Jordan Taylor

On Writing: You Are Using Too Many Words

Posted by on Feb 01 2017

It’s a fact. You are. I am. We are all using too many words when we write.

Why not? Watching word counts climb as we type encourages us. Meeting word goals fulfills us. Commercialism in the book market, notably on Amazon.com, proves to us that more words equals more money—which means we are doing better as authors by typing more words. Even grammar tricks us into throwing in an unnecessary “that” or “and” because it is correct to do so.

Human beings are in love with words. We are addicted to language. Just try going without it for twenty-four hours. No speaking, no listening, no writing, texting, or reading. Not even the logo on your coffee cup.

Unless we live in isolation, most of us would find a single day without any exposure to human language impossible. Even in isolation, many of our brains (though not all) are wired to think in words. So it seems only natural that we are hooked.

I adore finding tips and ideas for creative writers; be they in the form of a new writing book, an author’s blog, or simply advice from a friend.

If I could give back only one thought in return, whether you’re working on short stories, poems, screenplays, essays, a memoir, your first novel or your fiftieth, this would be it:

We Are All Using Too Many Words.

Ways to Help

By your third or fourth draft, take your manuscript aside for a quiet read. Don’t worry about fixing the grammar. Don’t worry about the jerky plot, or if you still haven’t slipped in a description of a central character who was introduced on page three. Allow yourself to read with an eye toward excess.

Do you need five adverbs on one page, or will a single really punchy one suffice? Better yet, how about none?

Do you need to reiterate that your protagonist has lavender eyes sixty-eight times in your novel, or will one introduction and two or three reminders work?

Without even cutting a scene, you will be amazed how quickly your manuscript loses weight.

Is being grammatically correct making your prose hard to read?

Can you lose a word and maintain clarity and flow without confusing the meaning? For example, if you are finding it necessary to use “that” five times in one paragraph, consider dropping some. Is it “correct”? Possibly not. Does it read clearly and communicate your intended message more fluidly to your reader? Probably.

Is that conversation on page twelve longer than it needs to be?

Unless things like “Good morning!” and “How’s it going?” are shaping who your characters are for your reader, or advancing your story, we don’t need them in dialogue. Instead, consider telling us “They met for coffee” and only start your dialogue once someone is saying something that we need to know.

Does your writing ever stray toward “stage and screen”?

I do this often and have been slapped on the wrist for it by editors. Unless you are writing for the stage or screen, we don’t need every move spelled out.

Example:

Annabelle rolled onto her right side, gasping when she saw the time on the digital clock. She threw back the sheet, scrambled from bed, and dashed into the bathroom, where she slammed the door and turned on the shower.

Could be:

Annabelle rolled over and gasped at sight of the digital clock. She sprang from bed and dashed into the bathroom.

Are you telling something that you have already implied?

Example:

Mark had been bringing Annabelle roses each Tuesday morning for the past year. And, each Tuesday morning, Annabelle was up with the sparrows, glancing out the window as she dressed and fixed her hair. She would race to the front door with her heart in her throat the moment she saw Mark turn into the driveway. She couldn’t wait for Mark to bring those flowers every Tuesday.

Apparently, the impulse to add that last sentence is a powerful force.

This one is a tragedy for more than just too many words. Throwing in that last line tells your readers that you don’t suppose them to be a particularly bright bunch, so you’re adding that little cherry on top to make sure they understand the situation. When, as a matter of fact, most readers of both fiction and nonfiction are so intelligent they will soon become fed up with endless repetitions of situations like the one above and find another book to read.

Show it. Imply it. Show it more. Then also spell it out end the scene.

Be Inspired

If you are a creative writer of any kind who is looking to trim flab from your manuscript, you can do no better than looking to poetry for inspiration in clean wordage. I recommend Billy Collins and Shel Silverstein, but many poets have a deep understanding of brevity which many other authors lack.

Also, if you are a novelist, try reading a couple of screenplays. Note how much is shown to the reader while the words remain so sparse we see mostly white space.

“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” ~ Mark Twain

So go through that draft. Cut words like “very”, “suddenly”, “overall”, “quite”, and “actually”. If it ends with an “ly” consider a quick death. If it’s multiple words that could be one (example: “in regard to” can be “about”), make the cut.

No need to fret over too many words in your first draft. That’s what first drafts are for—getting all those words down. But, in revisions, give yourself merit badges not for how many words you write, but for how many you can cut.

Eagle’s Shadow

Posted by on Jan 12 2017

We’re revealing the cover today for the new book Eagle’s Shadow, co-written with Aleksandr Voinov (blog) and standalone novel in his Witches of London series (Goodreads). This fabulous series is set in modern day London but includes a few paranormal and magickal elements—and, in this case, a dash of history as well.

Our amazing cover artist, Tif, has actually animated the cover for us! It’s my first book trailer within a cover! Hope you enjoy!

Happy New Year

Posted by on Jan 01 2017

A new year looking forward to new ventures in fiction and in life. For starters, I have new website sliders and plans to keep the blog at least partway updated with normal things—like writing tips, book updates, food, and activities of my dog and myself—which I have managed regularly on my blogs at least now and then over the past eight years. More “then” over “now”, I’d must admit.

For now, some of the new art, and best wishes for all in 2017!

Thank you to the talented and generous photographers and artists of Pixabay.com for the base imagery behind these shareables.

The Return

Posted by on Nov 22 2016

It was time to say goodbye to England and my people there. I thought I might get in one more museum trip into London for the last day, but was just too beat after the entire trip without a single day of downtime.

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I stayed in, got lunch and walked and wrote with A, and packed my bags.

Goodbye to clotted cream and the best gelato/ice cream I’ve ever had.

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Last London sunset before the flight out.

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Back to buses, trains, and Heathrow.

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Spent my last pound for a water bottle after security. Which, very happily for me, was exactly £1.

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Not sure why people spend so much time sitting at the gate when they could be playing on these things. Aren’t we all about to be sitting for 12 or so hours?

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Away . . . to the last sight of England before the clouds.

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More delightful weather in Iceland.

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Flying over northern Canada.

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Back to the islands of Puget Sound.

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And Seattle.

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After customs, car ride with a friend late at night. (Thank you, G!)

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And onto the ferry for (almost) the last leg.

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Making in total: 24 hours travel by; foot, bus, train, underground, train, foot, plane, shuttle bus, plane, car, ferry, and car. In that order.

As soon as I got home, I went back to work, got extremely sick, and had no time to finish posting pictures. But here they are, a month on, and looking forward to going back again. Sometime soon. . . .

Brighton .3

Posted by on Nov 21 2016

Here’s the colorful part of Brighton:

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This gelato place in Brighton makes fresh waffles to order and serves your gelato on them hot off the waffle iron. Of course, I couldn’t eat one, but got to enjoy one vicariously with A. :)

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This was abandoned on an outside table. Calling out for rescue. We did not rescue it, but did admire it.

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Then it was back to the train station . . . plus many hours waiting. But we’ve already covered that!

Time to pack up for the return flight.

Brighton .2

Posted by on Nov 20 2016

Brighton Pier and the waterfront:

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Dog waiting for his fisherman:

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The Pier carnival boasts everything from arcade games to rides like a carousal and roller coaster to a tarot reader:

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The classic British style carousel horses with unique names and the romance side on the right with the horses traveling clockwise:

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Merry-go-round with a view:

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“The Man in the Moon” cloud style:

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The noisy locals:

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Distant White Cliffs, looking toward Folkstone and Dover:

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One more Brighton post to follow. . . .