Brevity: What not to write (or to cut)

sentence length

Brevity: How it works

Brevity is all about sentence length. Attention span is short. Time is valuable. Your reader has infinite options of things to spend his time on, other than your story. His attention is earned and you have to fight to keep it. You do this by making every word count. Excessive lines can come from a number of sources, such as unnecessary verbs, redundancy, over-explaining, clichés, jargon and so on.

Trimming these out of your writing will ultimately strengthen your story by packing a far more efficient punch. Your reader is kept engaged by continuing to feast his eyes on new information rather than no-shit-sherlock worthy words. Give the reader a little credit. He will understand, without every detail needing to be explained. When in doubt, take it out. Watch out for clauses that work well in speech but do not translate well to written word.

Short versus long sentences

Longer sentences can sabotage writing. The inserted information can be an interruption. This happens when the inserted information comes between the subject and the main verb.

Example: John, who works in retail, killed the man.

Another problem with longer sentences is that the extra words can have a diluting effect.

Example: John killed him even though he didn't want to because Robert gave him no choice.
Example: John killed him. He didn't want to. Robert gave him no choice.

So when to keep it short and when it make it lengthy? Brevity is a tool. Use it when it is a conscious choice. Remove redundant information that weakens the sentence and the main message it conveys.

Example: Job hunters read and hear it all the time that: it's not always enough simply to be qualified for a job. 

Because if other qualified candidates are pursuing and competing for the same vacancy, 

how well you need to distinguish yourself from the competition is also critical to getting hired.

The number of elements and their effect

1) Naming one thing declares one thing. Use it for emphasis and power.

2) Naming two things compares one to the other.

3) Naming three things is to triangulate them, using the magic of three. Can also be used to establish pattern.

4) Four or more and all the magic is gone. You’ve created a list, you’re doing inventory, you’re boring the fuck out of your reader.

Brevity: What to cut (or not to write)

Sentences that say nothing or false information.

There are times when you get so carried away with writing that you forget to pause a minute and think about the actual meaning of the words and their role in the sentence. Mistakes sneak into the lines this way.

Example: "You needn't do the math to figure out the number." 

Yes. Yes you do. That is what math is.

Example: "Autumn is a great time to enjoy the region's ambient weather."

Ambient means “surrounding area/ environment”. Sure it sounds nice, but the word isn’t fitting.

Using metaphors is excellent if you can craft them so beautiful that they enhance the story and provide the reader with pleasure from having read it. However, as a rule, if it doesn’t enhance your reader’s experience, kill it.

Avoid adverbs that weigh the story down.

Adverbs are another source of trouble, by adding words that actually weigh your story down. Writers commonly attempt to use them to pack a punch, but the effect can be quite the opposite.

Example: She quickly grabbed the gun off the table. She snatched the gun off the table.

Watch out for adverbs that add little solid information, such as: very, really, unbelievably, truly, totally. Also watch out for adverbs that try too hard: cruelly, sexily, angrily, menacingly.

Example: The common cold is known to occur notoriously often in autumn. The common cold often occurs in autumn.

Notorious means that something is well known. The cold being common, means it is well known.

Clark, R. P. (2006) Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies For Every Writing.