Friday, April 18, 2014

P = Precision

I have trouble with this. I blame my mother’s Italian heritage. We take ten words to explain something others could have done with three. We give the backstory for every answer, regardless of what the actual question involved. Faster than a speeding bullet, our hands fly through the air as we describe yet another event with a combination of story and mime. Tangents are our specialty, you might say.

Writers need to be precise whenever possible. If you can say it in three words, use three words. If you can simplify, do it. No one wants to read the thesaurus written in novel form. Your prose can be descriptive without being purple. I remember reading Tess of the D’Urbervilles years ago (one of the saddest, most depressing books I’ve ever read, by the way), and realizing, after a particularly verbose passage, that Tess had been raped. The prose was so ambiguous and wordy that I almost didn’t grasp the seriousness of the most important turning point in her life.

If your readers have to reread passages to figure out what you’ve just said, then maybe it’s time to say it in simpler fashion.

41 comments:

  1. Agreed!

    Sue
    http://www.door2lore.com/3/post/2014/04/primary-resources-for-storytellerswriterseducators.html

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    1. Well...that was precise, I'll grant you that!

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  2. Great advice. I know what you mean. It's all about laser precision when it comes to writing, and the tighter your story, the stronger it will be. I just have to keep reminding myself this as I work through revisions.

    True Heroes from A to Z

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    1. The more I edit, the more I recognize it and am quick to point it out. I think it all comes down to practice.

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  3. Wow, these are so succinct (sorry, I couldn't help but Thesaurusize myself). I might do a post talking about your posts. That's after I print them out and fill up my cog board with them, of course.

    Although I will confess myself just a wee bit disappointed if your "Q" consists of the word "Question." There are so many under-used words that begin with Q. Either way, I look forward to tomorrow. :)

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    1. Thesaurusize away! I'll only remove it if you're paying me, lol. I keep wondering what I'm going to write about on Mondays once A to Z is finished. I'll have no ideas left for my Editor's Notes. We always have Coffee Chat ideas, so I'm not worried about Thursdays, but Mondays... I just may have to reach far back in my brain for something new.

      My "Q" is not "question," so no worries there. It's a simple word but an important post...but of course I think all my posts are important, so don't take my word for it. ;)

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  4. I'm composing a short story for an anthology, and with a word count limit, I am really learning to simplify!

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    1. I had the toughest time just limiting my word count for the A to Z, but I'm hoping the habit spills over at least a little bit into my regular posts once April is over.

      Sounds like your short story will be a great challenge of its own!

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  5. There is a danger of falling in love with the sound of your own prose. Guilty! I'm a verbose writer and an avid cutter of excess after having my way with the language. It's as if I don't want to leave out any of the words and hurt their feelings. Alas and alack!

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    1. I have heard that the lesser-used words get lonely and need their time in the sunshine, too.

      If you want to see a great example of purple prose, head over to Raymond Esposito's blog today at http://writinginadeadworld.com/2014/04/18/p-is-for-purple-prose/ to enjoy a laugh. Of course, he steals all my best ideas, but don't tell him I'm on to him. My goal this month has been to leave a haiku as my comment on his blog every day, and I'm struggling to find a way to turn a haiku purple with only 17 syllables. That might leave me with only four really good words!

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  6. Twitter helps me simply. Having teen boys helps me simplify. Great advice on being precise!

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    1. Twitter really does make every word count, doesn't it? I can relate to the teen boys, too. They want to hear nothing but the basics. A noun and a verb. That's it.

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    1. Silver Fox, if you get any more precise, your posts may disappear entirely. YOU are given a free pass on this one!

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    2. That's because you've mostly seen my A-Z Challenge posts. My usual posts are quite wordy.

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  8. To quote a sci-fi character: "Short and sweet with Godlike efficiency" personally I try to avoid writing "marathon" posts although when I look back, I realise now that wasn't always the case. i like to think the turning point for me was when a reader left the comment, "Do I get a prize after reading all of that." XD

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    1. I usually write until I'm done saying what I want to say, and I'm always surprised at how many words are on the page.

      I don't know how I'd react if someone left a comment like the one you received. I guess I'd have to take my own advice and just keep silent, even while gritting my teeth privately.

      Nice Riker quote!

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  9. Yes being precise is important I mean you want to get to the point and stay on that point for precision purposes. It is not good to be too wordy when trying to get something across because then you have more words than you need and you are not getting to the point so when you get to the point people wonder where the point is and then they are like, is he being precise? (sorry couldn't help it, I agree with this post very mucho.)

