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I am doing a lot of writing lately. Novels, short stories, and so forth.

I have one person that tells me,

Immense improvement from the first version.

A great deal of your description is dull... too many words to say something. The trouble is, some of these things need to be said.. but more forcefully and punchier. Drive the story don't let it amble along.

I'm not sure if you're trying to create natural speech... problem can be to use with care... too many unnecessary words take away the impact of what you're trying to say to he reader. You're telling a story and entertaining the reader at the same time. Imagine this on a movie screen. The movie would be more animated.

Then another person, whom I consider a mentor, and get advice from all the time, say's the following:

You asked,

Is that true, the less words the better, or are sometimes more words better?

My answer:

This is a HUGE pet peeve of mine. I am 100% against the whole condensing sentences rule. It affects the voice of the narrator. Character is by far the most important thing because that's what readers connect with the most. Sometimes voice doesn't work out, but that's not because "unnecessary" words are used.

Understand, though, that I am very much a literary writer, so I focus a great deal on word choice and the rhythm of a sentence. It's not a style everyone enjoys, so I always have people telling me to cut back on my wordiness (just check out my latest critter for #######). And, they are right... I could condense a lot of my sentences, but then Sophia wouldn't sound the same.

My suggestion to you on this is to find a style that you enjoy and stick with it despite what other critters say (including me). If you like condensing sentences, go right ahead and do so. I've found that I can enjoy any number of writing styles (and this is why I really don't focus on sentence structures unless they cause an issue in reading).

After doing a lot of reading online, I find mixed opinions.

Even DR. Seuss said,

"So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads." — Dr. Seuss

I aspire to be a great writer, and I want to learn and do what is best for my readers. However, I just want to know what people's thoughts are on condensing?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Some writers don't know which word to use and so they use a dozen. some writers are convinced that typewriter ribbons are too expensive and agonize over each word. Both of these methods can produce enjoyable reading, but my favorite is when the pace of the words just seem to fit. Not too much, not too few. And the appropriate number of words is not a constant. I can not even say that when things are moving fast you want to target five words per action, and thirty words per action when things are slow, although using fewer words to show speed or urgency is often helpful. My recommendations are to never use less words than the minimum needed to express yourself, or enough words to bore your reader; don't condense sentences, condense thoughts; don't expand sentences, expand understanding. If you think my advice sounds easy, you aren't a writer.

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A lot of it has to do with context. What type of story is it? What is the genre?

hildred has a point in regard to number of words affecting urgency. If you've got a fast-paced action sequence, for example, you don't want to be detailing every single movement of a character as this can easily slow the reader's imagination of the scene. Instead, dropping some detail, and using very short sentences, can serve as a cue to the reader's brain which then makes them 'feel' the speed of the action and therefore get more engrossed in it.

Jamezrp also has a point with emotion. Establish emotion, then worry about economy of words.

As far as description is concerned, a lot of the time you may want to detail everything about a place, whether that is to give a reader a true sense of the place or include some physical aspects of a character's surroundings which a reader should keep in mind in order for them to properly understand something. Either way, condensing words might not be an option.
The best option in the event there is such a need and you feel as though there might be too many words, try focusing on the flow. Ask yourself: Does this take too long to read? Might someone be taken away from the feel you just created of the scene?

You can also try to spread out lengthy sentences, even in dialogue, by sprinkling some here and there, or adding something to break it all up into smaller paragraphs.

In short, try to imagine it from the reader's perspective, which might require getting a few beta readers or the like so you can get their opinions of your approaches to condensing/not condensing and keep what works. Eventually you should build up a solid portfolio of ideal situations for host of options.

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Words lead the reader to emotion. Have enough words so the reader feels, but not so many that they stop feeling.

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Part of the editing process is determining where to cut the fat. Often, first drafts are just there to get ideas out on paper.

There is a happy medium with deciding what should be edited out. If you leave too much in, your reader may think you are rambling. However, you don't want to make your writing too terse, and start omitting important details.

One thing you may want to be conscious of is the usage of superfluous/redundant words and/or phrases. You also want to avoid repeating yourself.

If you find yourself writing details about a subject that has little or nothing to do with the character or story arc, it is best to avoid it unless it is a point that has something to do with the overarching theme of the story. If that is the case then some occasional vignettes or asides may work.

Another thing to pay attention to is the pace. Good writing has a fairly steady pace. It can be sped up to denote action, or slowed down to add suspense. If you feel like certain parts of the story are being bogged down by too many details, then consider condensing to keep the pace consistent.

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Everyone works differently, but here's me: I put in details only when they're necessary. That is, if they contribute to the story or reveal something about a character. I rarely describe people or settings. It's usually not important that she's blonde or that he's fat or that the trees are maples.

But then in action scenes details can slow things down so we can see how much that slap hurt and how the car missed the baby carriage but hit the stop sign. Using both low-description and high-description provides rhythm.

That is, some scenes deserve expansion, but I tend to condense by default.

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