Economy of Words by @EdenBaylee

Over the past months in lockdown, I’ve had the opportunity to chat with several writers via video. One of them also writes for Authors Electric — the lovely Bill Kirton. We’ve known each other nearly a decade through our stories and have collaborated on numerous flash fiction pieces. He’s responsible for my joining this esteemed group.

This past week, we’ve been writing another story together. We boldly write in an unconventional method. It's served us well, given we've created nearly a dozen joint stories! 

If you wish to know more about how we write, feel free to hop over to Bill’s website to learn more.

This post, however, is not about our writing process, but about how working with Bill has contributed to my use of words. I’ve always felt that the fewer the words I need to say something, the better, that compression makes my stories more powerful for the reader. 

Why tell a story in a hundred words, when I can do it in fifty?

Economy of words. 

We’ve all been in the presence of long-winded individuals. These are people who take too long to tell a story, who use many words when just a few will do. It’s not pleasant to be held hostage by someone who talks this way.

It’s equally unpleasant to be a reader of long-winded text.

Because I’ve written with Bill for a podcast, whose stories could not exceed a certain amount of time, it's forced me to write concise, economic fiction.

It’s important to note that (as much as possible), I write freely before I edit. This is the time to banish my inner critic and be redundant, repetitive, and flowery as need be. The story is trimmed at the editing stage when I endeavour to create the most impact in the shortest amount of space.

Here are my key points for writing fiction, economically.
1) Keep it simple.

Write simple, direct sentences whenever possible. It’s unnecessary to use complicated words when simpler ones will do. The goal is for the reader to understand the sentence, not to dazzle them with complicated structures.

2) Cut it out if it doesn’t advance the story.

If you can cut out a word and maintain the same meaning, then cut it. The same goes for cutting out full sentences, or even paragraphs. Rule of thumb: If the words do not advance the story, then cut them. If they are so brilliant and you find it difficult to let go of them, set them aside for another story.

3) Avoid repetition.

Do not use a lot of different words to express the same idea. If you’re repeating for the sake of variety, stop it! Readers don’t need to be reminded over and over again about the same points, even if you think it’s significant to the story.

Example: Wavy, auburn hair // red curls // dark-ginger locks // chestnut strands

4) Avoid clichés, common metaphors, and similes.

Though different literary devices create more compelling stories, they can also take away from your writing if they’ve been overused. 

5) Choose your words wisely. Trim/restructure sentences with implied words.

  • nodded his head (what else would he nod?)
  • screamed loudly (how else would you scream? )
  • shrugged her shoulders (what else would she shrug?)
Feel free to include your tips for economical fiction writing, and please tell me how you're doing. Is life getting back to normal for you?

eden 🥰


Peter Leyland said…
Thank for this. Although not a writer of fiction I can take on board some of the thoughts for writing in general.
Eden Baylee said…
Hi Peter, thanks for your comment, and you're absolutely right. Writing fiction, non fiction, and academic papers can all use some variation of these same rules.

Hope you're well,
Bill Kirton said…
I know we share some techniques and writing habits, Eden, but the one I’d like to add my support to here is your opener, I.e. allow the first draft to be as free and garrulous as you feel like being, but then, equally important, save the pruning for the edit, then prune like hell.
Eden Baylee said…
Hi Bill, thanks for reading and commenting!

I agree, be garrulous when writing and cut cut cut in the edits!

Brian George said…
Hi Eden,
Yes, I agree with keeping it concise, but I do like to demonstrate the picture where new people come on the scene. I Like a good description of them and their clothes, after that the reader has that image and you can 'tweak' it in other scenes if necessary.
Generally, nowadays I apply my copywriting principles. I write each chapter separately then run a MSWord Review on Editor, then wait for the FK index report and if that is lower than level 10 that is ok for a novel. For copy, I get it down to about 7.
Do you ever use that?
Eden Baylee said…
Hi Brian! Thanks for reading and commenting. Good sensory writing requires words that convey a 'visual' of what I'm reading. This doesn't mean I need to take three paragraphs to describe a dress, but I do need to choose my words carefully. For me, it's an art, not a science. Tweaking is a must!

I run my m/s through a tool called Pro Writing Aid - it helps to find repetitive words, spelling errors, and some grammar issues. I've not heard of the FK index.

It almost sounds like an accounting tool!

eden :)
Umberto Tosi said…
I think you two have actually found a way to make writing fun - AND produce something delightful from your experiment. Good fortune. I look forward to reading the outcome!
Eden Baylee said…
Thanks for commenting Umberto! Yes, it's fun, creative, and we learn a lot from one another. I think Bill and I have the right temperament to write together. We know not everyone is able to.

A friend mentioned he tried working with a co-writer and they almost came to blows!

For me, the key is to find someone you enjoy chatting with, who also has a strong sense of curiosity and an open mind. It's less about that person's writing chops, more about working in cooperation to come up with a great product.

Hope you are well, eden

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