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  • Writer's pictureD. Randall Faro

Brevity Is Next to Godliness

I’ve mentioned before Will Rogers’ encouragement that “you should never pass up a good opportunity to keep your mouth shut.” An application to writing could be paraphrased, “never pass up an opportunity to use fewer words.”

Wishing he’d brought his umbrella and dreaming of his nice warm bed, John waited for the bus all morning in the rain last Tuesday, determined to make it to class for his test. Words can be wonderful . . . unless one uses too many of them. As in the above run-on sentence.

An alternate phrasing: John didn’t let waiting in the rain or dreaming he was still in bed thwart his determination to not miss his scheduled test. The alternate has ten fewer words and communicates the same message as the original. The umbrella, the adjective warm, and the day of the week are wordy additions that unnecessarily lengthen the run-on sentence and add nothing essential.

Brevity. As a rule, the fewer words an author uses to say something, the better. For instance, in the sentence above I could have said “ . . . the fewer words rather than more words . . .” The phrase rather than more is inherent and superfluous. A critical part of refining a manuscript is to examine each sentence with the question: can I say the same thing with fewer words? The point is not that one needs to short-change the thought or idea, but that communicating it with an economy of words will improve the writing and hold readers’ attention.

Exception: in crafting dialogue, one might use all manner of lengthy blather. If that fits the character in the scene, go ahead.

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