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Welcome Friends! Here is a place for teachers, parents, librarians and writers to learn what's going on in the world of book author Karma Wilson.

On Writing: Wordy equals weak!

The other day a reporter interviewed me about writing for children.  We talked for two hours I think.  She was patient, but she kept reeling me back on topic because once I start talking–watch out.  I’m wordy. (The reporter, bless her writer-weary soul, transcribed 11,000 words from the interview. EEK)

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I think I’m wordy while speaking because I’m always reining myself in while I write. Too many words are the death of good writing, especially for children. Ironically, I told the reporter this very thing. She asked how long a good picture book should run.  I said “in general” no picture book should exceed 1000 wds and almost always 1000 wds is too long. Bear Snores On is 250 wds. Of course, this is an “in general” rule. There are fantastic picture books over1000 wds and terrible books that are 250 wds.–but “in general” shorter is better. But how? Here’s a few tips.

A Vocabulary “work out”.

One key to concise writing is choosing “muscular” words. Words with muscles are strong–they deliver more impact in less space. Don’t write your character “walked”, convey their mood by choosing a muscular word.  Instead of “walked”, maybe they slumped, skipped, glided, charged, marched or shuffled.

No Wimpy Sentences!

Look for weak sentence structure. The word “was” is a red flag. “Was” means two things: 1. Passive sentence structure. Instead of “was going” say “went”. 2. Showing, not telling. Your reader will happily follow you through a book if you show them the way to the end. If you tell them, they’ll get lost along the way and read something more interesting. Look at this progression:

The girl was walking to school.

The girl walked to school.

She trudged to school.

Chop Redundant Words!

I think that the word “that” is almost always excess baggage. “That” can go, and while we’re dissecting this sentence isn’t “almost always” just two words for “usually”? Also, if I’m writing it, I obviously “think” it. Let’s test it out:

The word “that” is usually excess baggage.

Wow, much stronger, shorter, better.  Scan your writing for “that”–you can probably ax half of them. Also, look for opportunities to shorten two words into one.  And assume your reader can figure out the obvious.  You don’t need to tell readers your character ran “quickly”.  If they ran, of course it was quick! If you want to impart more speed say he/she “sprinted” (muscular word).

These are just a few tips for cutting word counts, but when applied to your manuscripts you’ll see your writing become stronger and shorter. In writing, the phrase “there is strength in numbers” does not apply.  I scan each first draft for these errors, and I usually find several offending words and sentences.

It’s not easy to write succinctly. I love the quote, “I apologize for the length of this letter, but I didn’t have time to make it shorter.” (attributed to everybody from Twain to Pascal)

K…