Writing Tips: Less is More (or When in Doubt, Leave it Out)

 

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A common habit among writers is using too many words to describe something. It’s tempting to toss in a few extra adjectives or adverbs once you’re on a roll, picturing a scene in your mind. Or to add to a list of items in your character’s apartment, for instance. But most readers don’t want to have to wade through excess verbiage—particularly when you’re using two words where one would do, or where both words mean essentially the same thing. Take a look at these examples:

Meticulously and carefully, the professor graded the exams.

Edited sentence: Meticulously, the professor graded the exams. (Meticulously and carefully are similar in meaning, so only one is needed.)

The waiters cleared the table of cutlery, plates, and bowls. Patrick gestured for more champagne.

Edited sentence: As Patrick gestured for more champagne, the waiters cleared the table.

Here’s a paragraph that is far too wordy:

Twice I’d reminded Jack about watching the band rehearse, saying that I was dying to hear them play. At first he said he’d be too distracted with me there watching them, but finally he told me I could come. After work I swung by my apartment to change into casual jeans, a sleeveless linen top, and high-heeled sandals. Then I walked across Broome Street and up Sixth Avenue to Eighth Street. When I reached the studio, I heard the entwined jangle of guitar, keyboard, and bass as I followed the guard inside and down the long corridor. Jack came out looking tired, his eyes bleary, his shirt untucked and wrinkled, his thick dark hair standing up in back.

Here is the edited version; you can see that the main points are conveyed, but without the annoying excess wordiness:

Twice I’d reminded Jack about watching the band rehearse. At first he said he’d be too distracted, but finally he told me I could come. After work I swung by my apartment to change into jeans, and then walked up to Eighth Street. I heard the entwined jangle of guitar and bass as I followed the guard inside. Jack came out looking tired, his shirt wrinkled, hair standing up in back.

I hope this helps to illustrate the fact that most of the time, less truly is more.

Have a question about writing? Comment or email me at leslie@lesliewellsbooks.com

Leslie Wells has edited forty-nine New York Times bestsellers in her thirty-year publishing career. She is the author of Come Dancing, a contemporary romance set in New York City in the 1980s. Visit her at www.lesliewellsbooks.com

Photo credit: Dennis Wong https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

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