Author Topic: ‘Word-Economy’ // A coffee-clutch discussion please.  (Read 4927 times)

Offline Skip Slocum

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‘Word-Economy’ // A coffee-clutch discussion please.
« on: March 17, 2012, 11:29:37 PM »
‘Word-Economy’   // A coffee-clutch discussion please.

Over the last few years, while learning to write, the one subject I’ve not examined very much is, ‘Word-Economy’. I suppose it’s high time I turned my focus in that direction.

While dabbling in Flash-Fiction contests, I’ve seen the need to pick and choose which words to cut. I can also imagine news articles or magazine spreads that would depend greatly on this. And yet, I’m wondering how important this subject is in novel-writing.

When ‘word-economy’ becomes the focus in editing one’s work, don’t we run the risk of . . . ‘gutting’ the emotion from what we’ve been trying to do in telling a story?

Offline 510bhan

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Re: ‘Word-Economy’ // A coffee-clutch discussion please.
« Reply #1 on: March 17, 2012, 11:42:40 PM »
That's why you gotta choose 'em real careful. ;) >:D

There is a risk, which is why you have to coin perfect phrases and sentences to ensure you still convey your intended meaning without dragging it out. Pace and characterisation will also dictate the voice and tone you use during particular passages. Balance and variety are important -- with a rich vocabulary that offers accessible expressions and words appropriate for the moment.

Making sure you have used strong verbs and precise nouns ought to save on redundancies/fillers/junk -- stuff that needs weeded out and clogs up your writing. A smooth easy read with highs and lows that keep your reader turning the pages is what's most important IMO. :)

Offline Skip Slocum

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Re: ‘Word-Economy’ // A coffee-clutch discussion please.
« Reply #2 on: March 17, 2012, 11:50:35 PM »
Okay, I'm listening.

This is the one subject that bothers me so, because there is a 'going by the book' way of writing grammatically correct and then there is the voice. And yes, I've purposely added a line or two of what might be considered 'fluff' just to help with the pace of a scene. If you start slashing through some of it,  seems to me one risks throwing off the balance or editing out all the emotions.

Offline 510bhan

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Re: ‘Word-Economy’ // A coffee-clutch discussion please.
« Reply #3 on: March 18, 2012, 12:15:01 AM »
I've been going back through my WIP and some of the writing is too 'clean' and sterile. Grammatically correct, nice and tight but boring and predictable.  >:( So I've actually been trying to inject more emotion and excitement into it. I've changed sentences to add 'ing' words as they seem more relaxed and natural, a few 'ly' modifiers have been given space and 'was' has made the grade when the sentence structure changed after spotting too many same sentence starters or similar 'weights'. :-[ :-[ :-[

For me it's easier to add in rather than take out because I have a better control of the balance when I know the bulk of it is 'clinical' -- bit like a show house or a hotel. I want it more homey than a boutique hotel with chambermaids, room service and eye catching flower displays -- the same in every suite. Pretty as they are, they need a bit of mussing to make them comfortable. You couldn't stay in one for a long period of time without a few of your own things around you.
« Last Edit: March 18, 2012, 12:43:44 AM by 510bhan »

Offline Skip Slocum

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Re: ‘Word-Economy’ // A coffee-clutch discussion please.
« Reply #4 on: March 18, 2012, 12:38:23 AM »
Clean, sterile, grammatically correct, clinical- yes, all good but all one side of the coin.

Sitting here pondering, I also realize the editing process will vary from one story project to another. No one magic wand will work on two different stories so I suppose its an experience thing.

Offline Don

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Re: ‘Word-Economy’ // A coffee-clutch discussion please.
« Reply #5 on: March 18, 2012, 01:48:25 AM »
Editing your own work is difficult until you learn to be completely ruthless. Fortunately, there are exercises that can help with this.

Pick a subject and write a 1,000 word story about it. Suppose the subject is "Lost Objects." It can be anything from a lost love to your favorite toy when you were six. It must be a complete story with a beginning, middle and end. Exactly 1,000 words--no more, no less.

Now, reduce the word count to 750 words. Exactly 750 words. You must maintain the integrity of the story to the extent it still has a beginning, middle and end. Done already?

Now, reduce the word count to 500 words. Exactly 500 words and the same rules apply.

You will learn more from this exercise than you will from reading any ten books you can find on the subject. When you can snatch the pebble from my hand, Grasshopper . . .



I have a motto: when in doubt, go for the cheap laugh.

Offline Skip Slocum

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Re: ‘Word-Economy’ // A coffee-clutch discussion please.
« Reply #6 on: March 18, 2012, 02:21:30 AM »
That’s ruthless!  ;D Good hit, I’m copying your post and putting it into my notes.

Offline Gyppo

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Re: ‘Word-Economy’ // A coffee-clutch discussion please.
« Reply #7 on: March 18, 2012, 05:27:44 AM »
You could also attempt it the other way around from Don's suggestion.  (Which is a very good one incidentally.)

