Monday, February 28, 2011

Writing Short When You're Long-Winded

I like to talk.

If you haven’t figured it out by the length of my blog posts by now – just meet me. Chattering is my cup of tea. :-) That’s why speech-language pathology is the perfect profession for me. People ‘expect’ me to talk! And I’m never reluctant to oblige.

Problem is – this propensity toward prattling on isn’t the best skill for a writer. Yes, I know – we have to develop words on the page, but there’s the clincher. Our words must we well chosen, well placed, succinct, and valuable to the story.

In short: what needs to be said.

So, I realized my very bad habit of blabbering and decided to work on it.

A few tips?

1. Get a critique partner who wields an editing pen with the fluidity of drawing breath. Seriously. If you choose someone who writes outside of your particular genre too, then they are a bit pickier. That helped me.

Here’s a comment Ruth Logan Herne gave me once when she was critiquing a chapter for me.

Your love of words shows. That’s a nice way of saying ax some of them. Tight, tight, tight.” Later on she wrote. “Make the point with snark and not so many words.” Then after she’d written the word ‘delete’ for the twentieth time, she wrote it again and said this, “delete. I love being heartless at your expense. You know that, don’t you? I haven’t had this much fun since I tortured ants with a magnifying glass. SWEET!!! :-)”

LOL. Don’t you just love it! The great thing about her comments is that she’d go through and ‘show’ me ways to tighten. It’s not easy for a lover of words and…oh let’s just face it: blabbermouth. Sigh.

Tightening may be choosing a stronger verb, taking out an extra prepositional phrase, breaking one long sentence into two more concise sentences…and watching for redundancy.

2. Read Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

I just started reading this book last week and I’ve already learned so much. Written by Renni Browne and Dave King, this book was on so many top lists of authors at ACFW, I decided I needed it too. Now, how does this book help you write short? It teaches you about concise writing, appropriate 'beat' writing, proportion writing, and the difference between what is truly needed and what’s superfluous.

3. Write a short story

I challenged myself to write a short story. 2500 words. For a person who writes novels well over 100K, slicing words down to 2500 was incredibly difficult. What I learned? Only the important stuff matters. When you have to tell an entire story in a short amount of time, you are very picky about what you choose to add into it. You can read the short story here - here's a hint, it's a modern day version of P & P entitled Second Impressions.

4. Pretend you’re a scriptwriter

A friend told me to think this way. As if you are writing a script. What happens when you think like a scriptwriter, is you just put the basics. Then, when you go back to the ‘basics’, you layer all the ‘pretty’ stuff on top of it.

Honestly, I can’t tell you how much having a crit partner/or reader helps to slice through the extras in your writing. Writing the short story, though challenging, was a fantastic teacher that I CAN write short.

It’s not my first choice, mind you. I’d much rather ‘go long’, but there’s such a thrill in the challenge. It’s also a great learning experience. I’m in need to do it again – just to remind myself that short writing, teaches you how to be a better long writer.

Ever written a short story?

What are some tips you’d give to be a more concise writer?

20 comments:

Freya Morris said...

Short story writing is great and really helps you in becoming a better writer. It amazing how words like "just" and "then" creep in from nowhere into your writing but are completely unnecessary.

The don't add anything to your story - only to your word count. So keep your eyes peeled for them.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Christian Fiction Online Magazine is publishing my fourth short story next month. Yes, I agree with all of your points. I especially relate with the scriptwriter one. I often close my eyes and try to mentally visualize what my characters would be doing and ask myself if it's important enough to include.
~ Wendy

Casey said...

I have written short stories before, but have never really gotten the hang of them, mostly they are just backstory dumps, lol!

Wendy, I'll have to read yours, sounds exciting and maybe I'll pick up a few tips. :)

Mary Vee said...

I took the challenge and wrote one for little people. Did you know little people stories have hard any words? It wasn't published...but my story for 6-8 year olds was featured in the
Easter Issue of a publication. Wahoo!

I recently had a treasured soul critique my submission. She did great, I ended up hacking a whole chapter then rewrote it. Must admit, the chapter is significantly better.
Greatful for crit partners:)

Keli Gwyn said...

Pepper, it's reassuring to know I'm not the only member of the Wordy Writers Club. I have to go at my stories with an axe. Why, I've even had to pull out the chainsaw at time. Not pretty.

What a blessing it is to have CPs who will say what needs to be said--truth delivered with love. I have two wonderful CPs who are helping me learn to write tight. They're the best.

Ralene said...

Well, I love to talk (just ask my patient husband), but apparently it doesn't bleed over into my writing. I often have to ADD words to my novels. However, I have done short stories before. On Faithwriters website and writing.com, I've found two weekly contests that have strict word counts for short stories/articles (750 and 1000). It's a great exercise on writing tight!

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Good tips, Pepper! I have tried a few of these and they are great exercises and ways to know what is necessary and what it not. This post is soooo appropriate for me right now! I just went through a story I wrote last year and cut 20 K words and it was actually fun. It's great reading through my story again and seeing how succinct it is without losing any of its power.

Pepper said...

Freya,
You are so right. If I go through my ms and get rid of the 'justs' and 'so' and 'very's - it really helps with clarity. I don't even realize it until I go back through

Pepper said...

Oooo, congrats, Wendy. How wonderful for you. I'm going to have to check out your work. Yipee!!

Pepper said...

Case,
Short stories do NOT come easy for me. Not at all. But it's such a good practice in writing succinct - or it was for me :-)

Pepper said...

Mary,
Congrats about your short story. I love writing short stories for kids, though I've never tried to do anything with them. It's seems shorter comes easier for me when I think 'kids' instead of 'adults'

Pepper said...

Keli,
SOOOO true. And it's nice to know I have good company :-)
Chainsaw...totally understand.

Pepper said...

Ralene,
What a smart idea from Faithwriters. I might have to try that out.

Pepper said...

Cindy,
Isn't it neat to go back through older work to spruce it up?

Sarah Forgrave said...

Great tips, Pepper! A good CP is huge. I tend to be in the opposite club and have to add words in. I'm all about culling unnecessary words, like "that" or "just". Rachelle Gardner did a post with a list of words to look for and I refer to it every time I do self-edits.

Pepper said...

Sarah,
Do you have a link to that list? I'd like to see it.

Angie said...

Good post, Pepper. I love it when my crit partner points out redundancy or when I am "wordy", it helps tighten it, and it points out things that I would have never noticed-- because I am WORDY! I blame it on my love for British literature, which I think is master of long flowery sentences...do you agree? ;) Also, I found that writing a one page synopsis for Genesis gave me a huge challenge. It was nice to flesh it out though, because it helped me focus on the main plot line and strengthen my idea in black and white.

Julia M. Reffner said...

Sorry, I'm a bit late to the table. Mondays can definitely be crazy. Great advice from Ruth! I tend to be more like Sarah and need to add words instead of subtracting. Going to check out Rachelle's list, I know I overuse "that."

Patti Lacy said...

Glad you are connecting with one of my favorite writing books!

God bless, Pepper!

Pepper said...

Were you reading my mind, Patti?
I just sent you an email.

That is a great book