Wordy Wednesday: Short and Fast

I’M SO CLOSE TO DONE. I turned in my last term paper this afternoon and took my first final this evening and I’ve only got two finals left before this semester is done and I’M SO CLOSE TO DONE. (Not that I haven’t loved this semester, because I have of course, but, like, I’m so tired. And I have so much non-school stuff to do. Now that it’s finals week, I am ready to be done.)

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post. Thanks to the wonderful Ariel Kalati for the suggestion! (I don’t know what I’d do without you and your brilliant brain.)

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As you probably can tell from this blog post alone, I don’t naturally lean towards that whole short, snappy sentence structure thing. I’m more of a long and rambly with lots of “ands” and “buts” kind of person. Which isn’t a big deal when I’m writing things from my perspective, because that’s ME, but sometimes it doesn’t work when I’m writing stuff that’s supposed to be intense. Which is, like, basically all my novels.

This especially became a problem while working on the revisions I’ve been doing for the past year or so. The novel I’ve been working on is a first person, present tense YA spy thriller. Aka: Keeping things as intense as possible is essential. Aka: My thirty+ word long rambling sentences did not work in the story (and were kind of strangling the voice of my narrator).

Shorter sentences and paragraphs make the writing run faster and, due to this, are also more likely to keep the reader engaged. They also feel more natural to stories with a lot of action-y stuff going on, whereas longer sentences fit better with, like, contemporary, literary-y stuff. (Bear with me on that y-y action there.)

So, I made it one of my revising missions to make the line-by-line writing more intense by making things shorter. And this is how I did it.

1. Streamline wording.

This is the easiest way of making your writing punchier (and really is good for your writing overall, whether you’re aiming for ). Cut all unnecessary words.

If you have the choice between two ways of saying something, always choose the smaller word count.

2. Minimize your conjunctions.

Be picky about when you use “ands” and “buts” and everything else. Every time you use a conjunction, consider what it would sound like if you used a period instead. Chances are, it sounds fine, and that helps you make your writing move faster.

3. Focus on rhythm.

As you’re changing sentence and paragraph lengths, make sure to go through each section (I usually do about a page at a time), reading for rhythm. Pay attention to the beats of all the periods and paragraph breaks and make sure it’s the level of choppiness and flow that you want.

4. No sentences or paragraphs over X length.

I’ve been working on the whole Make the Writing Run Faster thing for a couple drafts now. The first time through, I tried to limit my sentences to thirty words max, with most being fifteen words or fewer. The second time, I let myself keep a few sentences here and there that were around thirty words, but I squeezed most of them down to more around twenty words, with the majority being like ten words or fewer.

Paragraph-wise I have looser rules, but I try to keep most of mine to five lines or fewer and I use a lot of one-to-three line paragraphs that are only a couple sentences long.

The biggest thing is to set rules for yourself and stick to them. If you’ve got a max number of words you let yourself use in a sentence, you’ll find that it’s really easy to make most of your sentences even shorter than that.

Overall, with all these tips, what you want to do is find the sound that works for your characters and story and run with it. Sometimes your narrator’s voice is going to need to be different from your own, and sometimes how you write your first draft isn’t going to be the style the story will need. Find that style and run with it.

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Thanks for reading! And good luck on finals if you’re stuck in that torture chamber with me right now. (WE CAN DO IT.)

~Julia

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8 thoughts on “Wordy Wednesday: Short and Fast

  1. Pingback: TCWT Blog Chain: Learning by Example | Julia the Writer Girl

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