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.


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