Improve your writing now: five examples

When I’m browsing writing forums, I see a repeated concern from new writers.  “My story is too long.”

Today’s post is all about trimming the fat from your writing, killing the dead weight.

To show you what I mean, I’ve selected five random paragraphs from five books on Amazon.  I didn’t read the book, or even look at the authors.  I’m not even concerned whether this is “good” or “bad” writing.  But I want to show you how easy it is to kill words and still be left with usable paragraph.


Example #1

Original
He caught up with the monster and jumped, pinning down one of its rear limbs with his heel.  If he hadn’t jumped aside immediately, he would have lost a leg – the grey creature twisted around with extraordinary agility, and its curved pincers snapped shut, missing him by a hair’s breadth.  Before the Witcher could regain his balance, the monster sprang from the ground and attacked.  Geralt defended himself instinctively with a broad and rather haphazard swing of his sword that pushed the monster away.

Revised
He caught up with the monster and jumped, pinning down one of its rear limbs with his heel.  If he hadn’t jumped aside immediately, he would have lost a leg – the grey creature twisted around with extraordinary agility, and its curved pincers snapped shut, missing him by a hair’s breadth.  Before the Witcher could regain his balance, the monster sprang from the ground and attacked.  Geralt defended himself instinctively with a broad and rather haphazard swing of his sword that pushed the monster away.

What did I remove, and why?

  • One of – He’s pinning down a rear limb.  “one of” adds nothing
  • immediately- when else is he going to jump aside?  Forty minutes from now?
  • curved – pincers are a part of a lobster, and used in that context, they can only be “curved”.  It’s a hat on a hat.
  • by a hair’s breadth = cliche.  In fairness, I’d probably rewrite this
  • sprang from the ground – Meh.  I don’t think this adds much.
  • Instinctively / rather – Adverbs are bad

Words removed: 85 words originally, down to 72.  13 words removed, or 15%

Example #2

Original
By nature, Ishimaru wasn’t much of a gambler.  He was an accountant, a numbers man, and anyone with even a weak grasp of numbers could see that it was near impossible to win money consistently in the parlors.  In the first place, the rakes charged by the operators were obscene.  It took skill to beat the house, much less one’s opponents.  Ishimaru hadn’t the skill, nor the gambler’s desire.  He wasn’t sure why he’d come to the jansou at all

Revised

Note – this is a good paragraph!  Not much to trim.

By nature, Ishimaru wasn’t much of a gambler.  He was an accountant, a numbers man, and anyone with even a weak grasp of numbers could see that it was near impossible to win money consistently in the parlors.  In the first place, the rakes charged by the operators were obscene.  It took skill to beat the house, much less one’s opponents.  Ishimaru hadn’t the skill, nor the gambler’s desire.  He wasn’t sure why he’d come to the jansou at all.

What did I remove, and why?

  • By nature  – cliche
  • much of – don’t vacillate.  He’s a gambler or he isn’t.  Knowing that he’s 4% of a gambler doesn’t do anything
  • that – adverbs are bad
  • near – same complaint as “much of”.  Don’t vacillate.  It’s impossible or it isn’t.  If you’re going to waffle the word you picked, pick a different word.
  • consistently – adverbs are bad and it’s “much of” and “near” again.

Words removed: 80 words originally, down to 73.  7 words removed, or 9%

Example #3

Original
When he felt the class was sufficiently warmed up and nearly ready for skills-training to begin, he started the series of exercises that would pump blood back into his legs and allow him to reach his feet without assistance.  One hundred and fifty-four years old or not, he had an image to maintain.  His face, long trained to mask pain and emotion, remained neutral, as he leaned forward onto gnarled knuckles, taking some weight off his curled legs, then drew his right leg up and pressed to a standing position.  He stayed in place as pin-wheeling stars streaked across his vision.

Revised
When he felt the class was sufficiently warmed up and nearly ready for skills-training to begin, he started the series of exercises that would pump blood back into his legs and allow him to reach his feet without assistance.  One hundred and fifty-four years old or not, he had an image to maintain.  His face, long trained to mask pain and emotion, remained neutral, as he leaned forward onto gnarled knuckles, taking some weight off his curled legs, then drew his right leg up and pressed to a standing position.  He stayed in place as pin-wheeling stars streaked across his vision

What did I remove, and why?

