“Have you ever wanted to stop talking, but you just kept having more to say?”
These are famous words in my family, spoken by my younger sister when she was perhaps eight or nine. She is a bubbly, talkative girl who can turn a three-line joke into a novel. While this skill is impressive, there really are times when you just need to stop talking! Or…writing.
I probably speak for many of us Vocal writers when I say that the word limit on some Vocal Challenges is a real kick in the pants. My fiction short stories tend to be closer to 3,000 words, so when the word count has to stay under 2,001, I sometimes end up knocking my head against the keyboard several times. This, of course, doesn’t help because it just adds some more words, albeit ones that don’t translate well in any known Earth language.
However, as I have participated in more Challenges, I have gained a few solid strategies for cutting down on words. Not every strategy works for every situation, but with enough nifty tricks up your sleeve, you should be able to find a strategy that fits!
1. Don’t say the same thing or be redundant
See what I did there? Yes, I know, I’m very clever. Round of applause, bow and exit before anyone can think too much about the bad joke.
But seriously. When I’m writing, I tend to just kind of spew my brain onto the page. That means that I often say the same thing twice, just in different ways. Sometimes this is because each repetition carries a different nuance, some other aspect I want to emphasize. But when you need to get rid of ten words, you do what you have to do. My advice: pick the better description or find a way to combine the best of both.
If you’re having trouble visualizing what I mean, here’s an example:
“The woman stood, tall and imperious, looking down her nose at the prostrate figure. He looked up briefly to see the arrogant cast to her face and posture, then shuddered and looked away. Her entire body radiated with an intense regality, coupled with her innate sense of self-importance. It was enough to make a king feel like a pauper.”
This paragraph is 59 words. Now, there’s technically nothing wrong with it. But it is extremely repetitive. The words ‘imperious’, ‘arrogant’, ‘self-important’-they all indicate basically the same character trait. These ideas can be combined and condensed to reduce redundancy. Observe:
“The prostrate figure raised his head just enough to see the tall, imperious woman, radiating with her own sense of regality and self-importance. He shuddered. It was enough to make a king feel like a pauper.”
This paragraph is only 36 words. And it can be cut down even more, if necessary:
“The prostrate figure caught a glance of the tall woman. It was enough to sense the innate regality and self-importance radiating from her, powerful enough to make him shudder.”
This is 29 words. As you can see, there are a million ways that certain passages, especially ones that describe characters or settings, can be snipped, sliced, and cropped into neater packages.
2. Get rid of the ‘un-necessaries’
Many times, people add words to sentences that really don’t need to be there at all (ahem-hint, the word ‘really’ in the previous sentence). Sometimes they serve an artistic function, but sometimes they are simply added baggage.
For example, many uses of the word ‘that’ are actually unneeded. I can write: “She believed that it would work,” or, “She believed it would work.” Both make sense, but the latter has one less word to worry about.
There are also some trite phrases that can usually be avoided, such as ‘In my opinion…’ or ‘I think that…’
3. Use shorter transitions
This one is simple. Instead of saying, “On the other hand…” you could say, “Conversely…” Or, instead of saying, “First of all…”, just say, “First” or “Firstly…”
4. Use simple sentences or semicolons
Don’t hate me. I know that aversion to semicolons runs deep within the hearts of many writers. If this is not for you, then just mark out this section with a red marker and move on.
But in all seriousness, you can eliminate a lot of ‘ands’ and ‘buts’ using this strategy. Obviously, you don’t want to always use simple sentences because you don’t want to sound like a second grader. However, there are times when you can get away with splitting a compound sentence in order to eliminate the pesky extra word in the middle. Just make sure you don’t ruin the flow of your writing by overusing this strategy.
5. Use contractions
Okay, so it’s kind of cheating. And not always appropriate. But sometimes, it has to be done. So cram those words together with that li’l apostrophe! Especially in fiction writing, you can get away with this one. Maybe not in the cover letter to your resume, but I really hope you aren’t trying to post that on Vocal.
Cheers to you in your efforts to write beautifully and concisely in your next Challenge!
About the Creator
Hey all! I am a graduate from BYU in Provo with a masters in PE. I have a passion for the outdoors, physical activity, sports, and health, but I also love writing! I love my parents and all eleven of my siblings!