Chirp and Chatter Pages

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Reduce Wordiness: 7 Trouble Spots to Avoid (Angela D. Meyer)

(A Writing Tips post)

by Angela D. Meyer

Wordiness stalls your reader at best and loses them completely at worst.

When you’re editing and you come across a section that sounds wordy or you’re over word count and can’t figure out where to cut, here are 7 trouble spots to avoid to ensure your writing is clear and as concise as your story needs to be. (edited from 46 words to 27 words.)

Redundancy. When you edit, look for these spots where you repeat the same idea with different verbiage, then choose the best way you worded it and delete the others.

Passive construction. Passive construction adds words to your writing and can be cumbersome. It has its place, but use it carefully and with intent.

For example:
Passive: The boy was bitten by a mosquito. The bite made the boys skin itch. (14 words)
Active: A mosquito bit the boy. His skin itched. (8 words)

Since passive construction is where the action is done to the subject, a search-and-find of the word “by” in your manuscript may help you spot passive construction. Decide if the passive construction serves a specific purpose or effect in your story. If not, then make it active.

Repetitiveness: I find at least one word in each story that communicates an idea so well I use it repeatedly. I also have a group of more common words that I tend to overdo and have to catch in the editing stage. Using the same word multiple times indicates I may be getting lazy in my writing and allowing wordiness to creep in.

A quick search-and-find helps locate these pesky terms. I watch especially for clusters which make them stand out. For story specific words, I choose a different word or cut it out entirely. For the common words that I see across all my stories, I may have to change up the construction of the sentence.

A few common overdone words include: that, very, so, can and just. Much of the time deleting these words does the trick. Read the following sentence and see the difference taking out a few words can make.

I heard that he was going to college and I am so very thankful that he is just so willing to lead the way. (24 words vs. 18 words)

Telling your readers what you’re going to do instead of doing it.
I could have gone to the store. Vs. I went to the store.
I am thinking about getting a new maid. VS I will hire a new maid.
I am going to go the store. Vs. I will go to the store.

Overuse of “-ing” words. “-ing” words can be vague about who or what they modify and often indicate weak verbs.
Make sure your subject is clear.
Vague: Mary hurried away from the store leaving her cart full of groceries. (Did the store leave her cart or did Mary?)
Clear: Leaving her cart full of groceries, Mary hurried away from the store.

Make sure you are using strong verbs.
Weak: Working at the store is a great job.
Strong: I enjoy working at the store.

Overuse of -ly words. Instead of “walked lazily” use “shuffled.” The occasional adverb can add color, but when there is an overabundance, it alerts you to possible weak verbs.

Super long sentence: It helps the rhythm of your story to vary the lengths of the sentences, but a too-long sentence can make a reader feel like they can’t catch their breath. It also slows the pace of your story. Unless you’re are using a long sentence for effect, generally, 20-25 words is a good length. In addition to checking the trouble spots already mentioned, check punctuation for run-on sentences. If not a run-on, break it up into more than one sentence. 

This is not an all-inclusive list of trouble spots to avoid on the way to clear and concise writing. Do you have a pitfall you have to watch out for?

Angela D. Meyer, author of The Applewood Hill Series, lives in NE with her husband of 25 years and their high school daughter. Their son serves our country in the Marines. Angela enjoys hanging out with her family, reading, connecting with friends and encouraging women to grow in their faith. One of her dream spots to vacation is next to the ocean and someday she wants to ride in a hot air balloon.

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Joanna, full of bitterness over the past, can no longer ignore the growing storm inside her and is bent on self-destruction as she seeks to ease her pain. But the refuge she seeks is always out of her reach.

Her brother Blake must choose between what has always been safe and what he has always wanted. One mistake after another leads him down a dangerous path.

The one for all, all for one sibling bond can’t help them now. They are both determined to hang onto their anger, never forgetting. Never forgiving. They see no reason to trust God.

After so many years of turmoil, will the Hannigan siblings find refuge in the God who loves them? Or will they get lost along the way?

1 comment:

  1. Welcome to Chirp 'N Chatter, Angela! I enjoyed your post - lots of good information and tips!