    Brandon Ax: Writer's Storm

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    1. Well, you know, when you're too wordy, you tend to lose people's interest after awhile, but I've always thought it's best to just get all the words out so everyone knows exactly what I'm talking about. If I take out some of the words, what if they just don't get what I'm saying? I think each and every one of those words are needed so everyone who reads them knows exactly what I'm thinking. And if they don't get it, I'll just say it again. Right? Right.

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  10. Tess is #1 on my list of saddest books. You might have had difficulty understanding what happened to Tess because when Hardy was writing, he couldn't just come right out and say what happened. He had to dance around it. Norwegians must be similar to Italians because I have the same jabberwocky problem that you claim to have.

    Love,
    Janie

    P.S. You can always tell a Norwegian, but you can't tell her anything.

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    1. My dad used to say "tell-a-Rosalie" (my mother's name) was faster than telephone, but it took longer to get the message finished.

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  11. I tend to ramble. One of the things that I am looking for as I go through the edits on my novel is this: What can I cut???? Turns out... paragraphs and more paragraphs.

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    1. Isn't it funny how much you can find to get rid of that seemed essential all the time? I run my blog posts past my Coffee Chat buddy, and she always highlights things that can be cut with no loss of clarity. Makes me wonder why I wrote them in the first place.

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  12. Another post I couldn't agree more with :)
    Tess of the D’Urberville is one of the most depressing books I've ever read. I had to read it in high school, and it's stuck with me. I wouldn't say I like the book, or enjoyed it, but it has stuck with me. I remember reading that passage and having to do a double take too, thinking: Did that ... was that...? And it wasn't until class the next day that I was sure it was, but only because the teacher told us so.

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    1. I never read it until I was an adult, and it still took me a moment. I'm glad I wasn't the only one.

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  13. Excellent post...short and to the verbosity point! LOL!!! Loved your heritage description of describing your descriptive writing. As a short story writer to begin with, I work very hard to say a lot with not so much and save the best for the punch! It happened today with my Letter 'P' for prodigy. Thanks for stopping by. Enjoyed this post.
    Sue at CollectInTexas Gal

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    1. Oooh, short story writers are an especially talented group, in my opinion. I can barely keep my blog posts to under 1000 words on a regular week, and had to sweat it out just to get my A to Z posts under 300 words.

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  14. I think the Thesaurus died out in the Jurassic period, or was it the Cretaceous maybe it was just a period. But precision is very important. So is what color the grass is and how a hobbit home sticks out just so... Wow there is a tangent. Great post.

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    1. I was hoping you would do Premature Publication (2 Ps)

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    2. I thought about the Premature Publishers but didn't want to out them in public. There's such a stigma attached to that problem, and, sadly, no medication for it.

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    3. True no since in stringing out their shame

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  15. That's why I like flash fic... it's great practise for lean, tight writing.

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    1. Flash fic is terrific! I've been enjoying Donna B. McNicol's A to Z posts at http://dbmcnicol.blogspot.com/, which are 10x10s: No more than ten sentences, no less than 100 words. They've been fascinating for me as she crams so much into so few words.

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  16. Three words? Pfffftttt You took on the challenge and showed those "three words" who's boss. This was a precisely precise post on precision, therefore you're a great preciser...when you wanna be. :P

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    1. Precisely!

      I couldn't have said it better myself. Oh, I could have said it *longer*—but not better.

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  17. TL;DR.

    No, just kidding.

    Pretty good post, although I have to say I'd make a distinction between 'backstory' and 'specifics'. If I'm not specific in something, it's in providing backstory. I prefer to hint at backstory, so the reader has to piece the backstory together from suggestions, snippets, quotes, dialogue, etcetera. I'm pretty specific in other areas, like murder methods or weaponry, but not with backstory.

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    1. I like your blog examples of how to work in backstory without resorting to the dreaded info dump.

      I have to make a conscious effort to tighten my blog posts, because they really do start off sounding like a conversation with me on the phone, all full of rambles and tangents and numerous instances of the word "actually."

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    2. Actually...

      I explained to someone who admired my dialogue how I'd write my dialogue organically, end up with four pages of rambling conversation and cull that down to the snappy dialogue she so admired. I don't know if that made my dialogue more awesome or bored her with unnecessary detail about the writing life...

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    3. More awesome, of course. Duh.

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    4. I really hope so. Sometimes, insight in the writer's mind, no matter how twisted, can dull the prose or deflate the suspension of disbelief.

      That's also why I don't discuss too many private details. I don't want readers sifting through my books trying to find the author in the characters. Not that i can prevent that, but still....

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