Techniques to Cure Wordiness

Installment 3 in this series draws me to the matter of qualifiers and intensifiers. They’re often added because we think they strengthen our writing. Beware! If they’re misused or overused, they’ll have the opposite effect.

First, let’s be clear what they are–a qualifier and an intensifier.

Qualifiers are words that hedge or limit a claim in your writing. Words like perhaps or soemtimes or often, for instance. Take, a sentence like “It will rain tomorrow.” That’s definitive. If it doesn’t, someone can say, “You were wrong!” And they’d be absolutely right. (Did you see the intensifier there? No worries, we’re still talking about qualifiers.)

Now, qualify that statement: “Perhaps it will rain tomorrow.” Do you see how you’ve hedged or limited the statement? No one can say you were wrong, because you never expressly promised it would rain. After all, you’re a writer, not a weather man!

Intensifiers are words that strengthen–often to bravado–a statement. “It will absolutely, positively rain tomorrow.” Not only are you promising it will rain, you’re arguing that it will rain, to the extend that anyone who disagrees with you might as well be labeled a beetle-eared naive. How dare they!

Here’s where it gets tricky: Writer, be careful that your qualifiers and intensifiers actually add to your writing. Many times (qualifier) they don’t, rendering your copy totally(intensifier) obnoxious. 

“She was rather surprised by his somewhat unorthodox behavior.” Stop! Say it like this: She was surprised by his unorthodox behavior. Ahhhh! So much better! So tell me, what did the heel do? 

“Never in my entire life have I ever been so grossly and totally offended by such behavior.” Say what? Try: Never have I been so offended!” Now you’re talking! Tell me more!

In those two examples, notice how the de-cluttered versions actually draw you in–wanting more detail. You’re not shamelessly building up a point, you’re inviting readers into your story. 

Take a close look at your initial drafts. Slay qualifiers and intensifiers that aren’t necessary. Don’t believe that if you do you’re “slaying voice, tone and style.” Truth is, you’ll be improving your voice, tone and style–and your readers will thank you for it. When they do, tell them you heard it here.

A Day in the Life …

… of a Professional Copywriter

copywriting-blueAt launch: “Give us some of your really emotional, tug on the heartstrings copy. Can you get it done in under 200 words?”

After CS review: “We LOVE it! But we’re nervous about space when this goes to design. Do you think you can keep the emotional power, but trim it to about 75 words or so?”

After design has a look: “It’s AWESOME! But design wants to know if you can keep it emotionally engaging, but get it into two sentences.”

After the client reviews it: “Do you think you capture it … using only emojis and punctuation?”

3 Keys to Working with Editors

More than a year ago I posted, Who Needs and Editor? You! If you think you don’t, you’re silly. Go back and read it.

bluepencilWorking with editors over the years has led me to a conclusion–there are three keys to help you develop a happy and productive author/editor relationship. Get these three things right and you won’t go wrong.

#1 Choose and editor who gets you. Yes, you need someone who is skilled in the field, but when it comes to your manuscript, it is even more important that your editor recognizes your style, tone and voice and doesn’t nix them with their editing strokes. This takes rapport at least, relationship at best. If your editor doesn’t take the time to get you, get another editor.

#2 Be very clear about the kind of editing you are looking for your editor to complete. Do you simply want a proofreading? Perhaps simple line-editing? More in-depth or substantive editing? Clarity at the get-go will make you both much more comfortable within the process.

#3 Produce a stylesheet to accompany your manuscript to your editor. If you don’t know what a manuscript stylesheet is, Google is your friend. There are several templates available on the web. Simply put, this is a sheet that will allow your editor to understand your choice of words, terms, style and formatting throughout. It will help the editor bring consistency to their work, and more importantly, to your manuscript.

There you have it… wisdom, wisdom, wisdom… and for free!

Had any good (or not so good) author/editor experiences to share?

Techniques to Cure Wordiness

grammar manAs I said when I started this series of posts, a writer’s greatest skill should be allowing words to do their work. If we do that, our writing should be very concise. This post is a second in the series–a how-to. Kick out the clutter. See if you don’t sense the beauty of words anew.

Technique #:2 Replace redundant pairs with single words.

I think this bad habit–including unnecessary word pairs–came into practice thanks to lawyers who desire their written prose in letter and briefs to look deserving of the huge bill that will surely follow. A lawyer turns a few word couplets like aid and abet or cease and desist, and he can add another zero, left of the decimal, on the invoice. A hundred dollars just became a thousand. Do you see?

Offenders:

Any and all … each and every … one and only … few and far between … first and foremost … peace and quiet … and for the truly loquacious, various and sundry.

Isn’t any included in all? Each covered by every? One represented in the word only? Who even uses the word sundry anymore? Cut! Cut! Cut!

It’s biblical, this advice I’m giving you! Jesus said, “When you … write … don’t do it like lawyers who think that they’ll be heard because of their many words.” Of course that’s a paraphrase. But the point is spot-on: get rid of the fluff and let words, beautiful, meaningful words, communicate as they’re intended! Your reader will get it. They’ll appreciate that you spared them the sticky fluff.

Look back through a section of your manuscript, or the copy you’re working on today. If it reads like a lawyer, OBJECT!