Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Possibly the Most Ridiculous Argument for Succinct Writing Ever...with Math! (sorry)

Good Wednesday,

First, a post about writing. Then an exciting announcement.


Let’s talk about word count and unnecessary phrasing.

But before we do that, let me apologize for frightening you with the word “math” in the title.

Then let me say that there is actually going to be math.

crying puddle

You’ll live.

So words. More often than I care to admit, the following phrases come up in books I read. I sometimes pause and stare at them in wonder because “why did the author choose to write it this way?”

Shrugged his shoulders
Blinked her eyes
Nodded his head
Clapped her hands

Aside from making editors/publishers/agents cringe, these phrases monopolize on “too-many-word syndrome” (n.) the state of having too many words, and “unnecessary explanation syndrome” (n.) the state of over explaining obviousness. What part of the body does one blink other than eyes? Shrug other than shoulders? You get the idea, and if a different body part performs these actions, that is out-of-the-ordinary and, thus, necessitates explanation.

It’s “too-many-words syndrome” I want to focus on in today’s post. This is where the math comes in (sorry again…or maybe not). Let’s take the four three-word phrases above. Using basic multiplication, I calculate that 3x54=12.

Now, we don’t need the modifiers/explanatory words: his shoulders, her eyes, his head, her hands. That’s 2 words from each phrase that we don’t need. 2x4=8. 12-8=4. So what was originally said in 12 words can be said in 4.

This doesn’t seem like much, but put it into the context of a 90k word manuscript. How many times do characters shrug/nod/clap/blink/do similar 3-word phrases in that time? Odds are, quite a few. In fact, let’s say characters perform such three-word actions 500 times in a manuscript.


The math is about to get more difficult.


K, 500 three-word phrases.

500 x 3 = 1500

So that’s 1500 words.

Now, 2 words from each of those three-word phrases aren't needed.

500 x 2 = 1000

1500 – 1000 = 500

I think smiley is learning something new. But What? He seems a bit confused

Yes, by writing “he nodded” instead of “he nodded his head,” “she shrugged” instead of “she shrugged her shoulders,” etc. 1000 words were cut.


That could mean the difference between being able to submit to a given house/contest or not.

“Mary, no publisher/agent is going to glare at a project that’s 1000 words over their limit.”

They might. It’s unlikely, but if this argument isn’t doing it, here’s another.

That’s 1000 words that can be used to describe something else. The standard chapter size is between 3000 and 4000 words. We’re talking a third or fourth of a chapter here. That’s a lot of space. Trust me, I check my word count while I’m writing chapters, and I often think to myself “This one is at about 2500. 1000 words is plenty of space to finish what needs to happen.”

Every word counts.

And see? That math wasn’t too painful.


Back in January, I submitted to OddContest, the flash fiction contest associated with Odyssey Con. They received 71 stories. While I did not win first, second, or third, I placed in the top 10. I’m officially an Odd Contest finalist, and my name is on the website!

See, look!!!

That’s my name…on that list….

-Find me on Twitter @desantismt.

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