On not using words

“Brevity is the soul of wit.”—Shakespeare

“I try to leave out the parts that people skip.” —Elmore Leonard

“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’. Your editor will delete it, and your writing will be just as it should be.” —Mark Twain

For a wordy bunch, writers sure talk a lot about not using words. Do we recognize it as self-indulgence? Is it because we love the sound of our own voice? Or rather, the look of our own words crawling across a page?

I’ve said it before, but writing for me is all about telling a story, and the worst thing that can happen to a good story is for it to drag on too long or include too many details. I don’t need to know all the details … get to the good stuff.

My dad tells a good story for a quiet guy, and I think the secret for him is two-fold. One, he doesn’t talk all that much, so when he opens his mouth, people listen. Two, his stories tend to be pretty brief. When I think about telling a story, I think about my dad, and I think as much about what I don’t want to say as what I do.

It’s the power of silence.

When we let our characters or our narrator be silent, it can be as powerful as the choicest phrase. Likewise, when something isn’t told explicitly in a narrative, Ithink it invests a reader in a way that spelling something out doesn’t. As a reader, I like having to figure things out on my own, so as a writer, I try to do the same. I hope I will always err on the side of telling readers too little, rather than too much.

That’s my take. What do you think?

E

One Comment

  1. I was impressed on how well you did that in “building from ashes”! I wasn’t sure how it was possible to tell Carwyn’s story without repeating chapters from the elemental mysteries! It was great! You’re right, less was more, it would have doubled the book and dragged it out way too long if you added extra for the benefit of those who did not read elemental mysteries. It is a great read as a stand alone, but an excellent one if read after the series! You have amazing talent and a great sense of humor! It’s always amusing when I burst out laughing, and everybody in the room stops and stares like I’m nuts.. Even funnier when I can’t stop 🙂 so they stare longer!

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