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An Economy of Words

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Here’s a piece of advice concerning my book A Strategic Path to Writing Mastery or any book on writing mastery: “Do not ignore professional advice.” If you are lucky enough to get help from professional writers (and you can do that by attending FWA conferences), don’t ignore their suggestions. If you disagree with something at first, think about it for a while. In the end, you may see that the professional is correct. Sometimes a professional’s advice may not be right for you. You can tell by researching how many other professionals agree or disagree.

An economy of words is what fiction/nonfiction writing is about, so—it is one of the main concerns of editing. Get your story across, develop your characters, and describe your settings—with as few words as possible. There is one necessary contradiction, but far more is gained with more words. Showing usually takes more word space than telling—but it is worth it. Showing provides the reader with an experience. Telling reduces the reader to a listener.

Script-Tightening Rules

You can think of any book on writing as a manual of script-tightening rules. Who are they for? They are for the new writer, amateur writer, and the self-published writer mostly. These three types of writers usually have not mastered the craft of writing, and some probably don’t realize there is a craft.

Who Can Break the Rules?

Look in many novels published by long-established writers and you will find several writing rules in books on writing broken to pieces. They can break the rules because they have what most new and self-published writers don’t have—an established following of readers. One of the wealthiest authors on the planet allowed initial books in a series to be professionally edited. Then, when that author’s following grew huge, the author took over the editing task. The quality of the work suffered. However, it didn’t matter because the readership had already been established.

Reality Check: The Publishing World

Writing is a creative process enjoyed by writer and reader. Unfortunately, there is one major obstacle separating the two: publishing. Unless you go the self-publishing route, you must jump through the commercial hoops of a business whose first interest is profit. They usually take a toll on your creativity, but they are doing what they think is best to turn the highest profits. That is our publishing world whether we like it or not.

From the Reader’s Point of View

If someone reads your book edited by the script-tightening rules, the book ‘feels’ right to them. They don’t understand why, because they are not accomplished authors who have mastered the art of writing. When they read a book that violates the script-tightening rules, they ‘feel’ something is wrong. They’re uncomfortable reading it. If you are a first-time novelist making the reader uncomfortable, they will probably not finish your first book and skip reading your second. The truth, as I suspect it, is that readers are not nearly as discriminatory as agents and editors are.

Self-Satisfaction

Then there is the satisfaction you get knowing that, in following the script-tightening rules, you are providing a ‘quality’ experience for the readers; and that your book is technically better written than most—even those by some of the biggest names in ‘Authordom.’ Let’s equate it to acting fame. The movie Speed launched Sandra Bullock into stardom. Being a little-known actress at the time, she probably had little creative input in the movie’s production, as you will have little input with your publisher on your first traditionally published book. Years later, in a movie like Miss Congeniality, Sandra probably had a lot more creative control because she had established a large audience following—she had box-office draw. You need box-office draw for your book to have more creative influence.

So—look at every phrase, sentence, and paragraph, and throw out all those excess words. It will make your message simple and lucid.

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Eugene Orlando is a board member, group leader, regional director, and lifetime member of the FWA. He is also an author of works of fiction and books on writing. Early in 2015, he became an editor for FWA’s “Editors Helping Writers” program and is a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association.

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2 Responses

  1. Alan
    | Reply

    How do you determine the credibility of a so-called professional? Everyone is an expert these days, advice for writers abounds. But I see a lot of bad—and sometimes just plain wrong—advice delivered to writers by so-called professionals and experts.

    Yes, writers should listen to professionals, but I think we also have to be very careful to evaluate the advice we hear, educate ourselves using a variety of resources, make up our own minds, and not follow advice blindly just because it comes from a self-appointed expert.

    In this article, there are consistent errors in punctuating with the single quotation mark. To me, that undermines the credibility of the advice giver. A “professional” should know that in the United States, single quotation marks are only properly used for quotes within quotes. They’re also used in headlines if one is using AP Style. But in the United States it’s not correct to use them in the manner they are being used in this article.

  2. Eugene Orlando
    | Reply

    You are correct. The single quotes should be double. I was a victim of what I was writing about. I took the advice of a so-called “professional” and failed to look it up myself in The Chicago Manual of Style. I once took the advice of an agent at a conference who touted that, because of Harry Potter, novels were becoming longer. I began planning to lengthen my novels until my gut told me that something was wrong. I searched the Internet for consensus, discovered none, and left my novels alone.

    Thank you.

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