Forum: Brevity

Brief note: My apologies for the delay in posting. Hurdles and all that. Thanks for sticking with me.

Our heroine would begin with the “soul of wit” quote, dear Reader, but that would be too obvious. Oh dear, there it was anyway.

Brevity is a goal for many reasons. You don’t lose your reader along the way. You don’t slip into purple prose. Your writing is well paced, tight and polished. Mark Twain said to write “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very” and then send it into your editor. The editor will delete all the “damns” and the manuscript will be good to go. That’s one way, I suppose. The other is to skip the “damns” altogether.

I’m writing Flash Fiction in addition to my novels. It’s given me a new appreciation for brevity. Flash is a short short story that leaves a punch in few words. As you’ll see in S. Joan Popek‘s article Flashing Your Setting, the number of words can vary. It’s a great article not only for Flash information. You may take away techniques about editing your manuscripts as well.

Have you heard of Stephen King’s On Writing? Probably. Considered one of the best books on the subject by many, it’s quoted on a number of sites. Here’s one with some excerpts titled, oddly enough, Excerpts from Stephen King’s On Writing. Check the middle section with the Formula for Success.

Copyblogger has an article by Michelle Russell titled How to Write with a Knife. Love the title and a great article. A simple step-by-step for chiseling your writing down to size. Well done.

Now two of the most famous bits of advice on brevity in writing are taken on.

Wendy Palmer‘s article Writing Rules, Misapplied: Kill Your Darlings tells the history of the advice and picks it apart. I enjoyed reading her point of view on the subject. Not all rules work with all writing styles. In fact, you may want to take a look at the rest of her series. The links are at the bottom of the article.

Perhaps the most quoted is Elmore Leonard, who said he tries to “leave out the parts people skip.” Robert Gregory Browne‘s Casting the Bones has an article titled, of course, Leaving out the Parts People Skip. He asks, “What exactly does that mean?” Luckily, he goes on to answer his own question. There’s good advice here. Read at leisure, apply with abandon.

Are all adverbs bad? No. Silly thought. Must all appearances of “that” be eradicated? Well, almost. We each have our repetitive words, phrases and character reactions. One of the tricks to brevity is weeding those out. They can be hard to see if you’re not using fresh eyes. I’ve found trying to rewrite too many pages at once or rewriting while tired – often the same thing – dulls my eyes. I begin every rewrite section by going over the last pages from the previous session. Never fails. I find things I missed.

Find your voice. Find your pace. Slice at will.


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5 thoughts on “Forum: Brevity

  1. David J. West February 3, 2010 at 6:04 pm Reply

    I love that quote by Twain, makes me ponder writing damn a lot more often.

    I wouldn’t mind if you told me if my latest offering on my blog was too purple or just right. Granted its a snippet of a WIP progress.


    • Jessica Rosen February 3, 2010 at 11:28 pm Reply

      (For those of you playing along at home, take a look at David’s blog post at – it’s worth it.)

      Wow, immediate immersion. Visceral, visual stuff. For pacing, I look for “and.” I try to break the sentence into pieces. It can tighten things up, ratcheting up the tension. That may not work with your voice, though, so pinch of salt there.

      Thanks for pointing me to the post and asking my opinion. I’m honored – and way behind in blog reading!

      Take care,


  2. […] Jessica Rosen has moved her Friday Forum to Tuesday, but it’s no less valuable. Check out this week’s list of links on the value of Brevity. […]


  3. Tony Noland February 4, 2010 at 12:00 pm Reply

    I also write flash fiction. I just couldn’t bring it in under 1K. In the end, I had to cut one of the very best aspects of scene-setting to get under the ceiling. I hated to do it, since that facet of the story was so great.

    Great or not, though, it turns out that it wasn’t necessary. The story felt different, but not worse for the loss. In fact, it felt tighter for the increased focus on the characters.

    Brevity and focus, the pillars of good writing.


    • Jessica Rosen February 4, 2010 at 12:16 pm Reply

      Well put, Tony. Your process describes some of the hardest decisions we writers have to make. Often they’re the most rewarding. (When they’re not, there’s always the backup copy.)

      Take care and thanks for your comment,


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