“Kill Your Darlings”: When to Be Wordy in Writing
If you need essay editing, then Wordsmith Essays is the destination you want to go to. Our team of professional editors will help you get the most out of your writing. One problem writers have is knowing when to be wordy and when to use shorter sentences. Today, one of our editors tackles when and how to cut your sentences down.
The most common advice a writer will hear is that they should remove anything unnecessary from their writing. From Strunk and White’s advice to “omit needless words” to Stephen King’s adage of “kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings”, the sentiment that good writing exists in the separation of the chaff from the wheat is the axiom upon which most writing advice rests.
However, many inexperienced writers struggle with this advice because they have difficulties identifying unnecessary elements in their own writing. This is usually just a problem of experience that can be fixed over time by practicing consistently and reading the work of professional writers closely, but there are a few simple things a writer can do to identify unnecessary elements in their work.
The first thing to always do is to consider the purpose of the piece. In other words, what are you trying to accomplish with your writing? This is important because something that is written to convey specific information will be treated much different from something that is trying to tell a story. Compare:
On Tuesday, the company will hold a pie-eating contest at 11:30 AM.
It was a beautiful Tuesday morning and the colors of fall illuminated the trees watching
over the company’s annual pie-eating contest.
These two sentences have different purposes and different things would be considered “unnecessary”. The former is concerned with expressing information simply, directly, and without any ambiguities. The latter is concerned with conveying an image. Anything that does not work towards these purposes should be eliminated.
Another thing a writer can do is eliminate repetition. Repetition has a place in writing, the repetition of sounds, themes, and symbols is the foundation of literature, but repetition without a literary purpose can be exhausting and irritating for readers.
The company will be holding a pie-eating. The pie-eating contest will be on Tuesday.
The pie-eating contest will begin at 11:30 AM.
Unless you’re writing for children, there are very few reasons for writing to sound like a “Dick and Jane” book.
The final thing that can help reveal unnecessary words is to rewrite individual sentences to be as simple as possible and then compare them to the original version to see if the original intent is kept. A simple example is this sentence:
I like a little bit of dancing every now and then.
A simpler version would be:
I like dancing.
By comparing these two, we can see the difference between the two. The first one has a non-committal voice. It conveys the attitude of someone that doesn’t mind dancing, but doesn’t dance very often. This attitude is lost in the simplified version, but a decent compromise might be:
I like to dance sometimes.
Don’t be afraid to experiment. Try rewriting it in as many different ways as you can think of:
I like dancing sometimes.
I like dancing every now and then.
Sometimes I like to dance.
Every now and then, I like to dance.
This will help you explore different options and also give you valuable practice in the many different ways a sentence can be arranged or rewritten—an extremely valuable skill for any writer.
These are some simple things to consider that should help with identifying unnecessary elements in your writing, but keep in mind that what is “necessary” or “unnecessary” has a subjective element that cannot be eliminated entirely. Everyone has their own personal sense of aesthetics and what one person considers to be absolutely necessary for the voice of the piece, another person considers superfluous fluff that should be cut. Trust your instincts, experiment freely, and keep yourself open to any and all criticism. Do all of this and before you know it, you’ll be the one telling young writers to remove anything unnecessary from their own writing.
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