Imagine you are writing a news story, seeing as you mentioned this earlier.

Newspaper editors cut from the bottom when a story needs to be shortened, so it needs to be written with this in mind.

In the theoretically perfect news story the headline tells the absolute essentials in as few words as possible.  Less words allow a larger font for the 'screamer' headline.  So let us play with this idea.)

Postman Bites Dog.  It's dramatic because it's a reversal of the usual scenario.  But it's thin on details.

Now apply Kipling's 'six honest serving men' to the story. Who? How? What? Why? When? Where?  Not necessarily in that order, but who is usually a pretty good start with a news story.
 
The first paragraph tells you the who

Postman Bill Smith today bit a dog during his delivery.  You could name the dog's owner, though you may wish to keep that until a little bit later.

Now for the how.  Obviously with his teeth, so the location of the bite is more relevant.

He sank his teeth into its jugular vein.  Precise and evocative.  The reader will probably be able to picture their own postman doing this.

Now the what.  What caused this reversal of tradition?

When he saw the dog attackingsavaging a small defenceless child he had to do something took immediate action.  (See how the first choice words have been struck through and replaced with a more powerful image.)

Now the why.

Kicking and punching the dog wouldn't make it let go.

Now the when.

At 7 AM there was no-one else around to help.

Now the where.

In Quincy Mews, Godalming, Surrey.

So that's the bare facts, but it doesn't read all that well.

And then you can go on the add the breed of dog, the name of the child, and all the other little details.

=====

Postman Bites Dog.

Postman Bill Smith today bit a dog during his  delivery.   He sank his teeth into its jugular vein. When he saw the dog attacking a small defenceless child he had to do something took immediate action.

Kicking and punching the dog wouldn't make it let go.  "At 7 AM there was no-one else around to help." In Quincy Mews, Godalming, Surrey.

====

Tidying the meat we have...

Postman Bites Dog.

Heroic Postman Bill Smith today sank his teeth into the jugular vein of a Rottweiller when he saw it attacking a  defenceless child.

Kicking and punching the dog wouldn't make it let go and at 7 AM, in sleepy Quincy Mews, Godalming, there was no-one around to help.

=====

Then you can add in the names of the child, the fact she was a petite blonde out early and playing in her own driveway on her pink tricycle, her age, her parents reactions when they heard the story, the dog owner's response to the killing of his dog, Royal Mail's comment, an 'expert opinion on large and potentially dangerous dogs, etc.

But if space is at a premium the bare meat will suffice, and the expanded story can appear the next day, possibly with even more 'expert opinion' and provocative questions as to why the child was playing unattended.

=====

If you do attempt this exercise try and ensure everything does still add to the story, or lead to other questions, rather than just being lurid detail for the sake of it.  

Compare an add-on exercise such as this with Don's seemingly brutal cutting exercise and after a while you will learn to recognise which details kill a story and which add value.

Gyppo






« Last Edit: March 18, 2012, 05:29:31 AM by Gyppo »
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Offline Skip Slocum

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Re: ‘Word-Economy’ // A coffee-clutch discussion please.
« Reply #8 on: March 18, 2012, 05:55:04 AM »
Okay, I'm nodding and pondering. This type of exercise is not as foreign to me as the other but a good refresher nonetheless. While in the military police, we were constantly forced into this exercise in filing reports. A block the size of a paragraph had to hold all the who, what, where, when, and whys.

This with all the other tools of writing, one must be mindful of makes this art extremely complex.

Offline Dawn

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Re: ‘Word-Economy’ // A coffee-clutch discussion please.
« Reply #9 on: March 18, 2012, 08:09:07 AM »
Good thread guys.
I think you also need to think about your target audience.
If I was writing for children for example. I would use lots adjectives and adverbs. Again with romance I would try and not make it too clinical but more expressive. A good thriller though, would be sharp, clinical and to the the point. Just a thought.

Also if we think about fragments. Not grammatically correct, yet I think a good fragment can add so much more to a story if used in the correct way.
« Last Edit: March 18, 2012, 08:11:09 AM by alfiemama »
Time to take it serious and get the job done

Offline Gayle

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Re: ‘Word-Economy’ // A coffee-clutch discussion please.
« Reply #10 on: March 19, 2012, 01:12:51 AM »
Word economy is something that I block from my mind until the editing process. In my first draft, I focus on allowing my voice to be my voice: no critiquing allowed. Then I read through the first draft and look for the pace and language rhythm which appears most often in the story; this varies with each project. Some projects seem to need a easy, flowing pace with lots of adjectives, others need swift, concise language.

