Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Guest Post: On an Economy of Words

Please help me welcome our first guest blogger, Dan Moore:

It's time for my ugly little confession. I have held a novel in my hand and nestled back on my couch. I have buried my nose in its pages and surrendered to the author's fantasy. And, I have skipped over entire paragraphs of description out of sheer boredom. Honest. I've done it.
Striking the balance between description and advancing the plot of a story is an important discipline. I know that there are readers out there who just love endless descriptions. They swoon over wordy sentences with convoluted grammatical structure. I am not one of those folks.
I was taught to write for television and radio. In radio, every word counts. In television, you don't need every word. Although writing books does not bear the constraints of broadcast writing, there is wisdom to be found in its economy. Words are like water. Offered to the reader in well-crafted moderation, they are fine drink for the mind. If poured out in excess, the experience can be like water-boarding.
There are writers who can thrill their readers with verbosity, but many of us don't have the talent, or wit, to do it well. That is okay, because employing fewer words doesn't doom us to literary oblivion. One does not have to sacrifice elegance or power when choosing to be brief. Ernest Hemingway is credited with writing a six-word-story. It reads as follows. "Baby shoes, for sale, never worn." A few well-chosen words can be woven into uncommon prose.
Think of writing as a form of hospitality. When you write a story, you are creating a place for your readers to come and visit. You are the host, the storyteller. A good host doesn't bury his or her guests under everything that can be pulled from the closets and attic. The host gives the visitor space to linger and appreciate the environment. Economical writing is the act of being efficient and evocative. It creates space. It is not obsessed with saying everything that comes to mind. It allows the reader to fill the pregnant voids. Compact prose gives them an amazing gift. It gives their imaginations room to embrace your masterpiece.
In some cases, wordy writing suggests that the writer does not want to relinquish control. If everything is overstated, then the purity of the narrative will be protected. I see the reader as a partner in my storytelling. Writing is only half of the relationship. The reader completes the storytelling. Our narrative will always be shaped by the minds of our readers. Our story is impotent if it isn't. Great writing is always a catalyst for the reader's imagination. Catalysts begin the process; they do not subsume it.
Sometimes writers get wordy when they lose focus. Each scene we write has a purpose. Each paragraph plays a part in furthering the scene. Each sentence has a reason. Individual words matter. Staying focused gives us a metric to evaluate each word and sentence. It teaches us what is important and what is not. What does the reader need to know in order to move forward through the world I have created? Do I really need to describe every detail? Once a sentence has accomplished its task, there needs to be a period.
Wordiness threatens the pacing of a narrative. It weighs it down with an unnecessary burden. Every story has rhythm. Good writing is poetic. It breathes. Some scenes move quickly. Others meander, but the plot always moves forward. Economical writing imparts energy. It evokes movement and sustains the reader's interest. If storytelling is a dance, it is much easier to teach a gazelle than a hippopotamus.
Moore later...

Dan Moore lives with his wife Diana near Syracuse, New York. He is a freelance video producer and the proud father of two sons, two daughters-in-law and three grandsons. Dan caught the Science Fiction bug by reading Robert Heinlein’s “Spaceman Jones” when he was in high school. He holds degrees in Electrical Engineering, Theology and Broadcast Production and Writing. He has written three science fiction novels: Meridian's Shadow, The Rings of Alathea and Nixie's Rise.