Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Word-Loss Diet


January is the official weight-loss season. The gyms are crowded this time of year and all kinds of diet and weight-loss products go on sale. Trimming the fat is an important concept in writing as well. Contemporary writing, especially in children’s literature, is lean. It lures readers in by promising a fast pace and a get-to-the-point approach. So let’s talk about the diet plan.

            Have you started the story too early? When does the conflict first cause problems for the main character? This is where your text should begin. Readers want to know right away what is going to happen in your story. Action and plot should begin in the very first paragraph. The beginning is where the real action begins, not with all that happened before.

            Does every scene move the plot forward?  Each scene has to multitask; that is, a scene must serve more than one purpose. If you have separate scenes for character development, plot progression, and setting description, think about how you can write one scene that does all three.

What is the story at its core? Superfluous scenes are often a result of not understanding the heart of the story. Try reducing your plot down to a sentence or two. Any scene that doesn’t connect with the core of your story needs to be reconsidered.

            Have you overindulged in description? Even lovely, sensory-rich description, if overdone, can get in the way of the story. You cannot describe the whole world and keep a young reader’s attention. You must choose carefully the parts you cannot do without and cut everything else—mercilessly.

            Find every opportunity to cut and compress. Play a game with yourself. How many words can you take out and still get the meaning across? Wring everything out of the story that isn’t essential. Watch out for trouble spots as in these examples:
  •            Adverbs can often be cut by replacing the verb with something stronger. Example: The squirrel quickly climbed over the fence. The squirrel scampered over the fence. 
  •              Active voice avoids extra words like “was” and “is.” Example: I was welcomed home by my dog. My dog welcomed me home.
  •            Hedging words (such as nearly, almost slightly rather, just) are usually unnecessary. Example: The noisy crow nearly drove Edgar crazy. The noisy crow drove Edgar crazy.
  •      Eliminate overused words such as there, that, it. Example: It is a good idea to plan ahead. Planning ahead is a good idea. 
  •           Prepositions and prepositional phrases are an easy place for extra words to creep in. Take a close look at prepositions and get rid of unnecessary words. Example: Please close the door to the classroom. Please close the classroom door. Another example: The turtle plunged down into the lake. The turtle plunged into the lake. (The word plunged already implies a downward direction.) 

Like any kind of diet, the word-loss diet is not easy. Cutting words that you have so carefully crafted is painful! But the reward will be a story that propels the reader forward at every page.

1 comment:

  1. Love this! Sometimes I need a good reminder of the basics. :-)

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