Thursday, March 3, 2016

Making your Words Count

My sweet, sweet 9 year old has inherited her Momma's love of writing gene.

She's also inherited my tendency to use the love of words for slightly-nefarious purposes.

I remember when I was in the 7th grade, I had to write a paper on the Civil War. I can't remember how long it was supposed to be, but it was the longest paper I'd ever been asked to write. Like 10 written pages long or something like that. And that was before we had typewriters/computers, so this was all long hand.

I loved to write papers --- much more than I loved studying history.

So I did what any girl would do in that situation.

I tried to write smart. Not like, history smart. Nope. I used pretty adverbs and big words. "The esteemed Abraham Lincoln presided boldly over the United States of America as president of this great nation during time of chaos and war." versus "Abraham Lincoln was president during the Civil War."

That's 23 words versus 8 people. (I don't have the paper anymore. I'm sure the words were even worse than that. But you get the point...)

Imagine a WHOLE paper filled with that, that only had minor facts and lists that I could easily come up with by looking at the history book's timeline (so I didn't have to, like, actually study it, you know.)

I'll have you know I got an A on that paper with a note about my great writing.

I was so proud of that.

Looking back.... I'm not sure if I actually fooled the teacher or if he was like, "Eh, she won't be a history major when she grows up, but she'll be able to write at least!"

Now I get to witness my sweet 9 year old trying to pull the same stunt. She has a presentation she has to do on Wednesday and is writing out what she will say. It has to be 3-5 minutes long. She is VERY concerned about the timing because she tends to talk fast when she is nervous.

Her presentation is on "How to make make a healthy smoothie."

Her introduction went a little like....

"Being healthy is super important, but how do you be healthy on the go? I have a solution! This smoothie is the perfect thing. It's a delicious and nutritious lean green smoothie. I know what you're thinking. How do you make such a thing? I'll tell you."


I know. She's 9. It isn't THAT bad. But when I asked her about it, she proudly told me she was trying to write as many words as possible in the introduction so it would meet her 3-5 minute time frame.

She and I chatted about making sure all our words have VALUE. That adding words that have zero impact or worth just to meet a timeline or a word count is NOT how we write well. It's called LAZY writing.

Here is her rewrite:

"Being healthy is super important, but how do you be healthy on the go? My solution is my delicious and nutritious, lean green smoothie. It may look gross at first, but I promise you, it is very tasty (and luscious--but I made her take out this word for OBVIOUS reasons.) Just try it. It might surprise you."

It's actually only two less words. But she added information that has value to what she's presenting. She knows this smoothie she is holding looks like someone vomited in it. It is green and pretty horrific looking to most 9 year olds. So it is a MUCH better way to "sell" her presentation by addressing that assumption than "I know what you're thinking, how do you make it? I'll tell you."

While these are silly examples, the message is the same. We as writers need to remember our words should COUNT. Every single one of them. Adding fluff deludes our message and bores readers. I've deleted whole paragraphs, whole chapters, whole POINTS OF VIEW before when I realized it added nothing to the story.

Cutting out our precious words is difficult sometimes. We worked hard on them. Sometimes they even SOUND really pretty. And yes, sometimes we really like those scenes too. But if it isn't integral to the story, if it doesn't move the plot ahead, if it doesn't add depth and meaning for your reader, then you need to let it go.

Don't make me break out in that Frozen song..... (sorry, I KNOW that is in your head now! You're welcome!)

Let's Chat! Are you good at chopping off the unneeded parts? DO you tend to overwrite like me???

And SHAMELESS PLUG!!! My latest book, A Side of Love, just released on MONDAY!! I'd love for you to check it out!!

Krista is a follower of Jesus, a wife, a mother, and writes romantic comedy. Her latest book A Side of Love, released February 29, 2016.  She blogs about finding JOY in the journey of LIFE at She is represented by Sarah Freese of Wordserve Literary.


Anonymous said...

Quick - edit this post before a dozen English majors hound you on the difference between "verses" and "versus". Then delete this comment.

kaybee said...

I'm an English major and I don't "hound" anyone. Just sayin'.
Also just sayin' that I know what you mean. I just had to cut a 90,000 word novel to 70,000 words for the Manuscript Matchmakers promotion over at Love Inspired. It was a challenge. The longer version of the book is multiple-viewpoint and I had to cut it to the him/her viewpoints, so I had to introduce all the information I had in the OTHER characters' heads through the H/H POV.
My day job is with newspapers, so I often have the opposite problem, how to use ENOUGH words to make my story sing while keeping to a word limit.
Thank you Krista for an interesting post.
Kathy Bailey

Krista Phillips said...

LOL. Anon -- thanks for pointing that out! I definitely fixed it --- but I'll keep your comment up. We're all human, even writers, and sometimes these silly fingers of ours just don't obey and our silly eyes just don't catch goofy errors!! I'm very content with the fact that my grammar and me (or is that I?) aren't perfect!

Thank goodness for editors!!!!

Krista Phillips said...

Kailey, thanks for not hounding me!! :-) And yes, I've heard others talk about how journalists with newspapers have an interesting time keeping in word count! Puts a new spin on "writing tightly" LOL! Thanks for stopping by!

Robin Mason said...

confession: i once wrote a book report on a book i didn't read. and got an A, with a comment from the teacher commending the report, "... wish you had written more." I had pulled from the first and last paragraph of maybe half the chapters of the book and reworded it. (was that plagiarism do ya think?) I laughed smugly at my grade at the time (i was in 8th grade) but now not so proud of it.
still though, it's a great anecdote, especially for a writer!

Krista Phillips said...

Robin --- I may or may not have done something similar a time or two. Not really plagiarized but did a REALLY fast skim and used pretty words to cover up my lack of reading. Not proud of that either!!!

Meghan M. Gorecki said...

Glad I'm not the only one who overwrites! LOL Now I have Let It Go stuck in my head. ;) A second pair of eyes, when I can get one to look at my writing, always helps me condense and be more concise rather than over-wordy. What I've been doing recently to edit the first completed draft of my Civil War novel is printing it out and using a blue (red is a scary editing color) pen to line edit and it has reeeeally made all the difference. I cut out unnecessary lingo when I read it and my brain gets winded for how wordy portions are!

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Wow, Krista. I was never as creative as you. Although, when I had to write a report on a bird in third grade, I did get called on plagiarism. The original author just said it so much better than I could! ;) There was grace in third grade, fortunately. ;)

I'm learning how to chop off the unneeded parts, but it's not always easy. I don't always see them. Sometimes, it takes extra eyes to open my own to see the fluff in my writing. :)

Fun post!

Krista Phillips said...

Yes, great points, gals! An extra set of eyes is REALLY REALLY important in cutting!

And there are definitely two different types of overwriting. WE can over write in our word usage (lots of unneeded phrases or adverbs) or in our plot (unneeded scenes, characters, etc)

Two very different types of cutting, but both very important!!