Use Specific Details
That brings us to our next tip: omit needless words. I love this tip because who has time for extra? Right? It's like, it's about not repeating yourself two or three times with the same idea, like not saying over and over again, cut extra stuff like I just did twice. Like you get it, omit needless words. This is a great tip. This tip actually works also because it shows your reader that you are, that you care, and that you trust your reader. I found this tip in Elements of Style by Strunk and White, and while it's so true to the times today... Elements of Style is a grammar book, and tip number 17 is omit needless words. That tip was written in 1919. It's always been true to the times. And Strunk talks about omitting needless words in the same way that you would talk about a painter, wouldn't have lines flying all over, or how a machinist wouldn't build a machine with extra metal parts. Again it's about keeping it concise and trusting your reader and showing your reader that you've don...
e the work. That brings us to tip five: details. What's so interesting to me about details, and details reveal character, details help the story come alive, but what's so cool is that the more specific, the more universal. The more specific your details are, the more specific your story is, and the more everyone can understand it. So let's take Chaplain's story. That story is about someone who's contemplating transition. While that might not be true for anyone else in this room, it is true for all of us that we're always wondering, who am I? And Chaplain did such a good idea making that specific story universal because she asked herself: like what? And that's a really good question to ask yourself while you're writing, and here's how Chaplain did it. So she said, that's the thing about body dysphoria, you always want more. And when I first heard that I was like, Like what? Like more what? And then she told us, she wants her shoulders to be less broad, her arms to be thinner, her facial hair to disappear. So we understand exactly what that character is going through, which enables us to understand what we might be going through with a different situation. Details also help create scenes. Tip number six: create scenes. Any questions?
I actually wanna go back to the omit needless words, if you don't mind.
Let's see if I can--
You can do it!
Yeah, I did it!
So the question is, what's an approach to omitting needless words? Because I know, for myself, I can write on and on and on and on, and repeat myself and all of that.
So is it a get it all down and then in the edit process?
Or do you overthink it while you're writing?
Or what are some tips to get there?
Thank you so much for that question. Please do not overthink in your initial writing process. That's what we talked about earlier. Get all your words on the page, and then omit needless words works in two ways. On a macro level, when you reread your story, and when you read it out loud, which is a great, great exercise to do, you might hear when you're rereading that you've repeated the same exact idea twice. Also a story builds to a point, and if you're writing a story that has tons of tangents, and tangents are good, but the tangents need to somehow serve the story, so if your tangents don't serve the story and you realize those, there's a big way to omit needless words. But I also advise you to omit needless words on a sentence level, like this omit needless words is pretty concise, it's pretty compact. That idea says it all, but it could've said, cut out words you don't need in every sentence. But Strunk and White did the work. They knew that cut out every word in a sentence you don't need, is way too long, when you can say, omit needless words.
The question that I have about that is finding the balance between speaking in your true voice and the authenticity and the clarity because I think all of us use needless words in regular conversation, and so not losing that.
But being true to the principle.
That's true, that is so true, that's such a good point. So her question is how do you stay true to your authentic voice? She didn't say this but especially if you are long-winded, and also omit needless words, and that's the craft of writing. A story that you write is crafted. It's not just a blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. So it's up to you, the narrator, to strike that balance. And it's always, those are the questions that you ask yourself while you're rewriting. Am I being authentic to my true voice? Is this flabby?
Everyone has a story to tell, and most everyone has a desire to tell it. What stops some is the mistaken belief that they can’t write. But if you can speak you can write. And the most important thing for a writer to do when telling their story is to speak the truth.
Andrea Askowitz is a teacher, writer, performer, and co-host and creator of the podcast Writing Class Radio. In this class, she’ll inspire you to figure out what your story is, help you write a first draft, and learn key techniques to strengthen your writing.
In this class, you’ll learn how to:
- Mine your life for story ideas.
- Start with the who, what, where and when of your story.
- Use specific details.
- Raise the stakes by figuring out why you’re telling this story.
- Create a likable narrator, which means a vulnerable narrator.
- Practice by reading your story out loud and telling your story without reading it.