Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Thomas Larmore, Jan 6, 2022.
I believe it's better to write in few words than many.
More often than not, cutting out extraneous words will only improve your prose. But doing it for the whole story while still making it readable and enjoyable is very hard to pull off.
I agree, but it's worth it if you can.
For the most part, which is to say, with some small quibbles and caveats regarding context and the degree of said brevity, and allowing for differences in taste and style (which are, as I'm sure you will agree, highly personal elements of one's writing—of one's soul, even), I agree with your assertion; nonetheless, I do find that, on rare (and not-so-rare (well-done? hah!)) occasions, it is advisable, and positively delightful, to throw caution to the wind and indulge in the joy of verbosity so extreme it might be labelled ytiverb—the very mirror image of your justly cherished brevity. Words are fun.
I agree, words are fun. But few is better than many.
Insperse terse verse.
Each word is worth more if there are fewer of them.
I suppose it would depend on how one would define "better" in this context. Perhaps you could define that, and also explain why you believe fewer words is best.
In some areas (perhaps most?), I would argue that more words are better. For more people overall, generally. Those who like to read for recreation alone. It's nice to pick up a big, fat book and get immersed in it (perhaps hoping it will never end), and most recreational readers aren't reading in the way that a literary critic might. Same with an English student preparing for an essay. Most people are reading for fun. They're not paying much attention to subtle imagery, foreshadowing, metaphor, that kind of thing. For a silly example, I just googled the sales for "50 Shades of Grey," and it's sold over 150 million copies as of 2017. Good/bad, and for who?
Perhaps someone who wants to consider over and over the same words they've already read multiple times would enjoy fewer, and apparently deeper, words. Some introspective, and maybe even tortured genius writer, who cannot abide the gutter pulp of the plebeians, might only have the capacity to stomach such high-quality works of "fewer" words.
So you really do need to define "better" when it comes to the number of words. Context is king.
Hmm. This is clickbait, isn't it..
Supposedly a famous historical figure wrote the following to another person.
"I apologize for the length of this letter, but I had not the time to write you a short one."
The first draft of most written works is nothing more than the writer's regurgitation of a stream of consciousness. The art of writing involves converting that train of though into a form most accessible to the audience. In most circumstances a shorter presentation is more interesting to the reader and is easier to understand.
I've always followed the principle that when editing my own work and cutting words, whatever doesn't kill it makes it stronger. There are a few exceptions. Going through the process of slashing unnecessary words the writer will avoid killing the manuscript with too many adjectives, along with ensuring the written work is not cluttered with random thoughts fighting for relevance against the main point.
Considering maximum efficiency when writing will also help the writer avoid the annoying smorgasbord of effects (such as emphasis through parenthesis, italics, bolding, CAPITALIZATION, and other gear shifts and speed changes). Believe it or not, I am old enough to have gone through a transition from hand-written word on paper to the newfangled word processor. We had to forbid our authors from using anything other than standard formatting and to refrain from using any formatting for emphasis. Once they got hold of the word processors the submissions immediately took the form of messy, garbled formatting salad.
I'm a big fan of brevity. It helps removes distractions from what you're really trying to say.
I disagree. In a really well-crafted long phrase, sentence, novel, etc., the length itself has a heightening effect that makes the words add up to significantly more than the sum of its parts. You could certainly slim down the page-long sentences of Proust* or David Foster Wallace without changing their meaning, but then you'd lose a large part of their appeal. They're a joy to read, every bit as wonderful as a perfectly pithy pronouncement from Hemingway or Cormac McCarthy. Well-executed extremes of brevity and loquacity are equally groovy.
* I actually didn't care much for Proust, but damn, he wrote some beautiful sentences (or at least I assume he did, as his translator spun some wonderful words).
I can relate to your thoughts. It depends on the goal. If you're writing something for your own enjoyment, I agree, no rules, nor should there be. But if you're writing with the audience as the main focus, self-indulgence and verbosity will distract your reader from what you're trying to convey.
Verbosity isn't self-indulgent! It's just one of many useful literary techniques that can create a positive effect on the reader. Sure, it can be distracting if you don't do it well, but so can excessive terseness. There is no one way to write.
To me, the number of words you use depends on what you're going for. Different types of sentences evoke different types of emotions. Brevity is good when you want to evoke a sense of brevity in a reader (like, a chase scene can be written with singular words to give the reader a sense of urgency). But when if I want the reader to feel as if the time stopped for my characters for a while, I'd use long, drawn-out sentences.
In 1st person POV, I think mixing these approaches can work to give some great characterization to your characters. A logical, fast-thinking individual can see the world in short sentences, devoid of emotions. A sensitive musician with a keen eye for beauty can spend a page describing a cup.
I think I personally prefer "variety" over "brevity" or "verbosity". Especially if you know how to use that "variety" as an artistic tool to elevate your work further.
