Eliminating Wordiness in Writing

by Kara Kahnke

Eliminating wordiness makes writing more concise and engaging. Active voice creates tighter writing than passive voice. In passive voice, something is being done to the subject of the sentence by someone or something else.

Passive voice: “The pizza was eaten by George.”

Active voice: “George ate the pizza.”

The bottom sentence demonstrates active voice because the subject of the sentence performs the action. Eliminating “to be” verbs such as is, are, was, and were, helps banish passive voice from your writing (Toadvine, Brizee & Angeli, 2012).

Eliminating extra modifiers such as actually, really, probably, basically and very also helps wordiness. These words clutter your writing without offering the reader additional information (Tobey, Eliminating Wordiness).

The words which and that contribute to wordiness. A wordy example: “The staff meeting, which occurs weekly, discusses organizational policies.”

A tighter example: “The weekly staff meeting discusses organizational policies” (Kilborn, Strategies).

Some phrases create redundancy in your writing. Eliminate phrases like “12 noon” or “each and every” Pick one of the words in the phrases and go with it (Larson, Writing).

Introductory phrases often don’t enhance writing. Delete phrases like “as a matter of fact” or “in any case” from your work (Larson, Writing).

Eliminate “tion” constructions. For example: “The officer’s job involves interrogation of suspects

A less wordy example: “The officer interrogates suspects.” ” (Kilborn, Strategies)

These are some examples you can use to strike wordiness from your writing. You’ll deliver a stronger impact with practice.


References Kilborn, Judith. “Strategies for Eliminating Wordiness.” St. Cloud University. Retrieved from: http://leo.stcloudstate.edu/style/wordiness.html

Larson, Gary. “Writing Concise Sentences” Retrieved from: http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/concise.htm

Tobey, Dava. “Eliminating Wordiness How to Streamline Your Writing.” Retrieved from: http://www.cf.edu/departments/instruction/lsc/Writing_docs/Capstone/Eliminating%20Wordiness%20in%20Formal%20Writing.pdf

Toadvine, Brize & Angeli, (2012). “Active Verses Passive Voice. Purdue University. Retrieved from: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/539/02/

Retrieved from: http://www.cf.edu/departments/instruction/lsc/Writing_docs/Capstone/Eliminating%20Wordiness%20in%20Formal%20Writing.pdf


Verbosity: NaNoWriMo Help for Flash Fiction Writers

BONUS TIP: Since we are well into November, we’ll give you some bonus tips for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month for those in the dark about it).

by A. Francis Raymond

For those of us accustomed to writing short fiction (such as the 500-word Iron Writer challenge), NaNoWriMo can be especially difficult. A flash fiction writer is trying to scrunch a story down into less than a thousand words — including characterization, plot, etc. But NaNoWriMo wants us to spew out 50,000 words. Quickly. That’s like 100 flash fiction stories! An insane idea, for sure, to those of us used to writing short fiction.

This is my fourth (non-consecutive) year as a NaNoWriMo participant, including this year. I won two of those years so far. The year I didn’t win, last year, I was simply thinking too much and writing too little — a fact I now regret only because I would have loved to write that I won all the challenges I participated in so far.

The point is, I know from first-hand experience what this challenge is like and that we all need coping mechanisms, and even a little help to make it through the month. And as an Iron Writer, I’m keenly aware that writing 1667 words a day is like writing a little more than three complete flash fiction stories a day!

What’s a writer of short fiction to do? Here are 4 tips for when you’re stuck:

1. Indulge your character in a monologue. This can be any character in your story. Or all of them. Give your character(s) the opportunity to stand on a soap box and say whatever comes to their mind. What do they think about the story and what’s happening to them so far? This is material that might not ever see the light of day, but it all counts to the 50k goal and you might even learn something about your characters, too.

2. Write your character’s back story. What were they doing a year ago? 10 years ago? Again, this might not be material for the final revision, but we don’t care about that now. We care about every last painstaking detail. Tell us about the shelf of stuffed animals your character’s mother kept out of arms reach and prompted your character to develop a phobia of furry things. Tell us about your character’s teenage days and every band t-shirt she owned.

3. Dive into any and all descriptive details. Your character is in a room, a foreign country, a starship. What do the surroundings look like? What objects are there? What can the characters see, hear, touch, smell? Get out all those details, no matter how mundane they might be. One might be the key to your story later. Don’t limit yourself to the setting either. There’s still more you can write about your character. What do they keep in their purse or wallet? Their fridge, medicine cabinet, glove compartment, and junk drawer?

And when all else fails…

4. Kill off a character. Remember, folks, it’s all in the details. There’s danger lurking everywhere. Use it to your advantage. Kill off (or at least seriously injure) any character, even your main character. Not only is that going to be a few words, but now you’ve given the rest of your characters a new problem to deal with.

Make sure to keep that inner editor, and even your inner filter, turned off. Verbosity rules this month.

Now stop reading this and get back to the 1,667 words you need to write today!

Writing Prompt 10

In Week 25 of The Iron Writer Challenge, four authors were asked to write a 500-word story (give or take a few words) Writing Prompt 2involving the following elements.

  1. A Wishing Well
  2. Chopsticks
  3. A Tow Truck
  4. The National Tax Code in the country where you live

The key to incorporating the elements is not to try to find a common denominator of all four. Find a common link between two, and then weave in the other two after the first or second draft. And don’t just throw in an element for the sake of including it. Make it count, make it important.

If you can get it within 500-ish words, that’s great but write as long as you can. If you’re inspired to write a novel based on these elements, or even a novella or long story, more power to you. The important thing is you are writing.

Once you’ve finished your new piece of work, set it aside for a few weeks or a few months and come back to it for a re-edit.

Good luck and write.

Eliminating All Unnecessary, Unneeded and Useless Words

by B Y Rogers

William Strunk Jr., wrote in his Elements of Style:

“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”

Strunk nails it. A problem that many nascent writers have is the irritating habit of excessive explanation by the use of redundant wording. I know I did, and probably still do especially in first drafts.

Let me demonstrate.

“David lived in close proximity to his ex-wife.”

Do you see it? ‘Close’ and ‘proximity’ are synonyms. Now, it is probable the writer knew this, but the lack of attention during the editing process missed it and the sentence is longer than it needs to be.

Additional examples. I trust you can see the problem.

“He was surrounded on all sides.”

“The little girl’s coat was red in color.”

“I need to free up some space in garage.”

“My personal physician told me to reduce all the carbs in my food diet.”

“The policeman said I needed to continue to remain on the sidewalk.”

“Let me make this crystal clear.”

“It was twelve midnight on a dark and stormy night.”

“It is absolutely essential.”

“Ian felt winning her heart was an added bonus.”

Any of these errors would be acceptable if used as dialogue. But in the prose it burdens the reader.

There is a great book titled Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. One of the lessons I learned from this book is you only need to say something once. Why use two words when one will suffice? I apply this to a sentence, paragraph, even the entire story. Too many sentences with these mistakes and the reader will be lost, possibly without knowing why. The end result is the writer lost a reader.