story. Get your plot, characters, subplots, data, conclusions, and heart of your writing down on the page first. If you’re stuck or face writers block, check out author Adam Dreece’s Get Unstuck video.

The next important step is to make sure your reader can connect with and understand your fantastic story.

Once you get the story out, you might find yourself with 200,000 words that need to be cut down to 120,000. Or maybe you just want to mix together the right ratio of story, words, and magic.

When you’re subject to word count limits, or ready for the next step toward publishing, there are somethings you can do on your own. However, if you’re confused or unsure about any of these techniques, consult with your writing doctor (editor) to see which method is right for you.

Slay the Zombies: Cut Down Prepositions

Prepositions are those in-between words. They indicate relationships between other words (nouns vs. the sentence). Think of them as your coordinates and cardinal directions for your writing. Prepositions express position, direction, time, and source or origin. Like coordinates, too many or too few directions get us lost.

They can bring clarity, or, they can confuse your reader. They can be combined into phrases. They often hang on ‘zombie nouns’ or a noun which is actually a verb (action word) with a particular ending.

The Chicago Manual of Style 17th edition lists five ways of reducing prepositions (p. 279). Mostly, it results in hacking them up like a terrible zombie horde and chasing them out of your base—I mean writing.

Search your document for these words and see if you can write the sentence with fewer or without them:

in, into, to, toward(s), at, by, upon, about, from, that, below,
on, above, under, after, of, which, among, concerning,
whom, out of, until, before, during, as, plus, across, beyond,
through, beside(s), like, with, except, near, for,
against, despite, notwithstanding, off, throughout,
up, down, in front, behind, top, over, between, since

Zombie Nouns requiring a preposition or words ending in:
-ance
-sion
-tion
-ence
-ment

Get Active

While it is good to exercise your own body and mind, that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about making your writing more active. Words can get lazy too.

Writing a sentence in active voice means the noun is doing something directly, not having something done to them. Passive nouns make sentences longer.

Check to see how much exercise your nouns need, are they lazy or active?

Lazy nouns:

The librarian was reading the book.

Active Noun:

The librarian read the book.

Common culprits to trim away:

Was

Had

Has

Have

Were

Words ending in -ing

-ly get on with it

There is nothing wrong with those adverbs ending in -ly appearing in your writing. They can be necessary. However, do a quick search for ‘ly’ in your document or manuscript. -Ly adverbs are adjectives with a tail. They often follow around other adjectives like a lost puppy dog. Having too many adjectives can make your sentence confusing and cumbersome. You don’t want to be verbose. Can you rephrase without the-ly adverb? There are beautiful words out there which outshine these adverbs and their adjective companions.

Read it out loud

I failed to do this for one of my books. Not only did my writing suffer, but so did my readers. Reading it out loud can help you nip prolix sentences in the bud and make sure your reader knows what it is you’re talking about. Your brain and your editor’s brain will achieve a level of automation. Your brains will fill in gaps and assume that everything inside their thought towers is on the page. Sometimes, it isn’t on the page like you assumed it was. Changing the way your brain interacts with the story by reading it out loud will lead to clear and succinct writing. It’s also great practice for when you offer public readings, presentation, or create videos for your work.



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