One of my writing Bibles ( and I’m not being sacrilegious here) is a book titled HOW TO WRITE SHORT – Word Craft For Fast Times by Roy Peter Clark. I’ve mentioned this book before in blogs, but I was re-reading it today and few key phrases jumped out at me.
I’m currently writing my newest book, and editing the one that came before it. I’ve noticed – as has my editor – that I have a distinctive writing style that sometimes goes on a little longer than necessary. Especially when I say the same thing several ways.
Here’s an example. Moira’s breath quickened, deepened in intensity, the speed of the breaths faster with each inhalation and then exhalation.
Now, aside from being a perfectly AWFUL sentence, I told you the same damn thing three times! Okay, we get it. Moira was breathing fast. I could have just said it like that. Moira was breathing fast. But that sentence has no punch, no pop, no… Oh, dear, God, I’m doing it again!
Clark writes, “The best place for an important word in a short passage is at the end.” The italics are his.
So, rewriting the above wordy sentence into something shorter, I could have said, Moira was breathing fast. But using Clark’s notion to put the important word last, fast just doesn’t do it for me. Finding words to describe the fast breathing is the next step. Quickened, accelerated, sped-up are a few ways to describe it. If I resort to the deadly “LY” words, I could say, speedily, rapidly, hastily quickly, swiftly. So, which word works best for what I want to convey? Maybe none of them. Maybe I need to write a descriptive phrase to indicate what I want to say. But if I do that, I will be assured to over-word my sentence again.
Egads! I hate editing.
Sometimes your first gut instinct is the best way to go, so reworking the tense just a hair, I wrote this: Excitement rolled through her and Moira’s breathing quickened.
Not a bad sentence. Not pulitzer prize winning, but a much better conveyance of what I wanted, than Moira was breathing fast. A total of 8 words instead of the original 18.
Now, onward to the other 90,000 words that need to be edited…
Tedium…the definition of editing!