When my kids clean their rooms, I’ll often remind them of our rule, “When in doubt, throw it out.”

They don’t know it, but I retreive those doubtful items every once in a while, and slip them back in the drawer.

Bottom line is that when a room is free of clutter, it’s breathable, well organized, and a comfort to be in.

So it is with our paragraphs. Too much clutter makes for too much confusion. Clean concise sentences are breathable. This doesn’t mean that we eliminate the art of painting a picture with our words or compromise on descriptive details. We must continue to do that, but at the same time we can tighten up our writing.

The goal is to show your reader in detail what they are experiencing, while eliminating all unnecessary words. There will be times when we also eliminate unnecessary sentences, paragraphs, and in the most tragic of cases–chapters.

We’ll keep things small for now, and look at one sentence at a time.

Here’s an example of painting a scene with few words.

Emily gasped as Peter’s cheeseburger slid off of the plate and became one with the beige carpet.

Compare the same piece written with too many words.

Emily screamed loudly just as Peter’s cheeseburger was falling off of his plate. The burger was lying face down in the lightly-colored carpet.

Both pieces show what’s happening in the story. We know that Peter was eating a cheeseburger, and that it fell to the floor, but the second example uses too many unnecessary words to bring the reader in. Using one good word such as “slid” rather than “was falling” makes the story move better and removes extra fluff. The other examples are “gasped” in place of “screamed loudly,” “beige” for “lightly-colored,” and finally I was able to make two sentences into one by simply saying, “and became one,” rather than mentioning the burger once again and using three words such as “lying face down.”

Be particularly aware of those “ly” words such as “loudly” “quietly” “firmly” etc., that are there when they don’t need to be. If you’re a new writer, look for them, and you’ll likely find a few that you can remove in your writing.

Below are sample sentences using excess words, followed by the same sentences using few:

1. Kiki joyfully ran into the room.
2. Betty gently threw the ball my way.
3. Kevin spoke softly to me.
4. Trish came running into the room.
5. That episode shook my confidence.
6. Put your trust in God.
7. Throw all paper towels in the trash.

Better said:

1. Kiki skipped into the room.
2. Betty tossed the ball my way.
3. Kevin whispered to me.
4. Trish whipped into the room.
5. That episode rattled me.
6. Believe in God.
7. Discard all paper towels.


P.S. Here’s an interesting little grammar tip–see the title of this post? Why did I choose the word “fewer” instead of “less”?

Here’s why: when something can be counted, like words for instance, use “fewer.” When something like air can’t be counted use “less.”

If the title of the post was, “How and why writers should breath less air,” the word fewer wouldn’t fit.


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