I find that the themes of the work seem to dictate this. My NIP focuses around the short comings of spiritual and intellectual philosophy in dealing with physical crises, and the importance of having a sensual belief system to deal with physical problems. The language in that project is very textual and sensual: the pace is easy and introspective with lots of complex imagery from all five of the senses. My SSIP is about emotional responsibility versus financial responsibility. It's language is far more economical. Adjectives are kept to a minimum. The pace is faster. The sentences are shorter.
« Last Edit: March 19, 2012, 01:18:52 AM by Gayle »
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Offline Skip Slocum

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Re: ‘Word-Economy’ // A coffee-clutch discussion please.
« Reply #11 on: March 19, 2012, 04:00:54 AM »
Miss Gayle, if you would please, elaborate on two acronyms you used. (I might just be acting thick tonight.)

1) NIP

2) SSIP


One of my projects is working on the My Writer's Circle glossary.
« Last Edit: March 19, 2012, 05:50:09 AM by Skip Slocum »

Offline Ken100

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Re: ‘Word-Economy’ // A coffee-clutch discussion please.
« Reply #12 on: March 19, 2012, 05:45:15 AM »
NIP - Novel In Progress???
SSIP - Short Story In Progress???

Just guessing really. :)

We need Gayle to elaborate still. :)
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Offline Skip Slocum

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Re: ‘Word-Economy’ // A coffee-clutch discussion please.
« Reply #13 on: March 19, 2012, 05:49:29 AM »
That makes sense. I was drawing a blank. "Too many mind."  ;D

Offline midnight candle

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Re: ‘Word-Economy’ // A coffee-clutch discussion please.
« Reply #14 on: March 19, 2012, 06:05:53 AM »
You could also attempt it the other way around from Don's suggestion.  (Which is a very good one incidentally.)

Imagine you are writing a news story, seeing as you mentioned this earlier.

Newspaper editors cut from the bottom when a story needs to be shortened, so it needs to be written with this in mind.

In the theoretically perfect news story the headline tells the absolute essentials in as few words as possible.  Less words allow a larger font for the 'screamer' headline.  So let us play with this idea.)

Postman Bites Dog.  It's dramatic because it's a reversal of the usual scenario.  But it's thin on details.

Now apply Kipling's 'six honest serving men' to the story. Who? How? What? Why? When? Where?  Not necessarily in that order, but who is usually a pretty good start with a news story.
 
The first paragraph tells you the who

Postman Bill Smith today bit a dog during his delivery.  You could name the dog's owner, though you may wish to keep that until a little bit later.

Now for the how.  Obviously with his teeth, so the location of the bite is more relevant.

He sank his teeth into its jugular vein.  Precise and evocative.  The reader will probably be able to picture their own postman doing this.

Now the what.  What caused this reversal of tradition?

When he saw the dog attackingsavaging a small defenceless child he had to do something took immediate action.  (See how the first choice words have been struck through and replaced with a more powerful image.)

Now the why.

Kicking and punching the dog wouldn't make it let go.

Now the when.

At 7 AM there was no-one else around to help.

Now the where.

In Quincy Mews, Godalming, Surrey.

So that's the bare facts, but it doesn't read all that well.

And then you can go on the add the breed of dog, the name of the child, and all the other little details.

=====

Postman Bites Dog.

Postman Bill Smith today bit a dog during his  delivery.   He sank his teeth into its jugular vein. When he saw the dog attacking a small defenceless child he had to do something took immediate action.

Kicking and punching the dog wouldn't make it let go.  "At 7 AM there was no-one else around to help." In Quincy Mews, Godalming, Surrey.

====

Tidying the meat we have...

Postman Bites Dog.

Heroic Postman Bill Smith today sank his teeth into the jugular vein of a Rottweiller when he saw it attacking a  defenceless child.

Kicking and punching the dog wouldn't make it let go and at 7 AM, in sleepy Quincy Mews, Godalming, there was no-one around to help.

=====

Then you can add in the names of the child, the fact she was a petite blonde out early and playing in her own driveway on her pink tricycle, her age, her parents reactions when they heard the story, the dog owner's response to the killing of his dog, Royal Mail's comment, an 'expert opinion on large and potentially dangerous dogs, etc.

But if space is at a premium the bare meat will suffice, and the expanded story can appear the next day, possibly with even more 'expert opinion' and provocative questions as to why the child was playing unattended.

=====

If you do attempt this exercise try and ensure everything does still add to the story, or lead to other questions, rather than just being lurid detail for the sake of it.   

Compare an add-on exercise such as this with Don's seemingly brutal cutting exercise and after a while you will learn to recognise which details kill a story and which add value.

Gyppo








I liked this exercise a lot. Thanks Gyppo. And here is another one:

Take a short story you're working on - let's say 500 words. Now adapt it into a script - play or film. Don't worry about the formatting, just take the essential details and see what you have left. It will be a lot less than you think!

It's a useful exercise in seeing what really matters to the story and how you convey the information with action.