Sunday, November 23, 2014

Every Word Counts

"..So avoid using the word 'very' because it's lazy. A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don't use very sad, use morose. Language was invented for one reason, boys - to woo women - and, in that endeavor, laziness will not do. It also won't do in your essays." These words spoken by Robin Williams in the movie Dead Poet Society are an eye opener.

Don't be lazy. Every word written and every word omitted counts.

Blue Car
"It has been a wonderful first date.

  • While we spoke outside her door, a blue car passed"
  • While we spoke outside her door, a blue Mercedes with out of state plate passed"
  • While we spoke outside her door, a blue Ferrari passed"
  • While we spoke outside her door, a navy Ford passed. The kid in the backseat had this glance of astonishment in its eyes only kids can have when they see something new - and myself in that particular moment."

Do you see the difference in these sentences? In the first two examples the focus is on the car. It must pertain to the development of the plot. Maybe a blue car passed two days earlier when the protagonist witnessed a robbery. If it doesn't move the plot forward, leave it out. Imagine you have been on a first date - do you care about a car that passes while you still stand in the front of her door? Not really, right?

Except... the sentence tells us something about the protagonist. Have you ever seen a blue Ferrari? I haven't, and personally I couldn't care less, but there are men that would get all excited about it. It tells us something about his personality. If it is not what you wanted to tell the reader about the protagonist, leave it out.

Now, the last sentence tells us something about the guy too. I bet you too have these moments in your memory where you can tell each and every detail; how the sunlight was, the smell of snow in the air before it falls of the smell of rain after it has stopped. You know the number of the house on the other side of the street and the color of the car that passed in that moment. It is burned into your soul and most of the time it has something to do with a girl (or a guy).

If a word or sentence is not important for the plot, the story or the protagonist, LEAVE IT OUT.

Beware of Fashion
We are all children of our generation, but the older we get, the more we realize that many things that are IN right now aren't tomorrow. I grew up in the eighties with the A-Team, Knight Rider and music tapes. If your plot on a hero that saves a tape using a pencil you might need to explain it to millennium readers. Nowadays it's all about Facebook, Twitter & co, but who remembers IRC? Explaining past technology might be obvious, but even when using nowadays favorite technology - be aware, it can be forgotten tomorrow.

Try to stay away of using things that are fashion driven - you might end up with disconnected future readers.

The Perfect Word
In my blue-car-example I used the word speak, which seems to be a neutral word in that context. Now try to replace this word with 

  • discuss
  • argue
  • chatted
  • flirt
  • debate
  • teasing each other

See how it gives the story another direction.

You want to have another example? Look at the following sentence: 

  • "When I saw her the first time, she was reading a book."

  • "When I saw her the first time, she sat in the park on green bench beneath an oak tree reading a book."

Choosing the right word is crucial in order to paint the right picture into the reader's mind.

Increase vs Reduce
"Every word counts" goes in both directions - it can increase the number of words or reduce it. Word count decreases when you try to bring an emotion across and you can nail it with one word instead of describing it. On the other side of the spectrum you increase the word count in order draw a picture. If the car in the first example is just a car, the picture remains one-dimensional. In order to gain depth you need to say what kind of car and you might want to add some more description if it suits the purpose.

Eventually every word counts in order to nail it.

Happy writing,
Your writer in a foreign land

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