Keep it Simple

This is a post about sentence structure and wordiness. Which is something that I struggle with sometimes. I am of the firm belief that a book that’s easier to read is of higher quality than a book that’s hard to read. It is easy to write things that are hard to read. This is why we need to edit.

First, wordiness. Particularly long and showy words.

Showy words are fun, when used in moderation and in proper context. If there are too many long or showy words in your writing (words like absquatulated or scrippage, which are fun words but no one knows what they mean) readers are going to get bogged down and bored because they don’t understand what’s going on.

Which one of these sentences is easier to read? Which one do you like better?

1. The petrichor assaulted her nostrils as she absquatulated through the door.

2. She breathed in the musty smell of rain as she walked out through the door.

More words isn’t always better. In fact, it’s usually the other way around. Here’s something I wrote before and after I cleaned it up:

Before:

It sounds like an innocent enough explanation

After:

It sounds innocent enough

The general rule is: cut everything you possibly can without altering the meaning of the sentence. Cut a sentence down to one word and add them back, one at a time, until you have something that means what you need it to mean. Discard all the other words. However, only do this with a problem sentence. A little fluff can be a good thing: you want a mix of long and short sentences with some adjectives sprinkled in for color. Just try to stay away from adverbs.

Writers who read (and I hope you do) absorb things as we read them: words, sentence structure, certain lines of imagery, small gestures characters make, etc. We recycle these things. There are only so many ways words can go together, and certain little strings of text are used over and over and over again. Sometimes I like reading books with lots of big words in them, and inevitably start to use those words in my writing. I then need to weed them out.

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