Write It Sideways

Working Past Wordiness For Fresher Writing

Today’s post is written by regular contributor Sarah Baughman.

I’ll give you twenty seconds to skim these paragraphs and tell me which one exhibits stronger, more engaging writing:

Paragraph A

The hottest month in Ayemenem would certainly have to be May. Each and every day is long and exceedingly humid. The river starts to dry up and black crows, which sit in trees that are a dusty-colored green, eat golden, sun-ripened mangoes. It is a time when red bananas as well as plump, yellow, odd-smelling jackfruits are starting to get significantly riper. Flies buzz around and around in the sweet-smelling air. Then, because they don’t understand what glass is, they fly right into the windows and are killed by the impact. 

Paragraph B

May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month. The days are long and humid. The river shrinks and black crows gorge on bright mangoes in still, dustgreen trees. Red bananas ripen. Jackfruits burst. Dissolute bluebottles hum vacuously in the fruity air. Then they stun themselves against clear windowpanes and die, fatly baffled in the sun.

Even though I wrote Paragraph A, I hope you hated it. It’s my decidedly unimpressive 91-word rewrite of Arundhati Roy’s arresting beginning to her novel The God of Small Things. Roy’s version, at 55 words, is undoubtedly cleaner, tighter, and more powerful.

A lower word count doesn’t always point to superiority, but wordiness is best avoided, and it’s the main culprit lurking behind my rewrite’s failure.

Are you wordy? Recognize the signs

Scan your writing for the following symptoms of wordiness:

Stop wordiness before it starts

Editing out unnecessary words is great, but can we train ourselves not to include them at all? When meaning infuses each word, we’re less likely to use too many. Consider minimizing unnecessary words by regularly employing the following language devices:

When it comes to wordiness, small choices add up. Though it’s easy  to struggle with cutting into–and out of–our work, writing benefits from the spare, carefully crafted brilliance of a few well-chosen words.

How do you avoid wordiness in your writing? What strategies do you have in place for editing wordiness out of your work, or for writing efficiently in the first place?