My most valuable learning experience in graduate school also happened to be my most humiliating. Having read the first hundred pages of my master’s thesis, one of my thesis directors, a literary prize–winning novelist himself, handed back my novel with downcast eyes and mumbled something about “needs to be tightened.”
One line of his review of my first draft came through distinctly: “Here’s a good page.”
I’d written what I considered more than 100 good pages.
He pulled page 67 from the stack—a lively scene of dialogue on which he’d scrawled “Excellent” across the top.
I stared at it for quite some time to determine what magic had been at play there, but missing elsewhere. I agreed that it looked brilliant—but no different from the other 99+ pages he’d effectively relegated to the shredder.
“Would you edit a page to show me what’s so . . . redundant in the rest?”
Sullenly, he picked up a red pen and began to slash through words, phrases, and sentences as if they were road kill. Horrified as his pen obliterated metaphor after simile after prepositional phrase, I sat stunned when he handed me the edited page, about one-fourth its original length.
Watching that process gave me both pain and pleasure. Seeing him chop, splice, and shape significance out of the simple proved to be the most valuable 15 minutes of my writing career. Redundancy has been a dirty word ever since.
Fiction and nonfiction writers alike understand the value of crisp writing. The problem? Identifying what to leave out and what to include.
Often novelists argue their reasons to add words and sentences:
All good reasons for adding words. These are not the stuff of fluff to which I refer.
Flabby writing looks like this:
|“on account of the fact that”||versus||“because”|
|“with reference to”||versus||“because”|
|“in connection with”||versus||“about”|
|“to be in a position to”||versus||“to”|
|“in the event that”||versus||“if”|
|“in spite of the fact that”||versus||“although”|
|“on a regular basis”||versus||“regularly”|
|“it may well be that”||versus||“maybe”|
|“refer back to”||versus||“refer to”|
No matter whether you’re writing The Great American Novel or your community ezine, rooting out the rot renders crisp copy and a killer-good story.