In all seriousness, I agree that brevity is important, and often sentences can be cut right down without losing tone or meaning. Most work, almost all of it, can be cut down effectively. Most of my work, and most of everyone else's here, too. Almost everything I read in the workshop needs a cull.
But other times, you can use expanded sentences and passages to evoke various emotional and physical reactions in the reader, even putting them 'out of breath'. Relentlessness is hard to evoke with brevity. A sense of calm or wonder can also benefit from expansion rather than contraction.
Both brevity and wordiness are useful tools, it's important to know when to use which.
I find it's more important to discriminate words based on their value rather than their number. That's what we do in editing: cut out the words that contribute nothing, or even a negative with respect to the writer's aim. Think merit and elegance, not mass.
Students trying to meet word counts, however, are unfortunately encouraged to open wide satan's gates and intersperse roughage.
In an ideal world, we would employ a superior way of measuring value of a written work; something in the ballpark of the estimations done by this What If? XKCD article.
Depends on what needs to be said but, yes. I agree. If you can say the same thing in two sentences than you can in a paragraph, then twos the way.
I think all writers can get into the habit of rambling and being verbose just for the sake of it.
Back when I was a journalist I became quite a master of short, copped sentences. The flow of news reporting, if you will. So, that kind of writing does have a place. However, that skill was not doing me any favors when I went back to school to get an MFA in fiction. My writing was good enough to get me in the program, but this form of brevity I was used to didn't really transfer well into the more creative side of writing.
I will admit I was a little reluctant to change what I considered my style at first. But when I did start playing more with language and sentence length only good things happened. I didn't start selling fiction until I stopped writing like a reporter. Brevity can be great, but I agree with those above who say variety is a better thing to strive for on a sentence level.
Now, as a short story writer and essayist, you could say I have a career going in terms of brevity with the written word since I focus on writing short pieces. But what I've learned is to play with language more than trying to cut it down or keep it simple. If I had suck with my old style, I don't imagine I would have been published by the places I have. So, I say it's best to mix things up. Lush prose (and that does not mean purple prose or overdoing it with wordiness) are better than choppy ones, I strongly believe.
Once upon a time a lot of crap happened, then they lived happily ever after.
I'm trying to strike a balance between beauty and brevity. I grew up reading junque like Sweet Valley High and there's a reason that type of functional fiction adapts so well to ghost writers - there's no style to emulate just formula. I'd rather risk sounding verbose - especially in a first draft if it can help me craft a style. Though I have found ways to have my cake and eat it too. Poetry has taught me precise verbs, building rhythm and concrete visuals rather than vagueness allows for the quickest punch in a description halving my wordcount.
If the thread's title was true:- tweets would be a mightier artform than limericks; limericks would be greater than flash fiction; flash fiction would be higher than short stories; short stories would be prized over comics; comics would dominate over novellas; and the writers of novellas would sneer down at the only people less fortunate than them: novelists.
If tweets aren't a higher artform than novels... if... it's the other way round... why might that be?
Perhaps it is to do with the way the art of writing is between the words, rather than explicit in them. In a one-word poem, there is no art - it is a simple selection, and there is no word in the dictionary that can't claim to be the equal of every other. In a one-word poem J K Rowling is equal to Jane Austen. A coincidence happens: they both pick the same word. Austen meant so much more by it.
Words are very imperfect: they truncate the ideas they stand for. If Austen and Rowling both want to describe a black dog, the English language's vocabulary tends to level them. In tweets and short poems, good writers have enough track to get some speed up, but bad writers can still chuck incongruous words together and produce the illusion of art. Especially with the aid of a creative writing course.
It's sometimes said that novels have gruelling minimum length requirements so their spines can take up enough space on the shelf - but there's also an internal reason: it lets the scaffolding of the explicit words disappear into the implicit flesh of the true work - and it flushes out creative weakness.
At this scale, brevity is meaningless. Austen can't be said to express in 1000 words what Dostoevsky says in 10,000 - firstly because it varies from passage to passage, but moreover they're novels. And we can take that word literally: they're novels because nobody else had said any of it. There isn't a choice between Anne vs. Wentworth (long version) and Anne and Wentworth (short version) - it's the length it is. And there isn't a choice between Anne vs. Wentworth and Levin vs. Kitty.
The writer can do a like-for-like comparison between two drafts, but we usually can't. We can only usefully ask if we prefer brevity or verbosity in the rare circumstance where an author has published a long and a short version of the same work. For example, the first English novel: does anyone prefer the 1678 version of Pilgrim's Progress? Isn't that daft?
But conversely, 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone' (77k) isn't briefer than 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix' (257k) - every word in both of them was surplus to requirements.
The cult of mediocrity will always teach brevity. 100 monkeys turn up, all with a typewriter under their arm and a dollar in their pocket: they can't be turned into Shakespeare, but they can be made briefer. "And look," says the course leader, "the briefer you are, the better."
Still a better love story than Twilight (I'm sorry, I just really like that joke)
Separate names with a comma.