  • he felt – filter words.  Remove.
  • sufficiently, nearly – adverbs are bad.  Etc.
  • series of – exercises is already pluralized, implying more than on exercise.  Adding “series of” exercises is redundant
  • back – while the word “back” can be a noun (your back), a verb (to give backing), an adjective (the back yard), in this specific case it’s an ADVERB (to return to an earlier condition).   BOOOO.
  • without assistance – since the sentence is “allow him to reach his feet” and not “allow others to help him reach his feet”, the “without assistance” is implied.  Redundant.  Cut.
  • long, some – adverbs.  Shit.  So many adverbs.
  • his right leg / and pressed – I don’t need to know his movements down the exact muscle.  He stood up.  Got it.

Words removed: 101 words originally, down to 86.  15 words removed, or 15%

Example #4

Original
Her comment was true enough.  There was always some article to write, some interesting line of inquiry to follow up, some book to finish or proof-read, some phone call to be made to DI Mike Gilory (poor chap).  Straight-faced, she’d suggest that once the Stour, Peter’s former Kent police area, should lay on a scrambler phone to his home for secure speedy access.  It was sourly refused, with no sign of a grin on the DI’s face.  In Peter’s endearing mind, the right to ask well-earned favors went on forever; after all, it was only nine years since he’d had to retire because of the shooting incident that had paralyzed him.

Revised
Note – I really liked this paragraph too.  Not a lot I want to change.

Her comment was true enough.  There was always some article to write, some interesting line of inquiry to follow up, some book to finish or proof-read, some phone call to be made to DI Mike Gilory (poor chap).  Straight-faced, she’d suggest that once the Stour, Peter’s former Kent police area, should lay on a scrambler phone to his home for secure speedy access.  It was sourly refused, with no sign of a grin on the DI’s face.  In Peter’s endearing mind, the right to ask well-earned favors went on forever; after all, it was only nine years since he’d had to retire because of the shooting incident that had paralyzed him.

What did I remove, and why?

  • interesting – ehhh.  I’m kind of nit-picking.
  • once the Stour – mostly I removed this because I kind of don’t get the sentence structure.
  • endearing – weird word.  Remove.

Note – I didn’t remove sourly, even though it’s an adverb.  I kind of liked it in the sentence, so there.

Words removed: 111 words originally, down to 106.  5 words removed, or 5%.  Man, I tanked that one.

Example 5

Original
Kerr returned to the dockside and stared down at the scummy water, stained variegatedly by oil slicks and with dunnage and rubbish floating in it.  A portable searchlight was directed at the point where the car was reported to have dived in, but the powerful beam hardly penetrated beneath the surface.  He looked at his watch.  Although he’d again called for the frogmen, in practical terms it now made no difference how long they were in coming since any occupant of the car must be dead; but the sense of shocked futility kept him cursing their absence, just as men of the patrol cars at traffic accidents would repeatedly call for medical help when it was horribly obvious that any help must be too late.

Revised
Kerr returned to the dockside and stared down at the scummy water, stained variegatedly by oil slicks and with dunnage and rubbish floating in it.  A portable searchlight was directed at the point where the car was reported to have dived in, but the powerful beam hardly penetrated beneath the surface.  He looked at his watch.  Although he’d again called for the frogmen, in practical terms it now made no difference how long they were in coming since any occupant of the car must be dead; but the sense of shocked futility kept him cursing their absence, just as men of the patrol cars at traffic accidents would repeatedly call for medical help when it was horribly obvious that any help must be too late.

What did I remove, and why?

  • down – when you’re standing on a dock, staring at scummy water, there’s only one direction you can be staring.  Redundant, remove.
  • variegatedly – HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.  Jesus Christ.
  • with dunnage – lots of words for garbage, I get it.
  • floating in it – it’s on the surface of the water and you’re looking at it.  Of course it’s floating.
  • portable – who cares if it’s portable or stationary?
  • at the point – redundant, remove.
  • again – meh
  • in practical terms – as opposed to impractical terms?
  • now – adverb
  • shocked – I’m not sure you can experience anticipated futility.  I mean, I guess you could but the word isn’t bringing much to the table.
  • of the patrol cars – sentence is fine without this
  • repeatedly / horribly – adverb, adverb

Words removed: 125 words originally, down to 102.  23 words removed, or 22%


It’s that easy.  If you’re ever in a position of thinking your story is too long, I guarantee you can remove 10% of the word count, minimum, by cleaning up your writing.  I can’t imagine any first draft where this isn’t the case.

 

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