The Art of Succinct Writing
And how flashing can help
Streamlining your narrative is something you definitely want to be doing essential, during line-edits, but you can save yourself a heap of time (and money, if you’re hiring an editor who’s charging by the hour) if you can add the art of succinct writing to your toolbox, and get it right from the start
How to be brief
Disappointed, Frey stamped his foot in frustration
Seven words, three ways of expressing the same emotion, one bloated narrative
You’ve probably seen the App ads doing the rounds: ‘remove the unnecessary words. Only left-brained can! Only the smartest can!’ They’re no less annoying than Woodoku, or the one where you have to transform a yeti-woman into a supermodel, but they are right about one thing – unnecessary words must go – whatever side of the brain you’re using.
Have a go with these beauties. What can you cut out, and still keep the meaning?
Feeling all of a suddenly weird Just then, she suddenly laughed
I thought to myself, how odd The sound he heard was cacophonous
Making the cut
If you’re struggling to get started, programs such as Expresso, Grammarly, and Hemmingway allow you to upload a piece of text and will highlight areas for attention. Great as learning tools, but you don’t want to be relying on them for an 80K manuscript. Better to just get good at it yourself … but how?
Write in a flash
My go-to tip for practicing concise writing is to try out flash fiction. These are super short pieces – complete stories, but told, usually, in fewer than 1,000 words. You have no choice but to be conservative with your narrative.
My writing career began in the tiny world of flash – I even had a couple of pieces published – and it’s a practice I come back to, to help keep my prose tight, and in turn, my clients’
For inspiration, take a look at some flash fiction examples from Sally Doherty, tips from the master, Kathy Fish, and this award-winning piece by Jo Gatford. Then have a go yourself …
If you’re feeling flashy, here’s a picture prompt:
Write a story inspired by this setting in fewer than 1,000 words.
You might find you start off with a story that’s a little over, and you need to cut – that’s great. That’s how you begin to see what’s important, and what’s not.
OK. Next, take your neat little piece of flash fiction and cut it to 500 words.
You can do it – you just need to be absolutely clear about what is crucial to the story, and what can go. (Look at hacking any adjectives and adverbs first, and make use of contractions)
You can probably guess what’s coming … 100 words? Can you tell that story in fewer words than a blurb?
Once you’ve got the hang of it, bring it your scenes. Treat each scene in your manuscript like a piece of flash fiction. Release your words from the fog of overwriting and your prose will be clear and clean.
And as if that weren’t good enough, practicing this type of gradual pruning can help enormously when it comes to writing synopses, pitches, and blurbs!
Do you flash? Let me know. And if I can help with the pruning process, do get in touch: click ‘Hello’ below and sign up for a free first-page edit, or take a look at my complete service list.